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Wood carving is both a complex and exciting art that requires resilience, patience, and knowledge. In this article, I have compiled tips for wood carving to make the task less challenging and time-consuming.
If you are a beginner, just pay close attention to every tip to ensure you gain the knowledge you need to get it right. Even if you are a seasoned carver, read on, and I’m sure you will pick up a few tips worth keeping.
Essential Tips for Wood Carving That Work
Here is the basic tips for wood carving that would not let you down while you are carving wood.
Tip 1 – Know the wood carving types and the tools needed for each
There are several types of wood carving. The different types are ideal for different results and need various tools. The kind of wood carving you choose will depend on the ornament or item you plan on carving. It will also depend on the tools you have available. In the table below, I have highlighted some of the most popular wood carving methods around.
This is considered to be the oldest forms of wood carving. Here you simply make strokes using a knife away from the wood to create your desired shape. It is best when creating pointy or edgy items. This method is usually used to make weapons, hunting tools, small figurines, sculptures, kitchen tools, and more. A carving knife is used in whittling.
2. Relief carving
This method requires prior wood carving experience. Here the relief of the wood is used to create an item. Only part of the wood is used to make a relief image or figure. Relief carving allows a carver to put all their creativity into play. It is used in the creation of faces, sculptures, and ornamental figurines. Tools mostly used in relief carving include a knife, gouge, and a chisel.
3. Carving in the Round
This method is easy and recommended for beginners. It produces a smooth, polished surface making the sculptural object look good. You can employ this method to make sculptures and other creative designs. To carve in the round, you need tools like the chisel, harmer, and gouge.
4. Chip Carving
Chip carving is complicated and is best for experts. In this method, chips are removed from the log bit by bit. It requires patience, practice, skill, and a lot of creativity. It is used to create stylish decorations or ornaments. A chisel, harmer, and knife can be used in chip carving.
5. Chainsaw wood carving
Chainsaw Wood Carving is the most unique carving method is usually used to carve large pieces of wood or logs into your desired shape. There are small ornamental chainsaws available to cut through smaller wood pieces. You can use this method to make large ornamental pieces and other big designs.
Tip 2 – Familiarize yourself with the different wood carving tools.
It is crucial for you to at least know the types of wood carving tools and their uses. This helps ensure you use the correct tool to achieve your desired result. Here are several tools you may need and use when carving.
1. Carving knife
It is the most common multi-purpose carving tool and very easy to use. If you are a beginner, it is wise to start with this tool. A carving knife is usually used for whittling and direct cutting. These knives are made in different shapes and sizes, and you choose one that suits your needs.
2. Bench Knife
A bench knife is used to get rid of inconsistencies around a carved wood pattern. It is also used to carve intricate designs, detail pieces, and for scoring. A bench knife is used in the same way as an ordinary carving knife but with a little more delicacy. These have many different designs and shapes too.
This is a multi-purpose tool all woodcarvers own. A chisel is used to cut into the wood when a hammer hits it. It is used to make deep cuts in wood effortlessly. Its sharp edge enables it to cut wood with precision. There many different types of chisels. Some are meant to cut large wood pieces and smaller ones for more delicate jobs.
For beginners, a chisel may be hard to use, but most master the art with time. It is used in relief carving, carving in the round, and chip carving.
Like a chisel, this tool is also hit by a hammer to cut into the wood. A gouge has a concave blade that allows you to make rounded cuts deep into the wood. If you want to make curvy cuts, this is an ideal tool. It may take time to learn to use it properly, but it is an essential tool. A gouge is excellent for carving in the round and gives intricate detail to your work.
5. Rotary tool
This is an automatic power tool used in carving. A rotary tool can be used to cut, grind, sand, and carve wood easily. It has several discs you can plug-in depending on the result you want to achieve. For example, you can put a cutting disk to cut off big chunks of wood and a small disk to put more detail into your piece. It is essential to have this tool when you have enough carving experience since it can do almost anything.
6. Electric carver
This tool is similar to a chisel, but it is electric. It works the same as a chisel but is less labor-intensive. Instead of continuously hitting the chisel to cut wood, you simply switch it on. It does the job with less effort on your part. If you are planning on using hardwood to carve, it may be a good idea to get an electric carver.
