The Complete Guide to Wood Carving: Everything You Need to Know

wood carving by men

Wood carving and the varieties surrounding this art form are known as some of the oldest forms of woodworking. The technology and methods have remained relatively the same even though this hobby has been practiced for more than a thousand years. With that being said, wood carving continues to be an incredibly popular form of art that’s continuously growing. 

Even though this hobby might seem incredibly intimidating when you first start conducting research on the topic, wood carving is widely known for being quite easy to form. Many beginners consider this skill to be easy to understand if you put the time into learning the different techniques and tools. Like any other hobby, woodworking takes patience, persistence, and practice. However, the amazing thing about this hobby is that you can easily get started in performing carving projects without spending a fortune. 

The purpose of this woodcarving is to simply create something. This type of art form exclusively focuses on aesthetic design over functionality. In most cases, you have the opportunity to carve massive pieces of wood to make solid and long-lasting furniture pieces. However, these can be seen as egregious processes. Instead, it’s best to focus on the basics involving woodcarving to ensure that you get the best of what this art form has to offer. From here, you can start on some bigger projects. Nonetheless, it’s vital to understand a little about woodcarving before diving into the creative carving process. Here’s what you need to know:

Table of Contents

How Long Has Wood Carving Been Around?

Experts believe that wood carving has been performed across the world for thousands of years. The oldest known wooden sculpture that people have discovered was found in 1894 and is located in Russia. This sculpture is known as ‘Shigir Idol.’ Through various scientific date testing, it’s believed that the sculpture is more than 12,000 years old. This timeframe indicates that the sculpture originates near the end of the world’s last Ice Age. 

Another famous example of early records where woodcarving occurs is present in the Bible. This evidence is found in the book of Exodus. In this, God speaks to Moses and describes a man named Bezalel as being a master craftsman who is known for being skilled when it comes to mounting gemstones, engraving, and carving many types of wood. With that being said, it’s strongly believed that the book of Exodus was written in approximately 5 BC. 

Is Whittling and Wood Carving the Same Activity? 

A common misconception is that wood carving and whittling are the same activity. Yes, these two woodworking activities are similar in nature but there is a significant difference. Whittling can be viewed as the child of woodcarving. When learning about these various woodworking practices, you’re going to notice that there are four types of woodcarving that people can perform. Woodcarving is the ‘umbrella term’ for all of these woodworking projects. 

What Types of Wood Carving do You Get? 

Two variables are present that determine the types of woodcarving a specific project falls under. These two variables include the final form of the wood piece you have included and the tools required. Here are the primary types of woodcarving you can perform: 

Chip Carving 

This is seen as one of the most popular forms of woodcarving that beginners typically perform. Chip carving involves removing the wood’s surface you’re working with and cutting it down with various tools to develop different patterns and textures. This chip carving is known to become quite challenging in regards to the complexity of the patterns you’re trying to create. 

Whittling 

Whittling is known as being the oldest form of wood carving in the world. The only tools needed when conducting whittling on a wooden project are carving knives. With that being said, you have many options to choose from when picking a knife. One of these carving knife options is a fixed handle. You also have the option of a folding knife, which works similarly to how a pocket knife works. 

Relief Carving 

Relief carving is classified as a sculpture that rests against a flat background. The carver performing this relief carving uses the texture and carving of any subject to develop perception and depth when making the wooden project. It’s incredibly common for these pieces to be hung on a wall. The tools these carvers typically use are carving knives, chisels, and gouges. 

Carving in the Round 

This type of wood carving is equipped to produce a 3D sculpture. Some of the most projects conducted when performing carving in the round are sculptures of animals or other types of caricature. Endless arrays of carving tools are available to purchase when conducting these types of projects, including a carving knife, gouges, chisels, and other wooden tools. These tools help to create an array of cuts. 

Scandinavian Flat Planing 

Woodcarving and ice sculpting are typical hobbies in Scandinavia. However, this woodcarving uses a rougher form of carving, which is known as flat planing. This allows your divots and tool marks to clearly show in the final product. These types of sculptures aren’t sculptured or sanded beyond the abilities of your various woodcarving devices. Due to this, you’re left with a rustic look. This appearance is well like and fantastic for allowing you to gauge your skill level. 

What are the Best Types of Wood to Use?

From our experience, we have found that wood carving kits typically don’t include information on the types of wood you should be using. Each metal type that’s included in the various carving wood tools and blades is known to be viable for each type of wood. The woods used to conduct carving wood have mixed properties, which make such materials useful for different skill levels and projects. 

Basswood 

Intermediates and beginners are known to effortlessly make beautiful woodworking projects with basswood. The reason for this is that there aren’t any growth grain patterns. Due to this, you can easily whittle or chip from each angle you wish while ensuring that it remains to look smooth and natural. 

