Sunday, November 15, 2009


In this step I have roughly shaped all the raw steel knife blanks into their actual shape as you can see.

With the work load that I have taken on since I started this project, it is taking me longer than I had anticipated to show you the various phases of making a knife so it looks as though there will be other postings made in between my "KNIFE MAKING" posts.

So I am rethinking my my plan and have decided that my next "KNIFE MAKING" post will follow the progression of one knife blade. I just went through all my photos and have found enough images so I can do it. So my next post about this subject will show the various stages from beginning to end.

I will start on this as soon as I find the time.

Terry R. Wolff


I just finished and delivered this sign to a local toy store in Taos. The sign was carved from 2 inch Sugar Pine stock, which has a natural finish with spar varnish for protection from the elements. This sign was designed by Cowgirls Design, a Taos graphic design shop. I think that they did a great job on the design and am glad that I was asked to make it a reality.

Twirl is located just off the Taos Plaza next to the Alley Cantina in Tom W's old Buddhist Tea Room. An interesting building to visit and it is amazing to see what they did with the place.

Terry R. Wolff

Thursday, October 29, 2009


Well I am at last at it. Starting my knife making process. And yes I do mean process. There are several steps I take in making my carving knives and I will write about them on this blog as I proceed though the process.

(I just want to make a side comment here as I know that there are a
number of those reading this that are doing so on Facebook. And I want those of face book to know that what you are reading is being
imported from my blog therefore you are not seeing this in the same format that is in the blog. So if you want to see this post as I had intended it to be please take the time and go to my blog which is located at

Today is Phase One.
This means that I go to where I keep my knife templates and select which ones I want to make. As you can see I keep them all in one place so I can easily access them.

Next I go to my raw steel stock and with a trusty Sharpie I layout the shape of the knives on the appropriate knife blanks. I will layout all the knives which
I intend to make during this session of knife making, this is the first step of the knife making process. Today I will be doing
the layout for some eight different knives. Six of these are for carving or crafts, one is a kitchen/do everything knife, and the last is a mini dagger or cleavage knife which is warn from a chain or lanyard as a neckless and usually by some Harley gals (yes the knives are in a scaber).

After I finish a knife blank layout, I put the blank into a bin where they wait for the next step in the process.
As you can see, there is not too much I can say about Phase One. Perhaps tomorrow I will start Phase Two.

Friday, October 23, 2009


Just got back from spending some catch-up time at Wired Cafe to find that I received some knife orders today. So I went to the cupboard to fetch some knives and the cupboard was depleted. Now I am going to have to play catch-up on some knife making.

The next thing I did was to make sure that I had enough steel to make some more knives and I do. So I will be busy this week making a batch of my standard 1" Magic Knives and maybe some mid size Magic Knives also. I am going to use up some of the knife blanks I made and then as I deplete my stock of blanks I will start discontinuing some of the various sizes I have been offering. I also plan on making a couple of batches of Detailing Knives as well. Both the Curved and Straight cutting edge blades but I am thinking of discontinuing the French Curve Detailing Knife but I will make that decision as I work my way through the up coming knife making process.

The reason I decided to write this is because once I post it to the world, I will have to get started making these knives.

The Magic Knife is used in my one knife carving technique. I will touch more about this in a future posting. I will also talk more about how the Magic Knife is made and why it has that name also in some future posting.

For more information about my Magic Knives and my Detail Knives please visit Shop Taos where you can read more about them.

Well enough blogging for today.

Terry R. Wolff

Friday, October 16, 2009


One of the thinks that I really enjoy carving are symbols. I have always enjoyed type fonts so it only seems natural to me that symbols would follow. Symbols can be carved either into the wood (incised) or they can be carved as relief.

The carvings shown to the right are part of a commission I did for a Colorado client. She also ordered a sign and only one of the two carvings shown here. I did the second one for Linda and myself.

I find Chinese calligraphy also makes for interesting incised carvings. I first realized that I was able to correctly imitate their calligraphy was at a Chinese restaurant in Bellingham WA. Their menu had a number followed by the calligraphy which was for the kitchen staff. The waitress had left her pad with the menus so we could put the number of what we wanted. I decided that I would insert the calligraphy instead and before I knew it, the staff was talking to me in Chinese (this later happened to me in a remote village in China as well). That is when I knew that I could write the unknown language and have it understood. Over the years I have done several calligraphy commissions which are now here in the US as well as in Japan and China.

