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Activity: How to become a wood sculptor in no time!!

Updated on February 3, 2012

Wooden Chair

A Whole New World

Becoming a sculptor of wood is easy. I had the opportunity to learn about this activity and try it out in my art class, and I am going to show you how it works. It's too fun to keep in the dark. You can create anything from small aesthetic pieces to useful larger pieces like chairs and tables. The possibilities are only limited to your imagination. There are basically three different stages of wood sculpting that I am going to show you. Contrary Using this method of wood carving, you will not start with one giant block of wood. The process is to obtain a few sheets of good quality plywood, cut out the pieces that you want, stack them on top of each other and glue them, sand them down, and spray it with awesomeness (not really, but you do have to spray it down with semi-gloss). It takes a little hard work and some dedication, but it's worth it in the end, trust me.

Also, you can even sell your piece for a decent amount of money . For three months, I have worked on my wood piece every day of school for about an hour, and I will be able to sell it after the state competition for around $1,200. And all the materials were provided by the school. So not only is this fun, but you can make a decent profit because of it. I don't recommend doing it for a living though just because it is hard to make a living as an artist/sculptor if you don't have name for yourself. It's just a fun hobby for the weekends.

Pictures of materials

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Why go to a store to get supplies??


Most of the materials are easy to come by. The things that bring the cost of your project up is the plywood, a rotary grinder (for sanding), and some type of jig saw to cut out the pieces of plywood. It depends on how big of a wood sculpture you want, but it should cost around 100-300 dollars for all the materials if you are doing this for the first time. I suggest trying to borrow the grinder/sander (just look at the picture) and jig saw from a friend if you don't have one.

1. Plywood - You can buy this at any Home Improvement store. When buying it, I suggest buying good quality wood and to buy as much sheets of plywood as you will need to complete the entire piece.You need to buy all the plywood at one time because you don't want to be halfway through making your wood sculpture and then realize that you need more plywood . This can be a problem because if you can't find the same plywood as the one you used, it will look weird when you are done. The goal is to make it look like you carved your woodworking project out of a giant wood block. It makes it that much cooler to people who didn't see how you made it.

2. Pencils - You'll need this to draw out the pieces of plywood that you want to cut.

3. Gloves, Safety goggles, a breathing mask, and earplugs - I know what you're thinking. "Ugghh I don't want to wear that stuff. It never helps." Trust me you definitely want the goggles. I tried sanding without goggles for a week and I started having eye problems because small pieces of the wood (while using the rotary grinder) kept flying into my eyes. The gloves are really good for the first few times sanding and cutting with the grinder and jigsaw. I highly suggest using the breathing mask (a cheap cloth one should be good) throughout the whole sanding process because the wood molicules can get into your lungs and do some damage. A couple days of no mask will not hurt you, but spending every day for a couple months in a row breathing in the sanded wood will not be good for your health at all. Lastly, the earplugs are totally optional. If you have them, go ahead and use them. If you don't, it's not a big deal. Plus, they're not very expensive.

4. A stable place (table or counter) to cut the plywood - self explanatory.

5. Wood Glue - You're going to need a lot of this because you have to lather it on both sides of the wood to keep it together. I made a sort of tornado/hurricane that was about 40x40x40, and I used about a quart of glue.

6. Clamps - You need at least 4 of these to keep the glued wood really tight together. In needs to be tight because if it isn't, there will be gaps in the wood. That means that when you try to smooth everything out, the edges of the wood will start to peel away from the other pieces. Glueing the pieces together is, in my opinion, the most important part of the whole process because if you mess up, there is not much you can do to fix it.

7. Orbit Sander/Rotary Ginder - When I say this I am talking about a small piece of equipment that spins a 36 grit circular section of sandpaper really fast. The sand paper is about 4-5 inches in diameter. You can use whatever machine/equipment that you want to get the basic shape of your sculpture. I found that the rotary grinder/orbit sander was the easiest to maneuver. The only problem is that it makes marks on the wood because it doesn't sand with the grain (I'll explain that later). In the end it doesn't really matter because you end up sanding them off. This is a sort of whittling tool.

8. Jig Saw - Any type of cutting device will do, but this worked very well for me.

9. Sand Paper from Grit 80 to Grit 400 (600 if you're dedicated) - You should need at least 2 or 3 sheets of each grit (80. 120, 150, 220, 300, 400, and 600 if you want to make it extremely smooth)

10. Spray (Semigloss) - This is what turns your sanded down wooden sculpture into a true masterpiece. And it's where you find the spots that you forgot to sand. You will basically have to put on about 2-4 coats of spray to make your masterpiece perfectly smooth and shiny.

 Stage 1 - Drawing and Cutting
Stage 2 - Glueing 
Stage 3 - Sanding and spraying 
Plywood + pencils
Wood Glue 
Orbit Sander
Safety Equipment
Safety Equipment 
Stable Table 
time :) 
Sand paper 
Jig Saw
Semi-gloss spray 

Conceptualize: Thinking in 3D

The first thing you have to figure out for this fun extracurricular activity is what you want to make. Something that a good wood sculptor knows before starting to think about what to make is that this type of sculpting is more about the aestetic beauty of the piece. It is a good idea to not try to copy something specifically. What I mean by that is that if you decide you want to make a pig, you have to know right now that you are not going to be able to get very detailed with your pig. The thing that makes this type of wood sculpture amazingly beautiful is the smooth flow throughout. It would not be a bad idea to try to incorporate a pig into your wood sculpture, but realize that unless you really know what you're doing, it never turns out the way you first plan it to. Also, you have to learn how to think in 3D. It's an easy concept but a hard thing to do.