Pine 

Pine is widely believed to be the best for the carving wood toolsets that beginners generally purchase. The reason behind this is that pine wood is soft and readily available while also being cheap. This pinewood requires carvers with a steady hand to ensure that you don’t split the piece of wood entirely. Due to this, you gain excellent practice because you’re likely to use more force than needed when you’re a beginner. 

Butternut 

One of the benefits of using butternut is that it naturally looks stained and finished. It has an appearance of rich-colored wood. However, this type of wood is costly. With that being said, you gain a piece of wood that doesn’t have much grain. Due to this, your wooden project is going to look refined without requiring you to perform any additional steps. 

Aspen 

If you’re searching for a durable and strong piece of wood, Aspen is the right option for you. However, this wood type holds the reputation of showing its marks. Nonetheless, you can easily sand it down without taking too much time or adversely affecting the appearance of your project. It’s also a medium-costing wood that isn’t known to kill your carving budget to acquire. This applies even if you’re new to the world of wood carving. 

Oak 

You’ve possibly been waiting for us to mention this wood type. Oak is an incredibly popular type of wood that’s used in many carving projects. It’s a hardwood that’s typically used for long-lasting furniture that travels down from generation to generation. The properties making up this wood type m give oak the reputation of being sturdy, robust, and costly. For this reason, it’s commonly used as an excellent wood for gift making. 

What Tools Should You Use While Wood Carving? 

We have mentioned some of the wood carving essentials every woodcarver should consider purchasing. 

Sharpening Tools 

One of the most beneficial items you can purchase is a sharpening stone that doesn’t require oil as a lubricant. The reason for this is that this oil is challenging to clean up. 

Cutting Tools 

Endless options are available on the market when it comes to purchasing cutting devices. Nonetheless, we have reviewed our top five cutting kits for beginners to help make your decision easier. These products can be found further down in this article, so continue reading to find out more. 

Safety Equipment 

With that being said, wood carving involves sharp devices being used to cut into the wood, which means that your safety should be a priority. For this reason, we highly suggest that you invest in a quality pair of cut-resistant gloves, which are used to protect your hands from any mishandled blades. These cut-resistant gloves work to prevent the blade from cutting into your hand. 

In addition to your hands and fingers, you also need to be protecting your eyes. For this reason, eye protection is incredibly advantageous. Even though the wood shavings might be small, it’s vital to ensure you’re protecting your eyes from these. Basic safety glasses or goggles are going to work out better than not wearing anything.

Tips for Beginners for Carving Wood

One of the first devices you should be when you’re starting your wooden carving journey is a carving knife. Luckily, these devices are readily available and can be purchased from most woodworking or craft stores. We strongly highly recommend using a fixed-handled knife. The reason for this is that it’s a mic safer and comfortable carving device for beginners to use. The blade included in this design is fixed, which means that the knife isn’t going to close under pressure.

Once you’ve had some practice performing various techniques with this detailed knife, it would be recommended to beginning purchasing more objects for your basic, curved sculptures. There’s a range of styles that you can choose from. This can make it challenging to find the best materials because the market is filled with endless options. For this reason, we conducted an extensive search looking for some of the best woodcarving sets suitable for a beginner. We have reviewed these kits below to help you pick the best one for the type of woodcarving you would like to conduct. 

How Can You Chip a Carving? 

Chip carving is one of the techniques sued in woodcarving. This type of woodcarving works exceptionally well for creating intricacy and detail when you’ve taken care of the mass of wood. Almost every woodcarving kit is bound to come with chisels, which help when it comes to chipping. It’s a must-have in any carvers toolbox. 

When performing chip carving, you should use these chisels and aim it at a specific angle to your desired piece of wood you’re wishing to chip. From here, you can use a rubber mallet on the device’s hilt and begin driving it down. You should focus on sending this mallet down into the wood as quickly as possible to ensure that you can chip it. 

These techniques are generally used in tandem with other methods to develop a refined and finished project. With that being said, it’s vital that you chip at an angle that’s between 70 degrees and 45 degrees. The reason for this is that you avoid splitting and ruining your wood base. 

What Should I Make as a Beginner Wood Carver? 

As a beginner, we strongly recommend that your first wooden project be a cube. Carving a cube with only a knife is going to be excellent practice, even if it sounds boring. It might not sound interesting, but attempting a perfect cube is a challenging task that can help you develop much-needed skills that prepare you for bigger projects later on in your woodcarving journey. Not to mention, creating this cube helps you experience working with varied grains on each side of the wood. 

From here, a quick search online is going to reveal a wide array of patterns to choose from. With that being said, it’s vital that you take your time and the woodcarving process slowly. We recommend that you don’t select any advanced designs to recreate if you’ve only made a few sculptures. The reason for this is that you’re likely going to find this process extremely frustrating. 

