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Wood Carving: Why This Hobby is So Popular

Schaaf Tools woodcarving tools for beginners and hobbyists

Perhaps you’ve heard about wood carving and thought more than more once about taking up the wood carving hobby, but haven’t done it yet. Here are 10 reasons why the wood carving hobby has proven to be an excellent choice for thousands of people and why it continues to grow.

The wood carving hobby is:

1. Broad

There are several types of hand wood carving. As a hobbyist carver, you can find a style that suits you, your time, budget, and the kind of item you want to make. Here’s a brief description of several of the most common types of woodcarving that use only hand-held carving tools:

Whittling: We mention this type first because it’s what many folks equate with woodcarving. Whittling is the easiest type of carving to start. You need only a carving knife and a block of wood or even a piece of scrap wood. Although some carvers use an array of knives, many accomplished whittlers create attractive and useful things using only a single carving knife.

Treen carving: If you like to make practical items, treen carving may fit you like the proverbial glove. Treen carvers use a basic wood chisel set to craft practical, household items from a single piece of wood. Often they turn the pieces on a hand lathe. Common treen items include bowls, goblets, and spoons for the kitchen, as well as pipes, tools, and cases for use in or around the home.

Lovespoon carving: As you’d guess, lovespoon carvers make spoons. But, their spoons are often ornate, embellished with symbols of love such as rings, doves, and hearts, and made for decoration rather than practicality.  Early lovespoon carvers gave their completed masterpieces to their sweethearts as symbols of their love. Although that’s no longer the main message behind a lovespoon, the craft remains popular among carvers who appreciate practicality combined with symbolism and intricate detail.

Relief carving: Relief carving is the art of cutting a layered picture into a flat piece of wood by removing layer after layer of the original block. The depth of the carving affects the number of layers, the amount of shadowing, and the overall difficulty of the finished piece.

Chip carving: The adage to “keep chipping away” until you succeed aptly describes chip carving.  Chip carvers chip away bits of wood to carve a design on a flat piece. Geometric patterns are a unique feature of chip carving, which is frequently done on an existing piece of furniture or small wooden item like a box. Chip carvers need only a handful of tools to create intricate designs and attractive pieces.

Flat-plane carving

Flat-plane carving marries caricature with whittling to create carvings of people or animals that are worked using only 1 or 2 carving knives and are left unsanded and unrounded. A finish coat of bright paint is a hallmark of flat-plane carving pieces.

Relief Carving by Madcarver with Schaaf Wood Carving Tools

(above: relief carving by Randall 'Madcarver' Stoner)

2. Rewarding

Ask woodcarvers what they love about the craft, and you get answers that express their sheer joy of using their hands and a few hand tools to create something lovely or useful out of a block or stick of wood.  Woodcarving is rewarding because it allows you to create something lasting out of a simple raw material that we see around us each day. Raw lumber or scrap bits of wood become beautiful or useful items that endure.

3. Relaxing

Woodcarving is quiet. It’s easy to do when you have just a few minutes and need to take a break. It lets your hands be busy while your mind has a chance to destress. All of these factors make wood carving a very relaxing hobby.

4. Easy to learn

Becoming a master woodcarver takes time, but learning the basic craft is easy. Online resources include classes, videos, articles, and books to purchase. Public libraries feature ”how-to” books. Community centers or technical schools often offer in-person woodworking classes for free or for a very minimal cost. Some tool manufacturers provide teaching materials with the purchase of their wood carving tools for beginners. And, if you ask around, you might discover that one of your acquaintances knows enough to help you get started.

wood carving easy to learn with Schaaf Tools

5. Requires only a few tools and supplies to start

Unlike many hobbies, wood carving doesn't require a lot of expensive equipment or a big work area. You’ll need a good set of hobby wood carving tools; the set should include a carving knife and chisels with varying widths and curves. (We offer a quality 12-piece set for less than $100.) You’ll also need a mallet, sharpening supplies and wood blocks. Still, the cash outlay is small, and your tools will last a long time if you care for them properly.

6. Enriching

No matter how long you carve, you’ll never learn all there is to know about the craft. Your mind will never exhaust the possibilities hidden in a block of wood. You’ll never master every cut your wood carving tools make. At times, you’ll have to creatively cover your mistakes or discover new ways  to look at an “old” project to keep your art lively and fresh. All of these things make the wood carving hobby enriching--for rookies and for professional carvers.

7. Practical and beautiful

Woodcarving offers several ways to balance practicality with beauty. A simple spoon for your home can be just that. Or, it may be an elaborately-carved lovespoon filled with symbols that tell the story of your family. Whether you use it in the kitchen or hang it above the mantel, your carved spoon is a lasting example of your creativity.

8. Traditional

The “old” arts went out of style for a while. Thankfully, many of them are now back in vogue. Wood carving is one of the traditional arts that is growing in popularity among people of all ages. Part of the allure is that wood carving represents a simpler time when craftsmanship was valued, and durability was essential. People carved things from wood because they lasted--and because they could also be made decorative. In our  “throw-away” age dominated by mass-produced plastic containers of all types, wood carving hearkens back to a time when household goods and farm tools spoke of durability and unique beauty.    

9. Earth-friendly

Since most hand wood carving projects are small, many woodcarvers can use scrap lumber they get inexpensively from furniture builders, cabinet shops, and sawmills. Rough slab lumber is often available for larger pieces. Since it makes use of pieces that aren’t useful to others, wood carving is an earth-friendly hobby that repurposes leftover bits.

10. Potential for profit

Not every novice woodcarver turns his hobby into a profitable venture, but some do. You might be one who does once you master a style or product that you love. Then, you can start looking for sales avenues. Local craft shows, online selling sites like Esty, eBay, and Pinterest offer wonderful opportunities. Mailing brochures to your neighbors or arranging consignment agreements with local businesses are also possibilities.

 wood ship hand carved by thechildisthecurriculum

Our list certainly isn’t exhaustive. It demonstrates, though, why wood carving appeals to people of all ages and in all walks of life, and why you might want to give it a go.

1 comment

  • Tina

    My husband suffered a stroke and has lost the use of his right arm and half his eyesight. He loved his woodworking hobbies but can’t work with power tools any longer so need to find a hobby for him. Please advise how to get him started. Thank you.

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