"I  really  think  I'd  like  to  try  wood carving,  but.....I  have  questions"


I've never carved before.  How do I start?
Do I need a special kind of wood and where do I get it?
Will carving require a lot of tools before I can start?
Is a pattern used?  How do I use it and where can I get them?
Do you have a simple project to help me get started?
I'm just a kid.......do I start the same way?






  • If you do not know if there is a wood carving supply store in your area, I would suggest that you first set up a support system . By that I mean find  someone to assist you in locating wood and tools when the time comes that you need them.  Regardless of your age, contact the local Senior Center, Jr. College, Community College, or College to see if they have wood carving classes. Get the name and phone number of their instructor. Talk with this person about where to get carving wood and supplies and also about lessons should you decide at some point to join a class.    Back

  • The following woods are soft and easy to carve, with basswood the preferred wood for beginners: basswood, aspen and butternut.  Basswood and aspen are white and butternut is brown.  Simple basswood cutouts are available at most craft stores and would be a good "first" project. After that you will probably want to go on to something a little more complex.  As you move on you will want to find a source to buy basswood. Carving supply stores and specialty wood stores sell carving wood.  There are many supply catalogs available for free from some of our links.  Don't start carving on an old piece of lumber from the garage or other "found" wood as you will probably just get discouraged and I would also suggest that you don't start with a hardwood, such as walnut. Wood has a grain which runs vertical up the tree. When you carve you need to know which way the grain runs.  If you are carving an animal the grain should run up and down on the fragile parts (like animal legs).  On a picture (relief carving) the grain should run vertically.     
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  • You do not need a lot of tools to start carving.  One knife will get you started until you decide if you really want to keep on carving.  An X-Acto Knife from a craft store is good to start with. Don't buy a whole set--just a handle and a package of #11 blades.  It's really not a good idea to start with a kitchen knife or a jack knife.  An alternative to the X-Acto Knife would be a good wood carving knife but you won't really know which one you want until after you've worked on a few simple projects.  Carving supply catalogs have carving knives when the time comes.  Very soon after you start you will want to expand your tools. But do not buy any "sets". You will want to buy 3 basic tools.  A 45 degree "V" tool, a 1/2 inch gouge and a 1/4 inch gouge. Any tools you use must be very sharp.  Dull tools will cause you no end of trouble.  Your wood will rip and tear and you will cut yourself from having to push too hard on the dull tool. Sharp tools take less effort, make a clean  cut, and let you have more control. With the X-Acto Knife, when the blade is dull you can replace it. If you use a Wood Carving Knife you will have to learn to sharpen your tool. Sunset Magazine has a book on basic beginning woodcarving that might be of help. It has a section on sharpening also.  Wood carving books are available at the library.    Back

  • Almost all wood carvers use patterns.  Transfer your pattern onto the wood with graphite paper. With graphite instead of  carbon paper you can erase your lines with a regular eraser without making smudges.  You  want to keep your wood clean, free of smudges, and  free of lotion or food stains.  (If I may add a bit of humor(?) keep your wood free of blood stains). Start with a very simple pattern--what we call a stylized pattern--so it is easy to work with . You want to have fun while you are learning.  You can get the feel of the wood grain and how to work with it.  You can make your patterns from anything you like.  Some very good beginning patterns come from a small child's coloring book.  Copiers make it very easy to make a pattern the size you want.    Back

  • Yes , we have a stylized pattern for you to start wood carving with and some simple instructions. This pattern will make a very nice key chain fob.  You can use the same instructions with any cutout that you might purchase from a craft store or with a piece that has your own pattern on it. Transfer our fish or your own  pattern to the wood and use a band saw to cut out the outline. Christmas decorations are usually made with thinner wood--3/8 inch--small animals can be 3-dimensional out of thicker  pieces.  Back

     We have added Christmas Patterns to our Site.  After you have finished this project you might  want to look at the Articles and Patterns Pages. 

  • No, a young person, 12 years old or less who does not have a wood carver to help them should not try to start carving with an X-Acto knife or carving knife unless they have a lot of previous experience using a paring knife or a jack knife with a parent.  First -- decide if the beginner will have lots of patience.  Second -- will the beginner be attentive to safety rules.  Very nice statues can be carved using a bar of Ivory Soap and a knife modified from a plastic cutlery knife.  Use a sander or sandpaper to sharpen the edge of the plastic knife. Use the same type of pattern as shown (simple and basic).  Use short cutting strokes to remove the excess soap around the pattern, then continue rounding the edges as described. Smooth your carving by cutting and rubbing by hand.  Use as a statue.  Save your chips for the bath.  The plastic knife should be safe but REMEMBER - - - wood carvers do not "play around" with their tools or make unnecessary motions in the air with the tools. The beginner must stop their work if horseplay takes place with the tools, even when working with the plastic.  After several projects such as this the beginner may be ready to progress to wood and a carving knife. If they do there are thumb and finger guards available that are about $1.50 each from supply stores (probably need 1 ea.) There is also a tape called Vet Tape (from the Vet's office or a woodcarving supply store) that is wrapped around the vulnerable thumb or finger.
  • If you have a Boy Scout or are one already and need to work on the wood carving badge, try to find a wood carver to assist you.  The principles above would apply and a neckerchief ring could be attached to the back of the simple project piece. 
  • ( Link to Boy Scout Site    )


Good Luck & Happy Carving from the  NORTHWEST CARVERS ASSOCIATION



Created by BMiller.............updated Feb 2017