Finally, you shouldn’t allow yourself to create a finely detailed end product while you’re working on your wooden sculpture. We state this because this can be frustrating for a beginner, as this end product is likely not to turn out the way you had originally imagined in your head. However, after understanding the many techniques and practice, you’re going to be well on your way to designing incredibly pieces that you’re bound to be proud of. 

What are the Best Wood Carving Tools?

The market is flooded with endless woodcarving devices to choose from, which can make purchasing one from a shop incredibly daunting. Even though these kits might seem straightforward to understand, different features are making up these kits. For this reason, we have searched far and wide to provide you with the top five types of kits available for you to choose from. We have done this to make your decision more hassle-free. Here are our top picks for the five best woodcarving kits for beginners: 

Mikisyo Power Grip Carving Tools

There’s a lot of Japanese roots in wood carving. It’s widely known that the Japanese have helped perfect the art of wood carving over many centuries. With that being said, these Mikisyo authentic Japanese import wood carving tools help users create intricate pieces of work that are commonly seen in magazines. 

This kit of Japanese carving tools is equipped with seven pieces, which is all you require when you begin making some spectacular wood carving pieces. This tool kit also comes with stainless steel blades. Each of these blades comes fully laminated, which is incredibly helpful. The reason for this is because it helps promote the blade from sustaining damage while giving a smooth finish that’s typically liked in wood carving projects. 

With that being said, these stainless steel blades are excellent, but many customers are concern about the dexterity. Thankfully, Mikisyo thought of this by including a soft hourglass handle in the design. This helps create the perfect point of contact for the users’ palms. 

Many customers claim that this wood carving kit provides better control over your carving outcome, making it simple and pure. After purchasing, you can two separate rounds. These are either a 3mm round or a 6 mm round and work to help wood carving projects that include longer pieces of wood effortlessly. 

That’s not all. This Mikisyo wood carving kit is a hot item because it’s versatile and affordable. You gain everything you require and a durable case to keep these various tools safe. Nonetheless, it should be noted that this caving tool kit includes oak handles in the design. For this reason, you should inspect these items annually to understand if this tool handles need to be polyurethaned or sealed. 

Product Features: 

  • The product comes in seven different pieces.
  • The materials used are oak and steel. 
  • It includes laminated steel blades.
  • The tools included are a side line, angled, shallow round, 3mm round, triangular, and round. 

Imotechom 12-Piece Wood Carving Set 

The Imotechom 12-Piece Wood Carving Set has the reputation of being a beautiful wood carving kit. Unlike most carving kits, Imotechom has decided not to include traditional stainless steel in the design. Alternatively, the manufacturer includes chrome-vanadium blades. The advantage of these blades is that not as much sharpening is required when compared to stainless steel blades. 

These blades are designed on walnut handles, which include a light curve that comfortably fits in your palm’s point of contact. In addition to this, the wood carving kit is shipped to you in EPE protection. This ensures that the blades don’t get tarnished during delivery. This case also comes with an elegant two-beam inlay where you can keep your carving wood tools. The foam included at the top of this case helps keep these wood carving tools in place, so there isn’t any rattling when you’re moving the case from point A to point B. 

Even though we love this wood carving kit, we highly recommend all customers inspect every piece when the package arrives. We haven’t found any problems with the quality of these carving tools. However, we did find that you may be required to sharpen a couple of tools before you start using these wood carving tools. We would also like to point out that everything included in this kit works very well, but you should also expect the price to reflect the quality of this product. 

We believe this carving tool kit to be an excellent option for intermediate use that’s perfect for users who have some experience. Otherwise, it’s also an excellent option for those who wish to gain an advantage at the start of their wood carving journey. 

Product Features: 

  • The product comes in 12 different pieces. 
  • The materials used are walnut and chrome-vanadium. 
  • It doesn’t include laminated steel blades.
  • The tools included are skew chisel (multiple sizes), bent gouge, curved gouge, spoon gouge, straight parting, straight gouge. 

SCHAAF Full Size Wood Carving Tools

SCHAAF is widely known for creating wood carving tools that beginners love. The reason for this is because these tools are hassle-free. Even though this tool carving kit has an aesthetic design, the function isn’t sacrificed. The design is more about its functionality than anything else. These ash wood handles have an amazing appearance and the geometric handle shapes included in the design help the users gain optimal comfort when carving wood. However, this comfortable is nothing compared to inlay. 

Nonetheless, these tools remain easy to handle, but not as much as other tools. Instead, many customers prefer this wood carving tool kit before the vanadium steel blades. These blades are what justify the hefty investment you put towards purchasing this product. This kit comes in a tool roll, which is complete with plastic tips that help to keep these blades sharp during the shipping period. However, we still highly recommend that you inspect each tool’s sharpness upon arrival. With that being said, you should be conducting this inspection with any wood carving kit you purchase. 

