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What Tools Do I Need to Begin Relief Carving?

In this article, we'll cover what tools you need to start relief carving.

So you've decided you want to try relief carving.

(Carving in relief is a type of wood carving where the artist essentially creates a picture “drawn” into the wood with carving tools until it stands out from the background. If you aren't familiar with the term, we suggest you check out this article here.)

Maybe you saw and were inspired by epic relief carvings, like this one by Randy 'Madcarver' Stoner:

Epic Relief Carving by Randy Madcarver Stoner


Or this one, by beginner Jason Taveras:


Batman Relief Carving by Jason Taveras using Schaaf Wood Carving Tools

Regardless of the reason, you've chosen a great new hobby. Relief carving is a fantastic creative outlet, with limitless possibility. Many woodcarvers also describe it as a relaxing activity that can relieve stress. Cathartic, I believe, is the word.

Lord knows we could all use some of that these days. 

But what isn't always cathartic is choosing the right tools for a new hobby. In fact, at times the process can be downright stressful. 

We're here to simplify that process a bit, so your imagination can run wild and you're able to start with the relaxing stuff. 

Relief Carving Tools I'll Need to Get Started

These are the tools pretty much any carver needs to start relief carving effectively. You might be able to get away with skipping one or two of these, but if you stick with the hobby, soon rather than later you'll find that each one of these things needs to be by your side (or in your hand). 

  • Carving gouges 
You’ll want at least a few of these, unless you plan on growing your fingernails out super long and carving with those.
You might be surprised at how much can be accomplished with just a skew chisel and a 5-8mm gouge, but there are also affordable, high quality sets available that have a nice, wide variety of gouge sizes and curves. You can check out our personal recommendation here: Schaaf Tools 12pc Foundation Woodcarving Set for Beginners 
There's nothing like a good set of tools to assist a positive carving experience, and nothing like a bad set of tools to assist a headache and a search for a new hobby. 
  • Wood for carving
Different wood types have different qualities that make them easier or harder to carve with. You'll probably want to start with an easy, soft wood, like basswood. Here's an example.
(You can also check out our Beginner’s eBook for details on the best types of wood for carving.)
  • Something to Hold Your Wood in Place 

Often when you're making cuts, you'll want to have both hands on your gouge (see the "Learning Material" section for more). That means you usually shouldn't be securing the wood you are carving in place with your hand.

You'll want a clamp or a non-slip mat to do that. If you don't have a couple c-clamps lying around the garage, they can be found at most local hardware stores, or online.

Shoutout to @roundoorstudio for being awesome, doing cool family carving projects, and sharing this photo! 

Using clamps to secure your carving wood for relief carving

  • A Diamond Sharpening Stone and Strop 
An integral part of any type of wood carving is keeping your tools sharp. Not only will keeping your gouges sharp make carving more enjoyable, it is also important for your safety. Working with dull tools, contrary to what you may think, is more dangerous than working with sharp ones, because they won't cut like their supposed to. You'll get frustrated, force things, and that's when you could end up with a bloody hand. Not cathartic. Let's keep things stress relieving. Sharpen your tools. 
If you buy a pre-sharpened set of tools, like the ones linked to above, you can put off sharpening for little bit. You'll still want a leather strop for honing. The strop will keep your tools gliding through the wood like butter as you carve. 
To be honest, eventually your tools will need re-sharpening, even if you do buy professionally pre-sharpened ones. In other words, you'll probably want a sharpening stone as well. 
keep your tools sharp with a honing strop
  • A Design or Pattern

What do you want to carve? This can come from your imagination, a book, or online. In the past, I've printed simple pictures or shapes off the internet that I wanted to carve, and then transferred them to my wood. For more information on this process, check out the video on how to transfer artwork to a wood block.

  • Learning Material

Some people just like to dive into a new activity and learn as they go, from trial and error. Others (like myself) prefer pouring over hours of blog articles and videos before even dipping a toe in. There's definitely a happy medium somewhere in between. 

Ready to get started, and finding that you have a million questions? Luckily there are a million resources to pull from. Unfortunately, there are a million resources to pull from. Overwhelming. 

For relief carving tips and tutorials, Schaaf Tools has tried to answer beginner questions all in one place - things like "how do I hold my chisels" and "how do I think about carving depth and perspective in 3D". On our YouTube channel, you will also find accessible, easy beginner tutorials to get you started on your first project, so you can start by learning how to carve an oval or a cube, and go from there!


So, there you have it! Everything you need to get started with relief carving. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to our team. Nida, Namgyal and I are always happy to help whenever we can. You can email 

And don't forget to subscribe for more awesome learning material, deals on tools, and updates from the Schaaf Tools community. 

Happy carving!

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