Introduction to Carving

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Want a fun and relaxing hobby which doesn’t break the bank? Try wood carving. I began carving over forty years ago and I still enjoy grabbing a piece of wood and making it come alive again. There are several different types of carving: relief, carving in the round or 3D, and chip carving.

The first carving question I get asked is what kind of tools to get. The answer depends on the type of carving. Chip carving is the easiest because only a chip carving knife and a strop for sharpening are required. Relief carving or carving in the round will require a knife, some gouges, maybe a mallet, and some kind of sharpening stones or power sharpening system.


Relief with Pfeil (l) and chip with Flexcut (r)

Not all tools are sharp and ready to carve right out of the box, some will require work to get ready. Two main manufacturers of tools are Flexcut, made in Eric, PA and Pfeil, made in Switzerland, both of which are sharp and ready to carve. Buying a set of tools is an economical option; however, I encourage purchasing an individual tool for a specific job and buying them one at a time as needed.

Choosing a piece of wood to carve on is the next step. One of my favorites is basswood- a soft, cream colored wood with a very tight grain which will hold detail well. Starting with a square block of wood is an option, but to speed things up a cutout blank works well– a piece of wood with some of the excess wood removed. Most of the time it’s a flat, one or two dimensional piece which has been cut out with a scroll saw or bandsaw to the shape being carved. Purchasing a rough out is also an option– a piece of wood which has had most of the excess wood removed and more resembles the final carving.


Several 3D carvings done by the author

Knowing how to properly hold a carving tool and controlling the start and stop of a cut is paramount to carving safety. A carver’s glove is a good safety choice if the wood will be hand-held. For beginner carvers, after getting the raw materials and tools together, I suggest carving something familiar to start such as a spoon, cross, or small boot. Being patient, taking the proper time, and keeping tools sharp is a must. Finding a local carving club or a good book are great resources for developing skills or finding new ideas. Of course, the old adage of practice, practice, practice is always true for the woodcarver, so grab some wood and start making the chips fly!


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