Posted by: Michael Keller Woodcarving | September 24, 2012

How to Wood Carve

The quick answer as to how to wood carve is to quote Nike, “just do it.”

The only way any of us becomes proficient at wood carving is by doing it.  Clearly, hanging around other woodcarvers helps, reading woodcarving books provides help, taking classes helps, and lots of other things help but the bottom line is spending time behind the knife and gouge… lots of time.

When I first carved, I was pre-school and I recall taking the corners of a small length of construction 2X4 and thinking it was a dang fine looking car.  Over the years, I have moved on to different and more complicated subjects but that car was particularly challenging to me.  Many first attempts have wound up in the fire place.  Now some 60 years later some first attempts are still ending up in the fire place.  But the point is that practice will be your best teacher.  Like I said above, you definitely want input but practice, alone, will be your greatest teacher and get you to where you want to be.

There is an interesting thing you will discover along the way.  No matter to what level skill we achieve, we will always find that there are those more skilled than we are as well as those less skilled.  That is just the way it is.  We should appreciate those more skilled than we are as they will be our motivation as we go forward.  We can appreciate those less skilled as we can help them on their carving journey.  By the way, I am convinced that helping others helps us improve our own skills by leaps and bounds.

I kind of get a kick out of books that are titled something similar to “How to Carve Wood.”  Of course the book helps but it can not possible teach us how to carve wood.  We must do that our selves by practice, trial and error.

If you are starting out carving wood, I do have a few tips to help you in your woodcarving pursuits.

1.  Remember, I said above, hang around with other carvers.  One great way to do that is to join a carving group and to listen to all the experiences offered by members… and if their work impresses you, ask them about their techniques, their tools, and anything else you can think of.  The same applies to carving shows; take some in and speak to the carvers you will find there.

2.  Invest in good tools.  If you do not know good tools, ask some who does know.  I wasted a lot of money on disappointing tools.  Good tools are a must.

3.  Keep your knives and gouges sharp.  Sharp is GOOD.  Dull is BAD!  You simply will never do good work with dull tools.

4.  Start out with wood that is easy to carve like basswood.  Picking up a piece of fir and trying to carve it will be disappointing.   If you carve a hard wood like fruit wood, best carve it green as it gets almost too hard for hand tools.

5.  Make an appointment with yourself to carve.  Make your time commitment realistic.  Don’t schedule a daily session if you can’t realistically do that… schedule it weekly.  But what ever you do practice as often as possible.  Whenever I take the car in for service or get stuck on the highway, I make sure I have a whittling knife and a stick to keep me busy.

6.  Be safe.  Let’s face it woodcarving tools are a bit more dangerous than some of the other tools found around so we need to use them safely.  Certainly a sharp knife is not like a run-away chainsaw but we do not want to place anything in front of an edge that we do not intend to cut… as I have said many times…. think hands and fingers.

7.  Look at good publications.  There are a few magazines out there for carvers and there are countless books.  You sure don’t need them all but picking up a few good books and a great magazine will be beneficial.   One of my favorite carving book authors is Ian Norbury because his work is so diversified and he is an incredible carver.  Others include writer/carvers from the UK .  My favorite magazines are Wood Carving Magazine form the UK and Wood Carving Illustrated.   Woodcarving Illustrated is a great magazine for beginners.  Wood Carving Magazine features more skilled projects and information.

In addition to books and magazines, there are a number of great carver’s Internet sites out there.  One such site of great “how tos” and good photography is  The guy behind the site is Don Mertz and great guy and a great carver and teacher.  And, check out the 65 or so articles on this site.  The earlier articles tend to be more technical and cover tools, techniques, etc.

8.  And, most importantly… Practice.  Practice and be proud of your work.  Do not become disappointed if something does not turn out like it was done by a master carver.  Carving success takes time for most of us.  You may or may not end up as a master carver and whether you do or do not, you will have a great time on your journey.

The list above could go on for ever but I will end it here.  Do enjoy the carving experience.  It is a wonderful one.

Thanks for reading.

Please visit my web site at .

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