Wood carving is, without a doubt, one of our favorite ways for beginners to get started with woodworking.
Wood carving takes up very, very little space. It is quiet, which means you can carve in an apartment or inside the house rather than needing a dedicated shop. And it is relatively inexpensive as you only need a few tools to get started.
When I started to get back into woodworking I really wish I had focused more on wood carving. I lived in a small house with no dedicated shop space so it would have been the perfect woodworking hobby. I also lived in a city full of trees that make for great wood for carving. Varieties like maples, walnut, elm, and butternut.
If you’re a beginner woodworker or just want to get started with carving then this is the perfect place to get started.
Breaking Down the Styles of Wood Carving
Wood carving can take on a few different forms depending on the cutting method and tools you are using. You’ll there is still quite a bit of overlap in techniques between the styles so learning one doesn’t necessarily exclude you from mastering the others as well.
Relieve carving is a method to create designs or sculptures out of wood. U or V shaped tools are most often used with a mallet to remove wood from a larger block.
This method can be used to create signs, custom designs in finished pieces or larger wood sculptures. Relief carving can be used to create beautiful, organic designs in the faces of wood or in stand-alone, decorative pieces.
Knife carving, or whittling, uses only straight or hook knives to carve the wood. This method is most commonly used to carve wooden spoons.
If you are looking to get into wood carving to start making money with your woodworking then this is one of the best places to start. Wooden spoons and other wooden utensils are great selling items.
Chip carving is a decorative carving method in which small chips are removed from a flat wood surface using chisels or knives.
With chip carving you can achieve some truly incredible designs.
Wood Carving Tools for Beginners
Wood carving tools can generally be grouped into three categories – gouges & chisels, knives, and power tools.
Wood Carving Gouges & Chisels
Gouges and chisels are designed to be pushed with your palm or tapped with a mallet to make cuts and remove wood. They are best used for relief and chip carving.
Wood carving gouges and chisels come in two basic varieties: palm or mallet.
Palm gouges are shorter gouges that are pushed with your palm to make the cut. These tools allow for a high degree of detail and control when making the cuts. The main to keys to using these tools is to keep them razor sharp and carve woods with favorable density and grain.
Hard exotic woods can be extremely tough to carve using any hand tools but especially palm gouges! We recommend if you’re extremely new to carving, picking up some basswood blocks as the grain makes for an easier learning curve.
Chisel gouges feature longer handles meant to be hit with a mallet to make each cut. When working on larger pieces or woods which can be difficult to carve cleanly (extremely soft or extremely hard woods) these can be a far more effective tool.
A typical set of beginner carving gouges will come with a chisel, various U gouges with a range of sweeps and a few V gouges.
Wood Carving Knives
Wood carving knives are designed to be used in more of a sweeping or whittling motion. They are best used for projects where your end goal is to refine and shape the wood rather than carve it into intricate designs.
Think of a wooden spoon versus a wooden sign.
Carving knives come with both straight and curved blades. Using spoon carving as an example – a straight blade would be used to shape the handle of the spoon or the outside of the spoon cup. While a curved blade would be used to shape out the inside of the spoon.
Wood Carving Power Tools
Wood power carving tools have come a long way in recent years. There are a variety of options available including smaller rotary carving tools, like the Dremel, to attachments for your angle grinder!
It is now a simple (although messy!) task to hook up a carving disc to an angle grinder and hand carve an entire bowl!
Dremel Wood Carving Bits
While a Dremel isn’t the tool to remove large amounts of wood it can produce some incredibly detailed results.
Wood Carving Discs
If you’re looking to remove large amounts of wood or shape large pieces like chairs then carving or shaping discs may be the perfect fit.
Wood carving discs like the Arbortech turbo plane can remove large amounts of wood extremely fast. Be careful as these discs can tend to be a bit grabby at first before you get the hang of them. Although that comes quickly and you’ll soon turn your shop into a sawdust factory.
Shaping discs also attach to the angle grinder and sacrifice some of the raw material removal power for more control and shaping abilities.
Best Wood for Carving
We recommend domestic hardwoods like butternut, walnut, or fruit woods for carving. In fact, we wrote an entire post on the best woods for carving spoons.
Wood Carving Classes
Taking a wood carving class from an experienced carver is a great way to learn the basics of handling carving knives, working with different wood grains, and shaping aesthetically pleasing work.
Our friend, Anne of All Trades, recently opened up her new woodworking school out in Tennessee and specializes in wood carving. All of her classes are currently taught online on a weekly basis and are a great way to get started with woodcarving.
You can check out the class schedule here to sign up.
Wood Carving Projects for Beginners
Carving wooden spoons is a great project for beginners as it can be done with only two or three carving knives and easy to find scraps of wood.
You can even buy wooden spoon blanks online which allows you to focus on carving without worrying about finding wood or cutting it to a rough shape.
Signs are a great way to practice your relief carving with V or U shaped gouges. Hand carved signs make for great gifts and also sell incredibly well if you’re willing to customize them to the customer’s requests.
Adding a simple, or intricate, pattern to a drawer face or box top is a great way to add a customized flair to your work. Patterns like celtic weaves are easy to find online and trace onto your workpieces.
Small figurines like animals are a great, small project that make for great gifts or Etsy shop listings. Small, intricate projects like these are a great time to put your rotary carving tools to use.
When carving small objects using gouges or knives take care to always cut away from your hand. Carving gloves can also help to add some peace of mind.
Walking sticks are a fun way to combine both knife carving with intricate designs. Sprites are a popular design to carve into the sides of sticks.
Wood Carving Safety
Like any woodworking activity, woodcarving requires attention and some basic safety precautions. Always cut away from your hand or body and make controlled cuts. Keep your tools sharp as a dull tool requires more force which can lead to it slipping and coming into contact with your body.
Rotary tools pose their own hazards as they can be difficult to control and will kick up large amounts of chips and dust. Always wear proper eye, breathing, and ear protection!