Posted by: Michael Keller Woodcarving | October 15, 2014

Transferring Patterns to Wood for Woodcarving

A not-so-fun step in woodcarving is transferring your selected pattern to wood. I have tried nearly everything and I find none of it to be any fun. I just want to get to carving.

There are several options in transferring patterns. Let’s look at a few of the most common methods.

Carbon Paper

In my beginnings as a woodcarver, I used carbon paper and still use it even today for some applications like large lettering on rough wood. It does a reasonable job but you will be lucky if you can avoid smearing. With large lettering, it is easy to carve off the smears but it becomes less easy with detailed and smaller pieces. And, light woods like basswood seem to act like a sponge with the smearing. I am left handed and I seem to have more trouble with smearing than many do but everyone faces the problem to some degree. Using carbon paper is really very simple… first tape one of two edges of your pattern to the wood. Then carefully slip carbon paper under your pattern and tape it down as well. Then simply trace your pattern to the wood. If you don’t tape the carbon paper, the risk of it sliding around and smearing increases.

Ponce Wheels

Ponce wheels are those nifty little gadgets with a spiked wheel mounted on a handle used for fabric, leather and even wood. The wheels and spikes come in several sizes but I suggest using the smallest spikes that you will be able to see on your wood. With these, one simply tapes the pattern to wood and then runs over the pattern with the spiked wheel. Here again, I find the best use for these with larger patterns lacking detail. Remove the pattern and you will clearly see your pattern in the wood in the form of little “prick marks.” I always, then, go over everything with a soft pencil to make things stand out. You, of course, will want to carve those prick marks out. Ponce wheels are available at artist suppliers, fabric shops, and even Walmart.

Adhesive Spray

It may be obvious to some but I only became familiar with adhesive spray through looking at Chris Pye’s articles in carving magazines some years back. This seems to be his default method of pattern transfer and it rapidly became mine. One caution though… be sure to use a “re-positionable” or “low-tack adhesive such as Scotch Brand Spray Mount. The other stuff “sticks like no tomorrow” and it is very difficult to remove residue from your carving. Spray Mount is available at Michael’s, Office Depot, and elsewhere for from $11.00 to $17.00. I found Michael’s to be the least expensive. If you happen to have a can of regular spray adhesive and want to use it, be sure to go lightly had hold the can a fair distance from your piece to lighten the amount of adhesive. You can remove spray residue with turpentine but turpentine stinks awful, should not be breathed and it will smear any black from your pattern on to your wood. Heavy adhesive and smearing black ink are both difficult to deal with.

Pencil on the Back of Your Pattern

A method we all learned back in elementary school is to hold your pattern up against a window (pattern facing glass) and trace your pattern in reverse on the back of the pattern paper with a soft pencil. Once done, tape the pattern on to your wood and simply draw over your pattern. In doing so, the pencil on the back will be transferred to your wood. Once done, remove the pattern and clean up the transferred pencil marks. This method is the most time consuming of any but it is much cleaner than carbon paper and is a virtually no cost method.

If you happen to know an additional trick, please let me know.

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Thanks for visiting, be carveful and keep sharp!


  1. Don’t forget you can use an iron and copies from a laser printer.

    Once you’ve printed out an image on a laser printer, whether your own or one from a business like Staples, you merely need to secure it to the item, then apply heat from an iron to transfer the image.

    Of course, just as with carbon paper, securing your copy to insure it does not move is critical.

    Try a test on a regular board to see how it works for you.

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