7 Wood Carving Techniques You Should Know

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Woodworking is an exciting and broad hobby to dive into!  You will be sure to find a technique of wood carving that spikes your interest. Wood carving is an ancient art form that will leave you with beautiful, uniquely crafted finished products. These projects make thoughtful gifts or personalized home decor. Are you wondering which wood carving technique will be the right one for you? We have researched to create a detailed guide showcasing the varying wood carving techniques to help you choose.

Wood carving techniques can be defined by the tools, types of wood used, and many other aspects used in each technique. In the majority of these methods, you will be utilizing a cutting tool or chisel. Types of wood carving techniques include:

  • Whittling
  • Chip carving
  • Relief carving
  • Scandinavian flat-plane
  • Lovespoon
  • Treen
  • Chainsaw carving

Let's take a look at the tools and materials you will need in each of these techniques. Read on as we elaborate on these wood carving methods and show you what projects can be achieved.

A man using a chisel to carve his wood carving project, 7 Wood Carving Techniques You Should Know

Wood Carving Techniques

Different wood carving tools on a wooden table

Each wood carving technique has its own style attached to it. You'll need certain tools for each method, and the projects you produce will vary greatly. Let's dive a little deeper into the specifics of each of these wood carving techniques.

Whittling

Whittling has been used for centuries as a pastime or for artistic expression. This method is considered one of the simplest forms of wood carving. You can carve shapes out of the wood you are whittling or use your cutting tool to shave off slivers of wood, forming a new shape.

Tools you can utilize while whittling include:

  • Small bladed knife (pocket knife)
  • Specialized whittling knifes
  • Leather thimble
  • Cut-resistant glove

Specialized whittling knives are great to use because they offer you a fixed single blade to work with. The leather thimble and cut-resistant gloves will save your hands from getting injured.

Amazon offers a wood whittling kit including knives, gloves, and more --click here. 

Wood whittling is commonly used to make little trinkets, like the whittled cats pictured below. You can also use this technique to create kitchen utensils, pipes, personalized clothespins, and much more! After you've got your project whittled to completion, you can consider adding a layer of paint or varnish for some finishing touches.

Watch this short video below for some whittling basics.

Chip carving

Chip carving utilizes a single, flat piece of wood. You will use different knives and chisels to chip away at the wood, eventually leaving you with a finished product. This wood carving technique is an inexpensive hobby to start with, and many people find the process soothing.

A man doing woodcarving work using a wood carver

Materials you will need for chip carving include:

  • Chip carving knives
  • Chisels
  • Pencil
  • Ruler
  • Sharpening compound

You will use your pencil and ruler to create a guide for your design on your piece of wood.  Holding your sharpened knife at a 45-degree angle, you can begin chipping away at your wood. The chips of wood can be removed using this same knife.  You will repeat this process until your design is complete.

Have a look at this Swiss-made chip carving knife here on Amazon.

Chip carving is a wood carving technique most commonly seen in folk art or geometrically designed wood. You can use this method to create eccentric tables or other furniture pieces, panels, or sculptures. Take a look at this chest below that is completed with a carved design.

The video below explains the chip carving basics you will need to get started.

Relief carving

In this method of wood carving, you will use a flat piece of wood. Relief carving has been described as carving pictures into the wood. Using your wood carving tools, you will remove pieces of wood to create a picture that looks like it is rising out of the wood. These images are projections from the wood versus standing freely.

For relief carving, you will need the following tools:

  • Mallet
  • Gouges: u-shaped, v-shaped, spoon and fishtail gouge
  • Chisels: beveled and skewed chisels

Your mallet is used to drive the different gouges and chisels into your wood. You will typically be following a pattern or design that you have transferred to your wood piece.

You can view this set of chisels offered here on Amazon.

There are four styles of relief carving. The styles differ based on the projection of the images within your wood. These styles include:

  • High relief
  • Bas or low relief
  • Deep relief
  • Pierced relief

High relief carving has the shallowest depth of carving, while pierced relief carvings can have areas that go straight through the wood.  Relief carving can be used for art pieces that look like a 3D photo. Bring any cabinet, door, or table to life with this captivating wood carving technique.

The video below will follow a relief carving from start to finish.

Scandinavian flat-plane

Scandinavian flat-plane is a wood carving technique that is based on figure carving.  In this technique, little to no sanding or rounding is done. This leaves a sculpture or figurine with crude edges.

For Scandinavian flat-plane wood carving, you will need the following tools:

  • Carving knife
  • Cut-resistant gloves

You can find a BeaverCraft carving knife here on Amazon.

A famous example of this wood carving technique is the Dalecarlian horse or the Swedish horse. If you are using this technique, you will be creating figurines or small sculptures like the ones pictured below. You can finish off your wood piece by adding paint or varnish to complete the look.

The video below showcases how to carve the most famous form of this wood carving technique, the Swedish horse.

Lovespoon

This wood carving technique is based solely on decorative spoons. These beautifully designed spoons were once given as a romantic gift and now are used as an ornamental crafted item. These spoons have been being made for centuries and originated in Germany.