Another excellent feature about this kit is that it comes with an eBook that covers the beginner’s guide to wood carving and chip carving. Even though this book is exceptionally informative and an exceptional addition to this product, you might be required to contact customer service to receive it, as some customers report that they didn’t receive the eBook over email after purchasing the product. 

SCHAAF is the brand holding the reputation of informing beginners during the wood carving process. This helps users gain the most robust blades possible that can stand the test of time. Due to this, these blades are designed to last you your entire wood carving journey while performing an annual sharpening. 

Product Features: 

  • The product comes in 12 different pieces.
  • The materials used are ash wood and chromium-vanadium steel.  
  • It includes laminated steel blades.
  • The tools included are parting tools (multiple sizes), viewer, spoon gouge, heavy bent gouge, gouge, skew chisel, straight chisel, side line, angled, shallow round, 3mm round, triangular, and round.

Beavercraft S16 Carving Kit

The Beavercraft S16 Carving Kit takes the cake when it comes to the performance offered in these wood carving hand tools. After purchasing this product, you gain three simple yet robust tools that can be used to fill many roles in your wood carving project. These include a spoon, carving knives, and chisels. 

The inclusion of a roughing knife helps in removing any excess wood from your project. This helps you achieve the design you envisioned for your wood carving piece. In addition to this, the cutting knife works as a bridge between removing any excess wood while offering fine detail to your wood carving project. The detail knife is another hand tool in the kit that does exactly what you would have pictured it to do. It offers precise and small cuts with the inclusion of a 23-degree angled bevel. 

Under regular circumstances, we wouldn’t promote that these three tools could provide the resources for beginners to perform like a kit with 12 different tools. However, this kit doesn’t fit with this belief because you can get a lot out of these three tools without being limited. The benefit of using a smaller kit is that these carving knives are intimate. The reason behind this is that you’re going through each motion in extremely close detail. Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean that you have to spend more time wood carving with the length of these blades. With that being said, we suggest that users pair with a wood cup kit, rubber mallet, or a separate wood carving chisel. This helps gain the best outcomes with your wood carving projects. 

Product Features: 

  • The product comes in three different pieces. 
  • The materials used are non-specific wooden handles and high carbon steel. 
  • It doesn’t include laminated steel blades
  • The tools included are roughing knife, detail knife, and cutting knife. 

Mamar Pine Wood Carving and Whittling Kit 

The last option in this guide is the Mamar Pine Wood Carving and Whittling Kit is known for being an inexpensive and precision-focused tool kit. The kit comes equipped with series of sealed pine and ergonomic wooden handles that help promote the best possible dexterity while you’re carving. Nonetheless, we found that these handles could be considered a little narrow. For this reason, you’re going to need to keep a firm grip on these handles. 

Precision is offered when handling these coated carbon steel blades. Not to mention, you can also switch between 12 different included tools. This helps to fine-tune the details you’re wanting. From our personal experience, we found that you get what you pay for when using this kit. Even though you gain many different tools for an extremely low price, these tools aren’t going to be a long-term investment. Instead, you should purchase this kit to get started in the world of wood carving as a beginner without having to spend a ton of money on this new hobby. Nonetheless, it still can be regarded as an investment. 

This kit is equipped with some hand tool pieces to get beginners started. You also gain a roll-up cover that’s protective and allows you to store your tools. With that being said, your purchase is covered under a 30-day guarantee. Due to this, you gain peace of mind knowing that you can return the kit can get your money back if you don’t enjoy it. We also found that the customer service offered by Mamar is excellent and answers any questions you might have. With that being said, we recommend this kit to beginners who are looking to upgrade their existing wood carving experience or wishing to dip their toe in the world of wood carving. 

Product Features: 

  • The product comes in 12 different pieces.
  • The materials used are electrolytically coated carbon steel and pine wood. 
  • It includes laminated steel blades
  • The tools included are gouge, narrow straight chisel, angled knives, rounded chisel, and wide straight chisel (in multiple sizes). 

Wrapping it Up 

After everything mentioned in this comprehensive guide on wood carving, it’s vital to understand that these tools aren’t going to be moving without your hands. For this reason, you’re going to need to have work on various projects to understand the steadiness needed and precision you can gain while using different angles and pressures. 

In the world of wood carving, your wooden project starts with you. Using the right kit can be seen as an extension of your existing skills and abilities that you’re required to build over time. Nonetheless, it’s about time you kiss your old whittling knife and its accompanying kit goodbye. You should keep in mind that upgrading and improving the arsenal of wood carving hand tools while you’re learning more and enhancing your skills.

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Graham Robson
Graham Robson

In the world of wood carving, your wooden project starts with you. Using the right kit can be seen as an extension of your existing skills and abilities that you're required to build over time.