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How to Wood Carve for Beginners

How to Wood Carve for Beginners

If you’re considering wood carving as a hobby but are unsure whether it makes sense for you, you’ve come to the right place. In this post, we discuss the types of carving you could do and the woodcarving tools you need.  We also address safety concerns and provide other helpful tips about how to wood carve for beginners.

Why hand wood carving makes a terrific hobby

There are several reasons that woodcarving is surging in popularity. They include the:

  • Beauty of carved pieces. Regardless of the type of carving, the size of the piece, or the type of wood the carver uses, a skillfully-carved piece is a work of art. Woodcarving appeals to anyone who appreciates beauty.
  • Breadth of choices. As a beginning carver, you can choose from whittling, relief carving, chip carving, treen carving, or several other types of woodcarving. You can carve practical household items or something purely decorative or sentimental. Your project can be small or large. You can choose a project that fits your abilities, style, and timeframe.
  • Ease of getting started in woodcarving. As a hobbyist woodcarver, you don’t need a big workshop filled with thousands of dollars of tools, piles of lumber, and large pieces of equipment. All you really need is a set of wood carving tools for beginners, a block of wood, a few carving accessories, and a bit of safety equipment.
  • Availability of raw materials. Wood is an abundant, varied, and replenish-able raw material. Most people have access to green wood, and virtually anyone can find a supplier that provides specific varieties of wood in certain lengths and thicknesses.
  • Tranquility of the carving craft. Most woodcarvers work alone, in the privacy of their workshop or garage. The solitude and the absence of power tools provide an atmosphere that promotes a sense of tranquility.

relief carving beginners hobby with schaaf tools

How to start wood carving

You’ve decided--for whatever reason--to trying woodcarving. Now you need to learn how to get started as a woodcarver. Here are a handful of important considerations.

Start with the right tools

This is critical. Before you start your first project, invest in a set of tools designed specifically for carving. As with any project, having the right tools makes the job easier.

What should you look for in a set of wood carving tools for beginners? Even hobby wood carving tools should be full-sized tools that come with SHARP edges. They should also be easy to sharpen so that you can keep them sharp.

Additionally, the best wood carving tool set for beginners:

  • Includes tools that provide a variety of cutting shapes and sizes. This enlarges your project options and gives you the right tool for the type of cut you need to make. Look for a set that contains a straight chisel, a V parting tool, and several chisels with varying curvature and width.
  • Features quality materials for handles and blades. Knives and chisels with hardened steel blades and hardwood handles will likely last a long time, if you care for them and sharpen them regularly.
  • Provides a money-back guarantee for any tool that is defective or doesn’t meet your expectations. Occasional manufacturing glitches occur. Sometimes the tool you order isn’t the one that does what you need. You’ll have peace of mind if you purchase a toolset from a company that refunds your money in situations like that.

When you’re purchasing your first set of tools, would you also be wise to purchase a wood chisel mallet, some detail wood carving tools, or a set of fishtail carving tools not normally included in a set for beginners? Yes, you should purchase a mallet; it makes deep cuts easier.

As to the detail tools or fishtail tools, that depends. If you’re quite certain you will stick with the hobby and have the budget to purchase the extras, doing so makes sense. You’ll be glad you have the additional tools as your projects get more intricate.

Learn the terminology of the craft

There’s a vocabulary associated with how to wood carve. For beginners, one of the best things to do is familiarize yourself with that vocabulary before choosing carving tools. You’ll certainly need to learn the vernacular before you begin carving, especially if you are watching videos or reading books to help you learn the craft. Understanding the cuts--and the tools that make them--smoothes your way into successful woodcarving.

Choose a reasonable project

There’s a fairly steep learning curve with wood carving. Holding the tools correctly, cutting at the correct angle, judging how much wood to remove with each cut, choosing the best tool for each cut--these are all learned actions. They come more intuitively to some folks than others. However, virtually everyone needs some time to master them.

Your chances of finishing your first project increase if you choose a simple project to start your wood carving career, especially if you tend to be a perfectionist. Simple projects are more forgiving of poor cuts. They minimize the number of areas that are hard to reach. They make it easier for a novice to create an attractive piece.

beginner wood carving project spoon carving

Protect yourself from injury

Wood carving gloves are a beginner woodcarver’s friend. Until you learn how to hold the tools comfortably and safely, you’re apt to have small slips that can leave nasty cuts on unprotected hands.

Safety goggles are also a wise purchase if you're a beginner learning how to wood carve. Chips and bits of wood will fly as you make your cuts. Goggles make sure none of those bits land in your eyes.

Select an appropriate type of wood

Softwoods like basswood, aspen, and butternut are popular choices for beginning carvers. Because they're softwoods, these 3 are easier to cut than hardwoods. Butternut is a little heavier than basswood and aspen are, and it has a more noticeable grain. However, all 3 are easy to mark and known for their relatively straight grain.

Although more challenging to carve, hardwoods lend themselves to beautiful carvings with lots of grain. They are not generally recommended for a beginner’s first project. Still, novice woodcarvers often switch to hardwoods like oak, black walnut, and cherry once they have completed a few projects.

Keep your tools sharp

Sharp tools make crisp cuts. They are easier to use and yield better results. And, although it seems counterintuitive, sharp tools cause fewer injuries than dull tools do. When your tools get dull, you exert more pressure to make the cut you need. If you slip, bad things can happen quickly.

Strops and sharpening stones will keep wood carving tools sharp. There’s an art to sharpening tools well. Fortunately, a wealth of step-by-step information is available online. Many companies that sell wood carving tool sets also provide online written or video information to teach you how to sharpen your tools correctly.

Another option is to have your tools professionally sharpened. Occasionally, this may be useful. However, if you use your tools frequently, you’ll spend an inordinate amount of time taking your tools to be sharpened. The wise woodcarver learns to sharpen his or her tools.

Wrapping it up

These are the basics of how to wood carve for beginners. We’ve addressed the tools and accessories you’ll need and suggested types of wood for your first project. Now it’s time for you to find the perfect first project and actually start. Happy carving!


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