Once you have an idea of what you want to make, you need to then figure out what the base for your artwork is going to be. I didn't realize this when I designed my tornado wood sculpture, so in the middle of glueing my pieces together, I had to reconfigure it so that it had a stable base. And even then, I didn't figure out my final base until 2 weeks before I was finished. You have to make sure it can support the weight of however many pieces of plywood you are using without breaking.

When determining the thickness of different sections of your piece, it is good to know that the sanding process takes off about 2 pieces of plywood (one on top and one on bottom). You don't have to plan for this, but it helps to know.

Other than having a stable base and keeping your mind open to any changes in design, it's time for you to start brainstorming!! In 3D!! Use your fun brain!!

This is where it comes to life

Next you have to draw your pieces and cut them out. Before you start this, know that you are only as big as your smallest piece. This means that if you plan on stacking four pieces on top of each other, you are going to eventually sand everything down really close to the width of your smallest one because it is really hard to hand sand one really wide plywood next to one really skinny one. Keeping that in mind, its time to start drawing your pieces. It helps to draw your sketches on a big roll of paper first, but it is not necessary. If you plan on doing the paper idea, then cut it out and trace it onto your plywood. After you have your first piece cut out, you can just trace that one piece onto other sheets of plywood. After all the drawing, then start cutting. Please wear the safety equipment. It's better to be safe than sorry. I already have two scars and have had multiple wood shavings fling into my eyes.

And they joined to become one

Next is the glueing stage. Lather a generous amount of glue between the cutout pieces of plywood and put them on top of each other. This is where the clamps come in handy. Put them in strategic spots throughout the piece to make sure the plywood doesn't peel away from each other. (Tip: Clamp the tips/ends of the wood because it tends to not stick as well in those areas) Screw the clamps on tight. Having gaps makes in the wood makes it harder to sand later. Having tight clamps will aviod that. After you are done glueing and tightening, wipe the excess glue off with a paper towel or rag. Once everything is stable, leave it to dry for at least 5 to 7 hours before sanding. It's best to wait a whole day before sanding, but if you are in a hurry for some odd reason, 5 hours should be good.

Last but most definitely not least

This is one of the longer stages of this fun extracurricular activity because of the preciseness that it takes. You want to use the rotary grinder/orbit sander (36 grit) to give your sculpture its basic form. I prefer to make it as smooth as I can with the machine because it sands way faster than I can by hand. This is just a long process compared to the other stages. Once you have the main shape, it is time to start with the sand paper by hand. The only thing to keep in mind when doing this is to not to sand against the grain . I'll tell you what I mean by that. As your piece becomes more spherical rather than the unsanded cube-like, you will see the different colors of wood begin to appear. Sanding with the grain is following these horizontal lines. Sanding against the grain would be to rub your sand paper perpendicular to the lines.

When you start using the sand paper (sanding by hand), start with the lowest grit you have. Rub the whole piece with that same grit. Once you are done, move up to the next grit. I know this seems unecessary, but once you get up to 150, it starts moving pretty fast. And it starts to get really smooth. Also, you may need to blow on it or wipe it down with a paper towel or rag because sawdust gets in the cracks of the wood and makes it seem smoother than it really is. You can wipe it with a wet rag to get all of it off, but it is best to keep water away from your sculpture.

You will finally get to 400 grit at some point. You might even get to 600 grit if you have the patience. After finishing your sanding of the whole piece, you just have one more thing to do. Get that semi-gloss out and watch your wood transform into beautiful artwork. Right before you spray it, you need to wipe it down with a paper towel to get the excess wood particles off of it. Your not done just quite yet. After it dries (takes a full day to dry), feel it with your hands to discover the spots you "forgot" to sand". Go over those spots with the highest grit you used and respray it. Continue that process as much times as you want (ten is probably the most you would want to do. Three coats should be good). And after all that hard work, you will be thankful for all the hard work you spent on it because wood sculptures always look cool.

As soon as I get my wood sculpture back from state, I'll post a picture up. It was my first time ever doing it and I have a very good chance at winning state with it. If I can succeed at this fun extracurricular activity, anyone can. All it takes to become a sculptor is an optimistic open mind and a whole lot of time. If you follow this, you'll be making wood sculptures in no time!!

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    • profile image

      Deers Doe 

      2 years ago

      I think you are very gifted. Your work is impressive and beautiful. Please continue.

    • kmaskreations profile image


      7 years ago

      What a gift you have! Beautiful! I sell Cypress knees for wood carving at my Ebay store, Storage Finds by Tomka. I think most are carved into Santas and Gnomes but I've never tried it myself - yet! Thanks for sharing. Voted up, interesting, beautiful, useful and awesome!

    • chasemillis profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      Thank you for the comments everyone!! I'm glad you enjoyed this! It really was a fun experience learning about wood sculpting!

    • suziecat7 profile image


      8 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Love these sculptures - just wonderful. Enjoyed reading your Hub too. I'm a fan.

    • kirstenblog profile image


      8 years ago from London UK

      Man your sculptures are fantastic! I loved the pictures of them and am very impressed. Great stuff!

    • marshacanada profile image


      8 years ago from Vancouver BC

      I love the chair-beautiful lines and great finishing

    • chasemillis profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      Joe - no problem, the whole point of me making this was to help people!

      Marsha - I will post a picture of my piece up, but I won't be able to do it until two weeks after spring break because my art teacher has it set up for art state. And as for the pictures, I lost my phone that I took all the pictures on, but I can put up some pics of my friends wood piece (he made a usable chair)

    • marshacanada profile image


      8 years ago from Vancouver BC

      Thanks Chasemills.I enjoyed your hub-and I would like to see photos of your sculpture. I would also like see photos of your step by step process.


    • profile image

      Gnarly joe 

      8 years ago

      Thanks for the help! I found this very encouraging as I was getting discouraged in my sculpture!!


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