How to Get Started Wood Carving

Just like art, the purpose of woodcarving is washing the dust of daily life off our souls. This makes it an integral part of our culture, and a brief insight into how to get started with it is as right as rain. Here is a sneak peak of the nitty-gritty of wood carving.

Getting started.

Plato once said that the beginning is the most important part of the work. Setting foot on woodcarving entails either learning through apprenticeship or enrolling for a professional woodcarving course. It could be true that carving, just like any work of art is a talent, but it is also true that every artist was first an amateur. This means that you can learn to carve and develop into the most successful woodcarver that you have ever imagined. There are several wood carving tutorials, books and journals that can help you learn the basics of woodcarving, including wood carving tools, safety measures and the most common types of carvings.

Wood carving tools

There is a wide variety of tools for power carving, grinding, sanding, cleaning, polishing and buffing. Hand carving with knives and chisels is still very common and may be part of any carving project for fine details, but there are modern tools that can significantly reduce the time required to shape, detail, texture, and finish a piece. Some of these tools include:

Yellow Cedar
Genuine Mahogany
The V tool

Sharpening wood carving tools.

The length of time your tools will stay sharp depends on several things: the hardness of the metal, the type of material being cut, and most importantly, the angle you put on your tools. A blade with a low angle will cut more smoothly, but will become dull quicker than a steeply angled tool. It becomes clear that to keep your carving most enjoyable, learning correct sharpening techniques is essential. In most cases, stones are mainly used for sharpening wood carving tools. The most common sharpening stones include: Arkansas Stones, water stones, synthetic oil stones, ceramic stones and diamond stones to name but a few.

Woods used for woodcarving.

Both hardwoods and softwoods can be used for woodcarving, depending on what is to be carved. Here are some woods that are good for woodcarving.

English Oak.—Of the hard woods in common use, the principal kinds are Oak, Walnut, and occasionally Mahogany. Of oak, the English variety is by far the best for the carver, being close in the grain and very hard.
Italian Walnut.—This is a very fine-grained wood, of even texture. The Italian variety is the best for carving: it cuts with something of the firmness of English oak, and is capable of receiving even more finish of surface in small details. It is admirably suited for fine work in low relief
Mahogany, more especially the kind known as Honduras, is very similar to American walnut in quality of grain: it cuts in a sharp caney manner. The “Spanish” variety was closer in grain, but is now almost unprocurable. Work carved in mahogany should, like that in American walnut, be broad and simple in style, without much rounded detail.

Most common woodcarvings.

There is a wide variety of woodcarvings currently, and the list keeps growing. Decoys, wildfowl, animal figures, human faces and figures, free form figures, walking sticks, relief carvings, kitchen spoons and furniture decorations are some of the most common carvings. It is important to learn the five basic cuts before setting the wheels of carving any of these carves into motion. These cuts include paring cut, basic cut, score line, stop cut and the V-cut.

Carvings for beginners

If you are new to wood carvings, it is important to start with easiest woodcarvings and proceed to more complicated ones as you build experience. Here are some easy carvings that will set the wheels of woodcarving into motion.

Carving a spoon. 

For this carving, any small block of basswood, tupelo or any other non-toxic hardwood will work, and you can expect to complete the carving within an afternoon’s time. Use specially formulated “salad bowl finish” or “butcher block oil” to finish the spoons for use in the kitchen Canvasback duck. Butternut is the wood of choice for this carving because it is relatively easy to carve and it is warm, rich grain enhances the beauty of any carving. Carving a hummingbird pin. Regardless of its size, carving a hummingbird pin is a more challenging project because of the fine work required to give the bird dimension, detail and texture

Woodcarving: a hobby or a profession?

Woodcarving can be done as a creative hobby or craft to produce decorative pieces for your home or as a serious profession. Most wood carvers learn the art through apprenticeship. However, there are professional wood carving trainers who train those who would like to pursue a career in woodcarving

Safety during woodcarvings.

  • It is important to adhere to the following safety rules whenever undertaking any woodcarving task.
  • Wearing safety glasses or a face shield is the most important safety precaution for power carving.
  • If you are working with a small piece, secure it in a vise or use a leather glove or finger protectors to hold it.
  • A dust collection system and/or face respirator should also be used to prevent the inhalation of fine dust into your nose, throat and lungs. The dust collection system also helps to keep your home or shop clean and reduces dust in the atmosphere.
  • Always check the speed rating of the accessory you plan to use to be sure it is safe to use up to 18,000 rpm.
  • Loose clothing or jewelry can become entangled in a rotating bur. Do not wear neckties, necklaces or bracelets when operating any of your tools. Also, be sure to tie back or secure long hair.
  • Check the Owner’s Manual for the complete listing of safety instructions. It is a very good idea to read the manual before using your tool so that you become familiar with its use and maintenance.

In a nutshell, woodcarving is an elaborate task that requires understanding of the basics for it to be successful. However, with the zeal and zest of a committed woodcarver, it is easy to carve literally anything that you can think about.


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