To carve a lovespoon, you will need the following:

  • Chisel
  • Detail knife
  • Small bowl gouge
  • Sandpaper or other abrasive
  • Wood finish

This carving tool kit on Amazon contains the majority of the tools you will need for this project --click here. 

The lovespoon is a specific wood carving technique. You only produce one thing - a uniquely designed spoon. The patterns you place within the handle do vary. Begin with a simple design and work your way up to more involved patterns and imagery.

The video below tells you the top ten tips for carving your first lovespoon.

Chainsaw carving

Chainsaw wood carving started in the 1950s when the chainsaw met with the old age wood carving hobby. Today, chainsaw carving is so popular there are even competitions held surrounding this skill.

You will need these tools for your chainsaw carving project:

  • Chainsaw
  • Wood coating
  • Protective gear
  • Sketching/patterns

You can find a mini-chainsaw here on Amazon. 

A larger chainsaw will be required to chop away at the big portions of wood, while a smaller saw will be useful when detailing your project. With chainsaw carving, you can create lawn ornaments, statues, sculptures, and more!

Take your time getting comfortable with the different sized chainsaws and the safety precautions. Anyone can learn how to carve with a chainsaw, but special attention to safety is key. The video below will give you some insight into saw handling and different cutting techniques.

What is the best type of wood for carving?

After deciding on a wood carving project to pursue, you'll need to pick out a type of wood to work with. There are many types of wood, like Acacia, Hawthorn, Beechwood, and Basswood, just to name a few. Let's detail the wood categories to help you choose the best type of wood for your carving project.

Softwood

Softwood is the most commonly used wood in carving. This wood grows fast, and there is a lot of it, making it the cheaper choice. Some advantages to softwood are that it is more insect resistant and easier to carve versus hardwood. Some disadvantages include the low fire resistance and potential for decay.

A detailed photo of a log wood

Some examples of softwood include:

  • Basswood
  • Aspen
  • Pine

Hardwood

Hardwood can be more difficult to carve due to the density but does have its perks. Objects carved out of hardwood have better decay resistance and are easier to maintain. On top of the difficulty to cut, hardwood does tend to be more expensive.

A stock pile of firewood

Some examples of hardwood include:

  • Oak
  • Maple
  • Hickory

As you can see, each type of wood has its pros and cons. If you are a beginner wood carver, it is best to start with softwood. The best type of softwood for a beginner is said to be Basswood.

A man using a small chisel to carve his woodwork

Basswood is very soft and has almost no grain.  This easy to carve wood is also one of the cheapest, and the coloring is light, making it easy to paint or stain. You can often find packages of cutting blocks of basswood. These blocks are smoothed out and all ready to start your carving project.

View this package of basswood here on Amazon.

Does wood need to dry before carving?

Wood does not need to be dry before carving. Having your wood damp will actually make carving easier. The moisture in wet or green wood causes the wood to be softer. This softness allows you to make smoother cuts.

A man sharpening a stick using his knife

Your wood may have dried out, or you purchased it dry, but don't worry. You can soak your wood. Soaking the wood will allow for the same easy cut you get with green wood.  Read more on our blog post, "Does Soaking Wood Make It Easier To Carve?"

How do you hold wood for carving?

The hand you are holding your piece of wood with should be protected by a cut-resistant glove. This will help protect you from damaging your hand and will help build more confidence while you are carving.

A worker wearing protective gloves while working on his wood working project

For most people, you will hold your wood in your left hand and your cutting tool in the right. How you steady your wood will depend on the size of wood you are working with and what carving method you have chosen.

Watch this video to see the basic wood carving cuts. The narrator shows great examples of how to hold your wood properly.

Can I carve wood with a Dremel?

You can carve wood with a Dremel, using interchangeable Dremel heads, allowing you to work with the optimal piece for your project. Some Dremel accessories include different sizes of high-speed cutters and an engraving cutter.

A man carving a heart shape using a high speed rotating carver

Not only can you carve with a Dremel, but you can also use this tool to smooth out your project. This is comparable to using sandpaper.  Just like sandpaper, you can choose between different grits to use with your Dremel.

View this high-performance Dremel with varying accessories and attachments here on Amazon.

Is wood carving hard to learn?

Wood carving is not a hard hobby to pick up. The majority of these carving styles have basic steps and require minimum tools. The wide range of project types offers something for every level of woodworker. You have the freedom to choose your project size, giving you more control of the time you will dedicate to each project.

A elderly man doing wood carving work using a chisel

With any skill, there is a learning curve when you start to advance. The more detail you are planning for and the more involved, intricate designs will take more time and patience.

Summary

The history of wood carving dates back to prehistoric times. This old, useful skill remains popular in our lives today.  One of many beautiful aspects of this craft is the variety of projects to choose from. You can create kitchen utensils, a decorative table, or go full out with a chainsaw carved sculpture. Start small, and you can work your way up to projects you've never thought imaginable.

We hope you found this article helpful in choosing the right wood carving method for you. Learn more on our blog post, 15 Types of Wood Crafts.

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