It comes with several blades of various shapes and sizes, so you can simply choose one that suits your needs.
7. Wood Grinder
A wood grinder helps you to shape wood fast and with excellent precision. Using this tool will also save you hours of work that you would need when using a small chisel. It can be used on hard and softwoods with ease. A wood grinder can be used to both cut and add style to your work.
8. Wood Turner
This is not a handheld tool and is best used by experienced carvers. Instead, you attach the wood piece you plan to work on. Then switch it on, making it turn speedy. As it spins, you can mold the piece into your desired shape. This tool allows you to mold your wood into any shape or size you want.
Tip 3 – Know your wood types and pick the correct model for the piece you need to carve.
Picking the wrong wood type when carving will adversely affect your work. Not only will it make your work unnecessarily tricky, but it is also very time-consuming. Even after all the time and effort, you will still not likely get the best results. Below are several types of wood for carving you can use. Be sure to pick the correct type to make the ideal piece.
Basswood is a softwood which is so easy to work with. It is one of the best types of wood for carving. It is both soft and strong. Thus no matter which carving method you plan on using, basswood is unlikely to give you any trouble.
Basswood also has a light, creamy color. You can decide to leave it as it is or paint it. Adding color to this wood is easy.
2. Black Walnut
Black walnut is a dark hardwood. This is one wood type that is very difficult to use manual tools on. Most opt for power tools like electric carvers when working with this wood. I do not recommend this wood type for whittling. Because of its vibrant, dark color, it needs no painting after carving.
This is a softwood that is very easy to carve. Most beginners opt to learn about this wood type. It is light brown and looks very coarse. Whittling is the best carving method to use on butternut because of its large grain size. You can even paint it if you want to paint it. Even with no painting, you can simply prim it a little to make it shine.
Cherry is a light pinkish hardwood with a dense grain. It can produce exquisite artwork if appropriately used. Whittling is challenging, though, on this wood type. It is better to use chip carving with a chisel on it.
This types of wood for carving strikes a great balance between a hard and softwood. Experienced carvers love this wood type because of its versatile nature. It can be used with any carving tool, and any carving method can be used on it with no trouble. Its reddish-brown color makes any coloring unnecessary.
6. Sugar maple
This types of wood for carving is ideal for chip carving. Its sturdy, dense nature makes chipping very easy. It is the right choice if you plan on making a sculpture or a sizeable chipped item.
7. White Pine
This is a softwood, but it is also hard enough to permit any type of carving. It is cheaper than most woods. White pine can easily be molded into any shape and is perfect for carving in the round. It has a beautiful cream color that you can choose whether or not to paint.
8. White oak
White oak is also suitable for beginners. It is a little expensive. It has medium grains that can be shaped and molded easily. It can be used for chip carving but is a little challenging when whittling or carving in the round.
Tip 4 – Follow the grain of your wood
When carving always follow the wood grain. Before you start carving, confirm the wood’s grain pattern and carve accordingly. This will help you avoid damaging your wood.
Tip 5 – Sketch the piece you want to carve
Sketching will help minimize mistakes and saves a lot of time. Putting your ideas on paper allows you to maximize your creativity, enabling you to achieve better precision. Remember, if you make a gross mistake like a wrong cut when cutting, there is no going back.
Tip 6 – Make sure your tools are sharp
A tool that is not well sharpened makes your work difficult; it also compromises the quality of your work. Buy a tool sharpener and ensure your blades and power tool bits are sharp. When necessary, buy replacement bits and tools.
Tip 7 – Always have the edge insight
To be an excellent carver, always have the edge insight before you cut. Never have the blade pointed towards yourself, or you will get hurt. If you aim at a part of the item you are carving, you may damage it too. Thus whenever you cut, first check your edge and calculate to avoid mistakes.
Tip 8 – Make use of gloves when carving
Gloves give you a better grip on your tools. They also protect your hands from unfortunate mishaps. If you are not comfortable using two gloves, even one will suffice. Simply use that one to grip your wood.
Wood carving is by no means easy but is a skill worth keeping. The tips for wood carving in this article is meant to make the task easier. However, do give yourself room for mistakes, especially if you are a beginner. Create a special place to work, give yourself time, and create masterpieces before you know it!