Here is my thoughts about carving anything. First is to perfect your very basic skill level and secondly look for the basic shapes in all your subjects. I look at each subject or project in basic shapes which will later be refined as the carving progresses toward completion. For example when I teach a new student to carve I have them do some extremely basic incised exercises. I then advance them to using those initial exercises into an abstract design. From there I move them into carving a "Welcome" sign (Letter Carving). I use this word because it includes all the previously learned exercises. Do I want them to become sign carvers is not the point. The point is that by perfecting their carving skills in small increments they can easily and effortlessly move into whatever carving style they may choose.

I will carve a welcome sign just to warm up before tackling a much more complicated commissioned carving. The commission may not even include any lettering at all. The point is that in less than twenty minutes I have warmed up carving something so basic I can practically carve them in my sleep and maybe I do. I have started more winter fires with welcome signs than most people have carved anything (that is because, they don't all appeal to me or there is an earlier carving on the other side). This is like doing stretches before heading to the lift to start a day of skiing (I wonder if I will be able to write blogs and ski too?).

Although most of the symbols I carved have been incised carvings, I have done carvings such as Celtic designs in relief as well. The important thing to remember is whatever you choose to carve, identify its basic shapes and go from there. Once you do that, even if you are carving a letter, you can carve them backwards and upside down because they become geometric shapes and not letters. the same goes for carving a face, a horse, or whatever you choose to carve.

Anyway I am done rambling so if you are a carver just find yourself an interesting design and have at it. You may be surprised at what you may accomplish.

Terry R. Wolff

Monday, September 21, 2009


There are several woods which I prefer to carve. Since I do commissions I use various woods for different carving projects. The next two woods are perhaps my most commonly carved woods and are perhaps the best woods for getting started with. These two woods are my carving mainstays. Any carving project could be accomplished with either of these woods.

Linden wood (Bass Wood) is an excellent wood for general carving as it has a relatively soft, tight, straight and perhaps boring grain. Which makes it an excellent wood to sink your knife or carving tools into. I like this wood for doing commissions of small figurines and reliefs. Since this wood will not hold up well to the elements it is not good for exterior sculpture or signs. This wood takes finishes well.

Sugar Pine or northeast white pine are good woods for most general carving projects which do not have fine details unless you have extremely sharp tools. Other then synthetic carving media, pine is a good choice for carved signs which are going to be painted or are going to be stained or finished naturally.

Some of my favorite carving woods include...

Walnut, this is an excellent wood and one of my favorites. It is an interesting wood in that it has a grain which is hard, has character, fun to carve, and takes to oil finishes. As far as I am concerned, this is what marble is to stone sculptors. Carving of walnut can be finely detailed or abstract with only smooth curves.

Teak, which a number of carvers tend to stay away from since it is renown to dull your tools is really a great wood. Teak has a rich grain that makes it interesting to carve.

African and Honduran Mahogany are good carving woods. However their grain can be tricky to carve and cause ripping if you are not careful. As with most tropical woods they have an open grain. Philippine Mahogany (Luan) is not a true mahogany and can be an okay wood some carving projects. Luan is actually any tropical wood that has similar characteristics and their grains range from soft to extremely hard and stingy. Luan really has nothing in common with a true Mahogany other then if stained with a mahogany stain they may appear to be Mahogany.

Eastern Cedar and Southwestern Juniper although both have a tricky grain to carve, do produce interesting carvings. Eastern Cedar comes from larger trees then the Southwestern Juniper. This means that the Eastern Cedar is mostly available as the reddish heart wood and also is known as Aromatic Cedar. Juniper has a reddish heart wood with a creamy sap wood and makes for some interesting carvings. The early Spanish settlers of the southwest used this wood for carving their Santos. There are about three different types of Juniper, some tend to have a more brownish heard wood. Juniper and Eastern Cedar are very similar and often mistaken for each other. I like Juniper because of its contrast between the heart wood and the sap wood and allows me to use this in my compositions.

Fruit Woods are always good for carving as they have a lot of grain characteristics which make for interesting carving. My favorites are Cherry, Pear, Apple, and Plum. I have a seen some interesting works carved in coconut and other types of nuts.

Other woods you may consider...

Oak can be used but it has drawbacks in that it has a heavy grain which can interfere with your design. With that said, if you keep your design simple or use the grain as part of that design you will be happy with this wood. American oak both red and white have a broader grain then English Oak which has been used for appliques on English furniture. So if you could acquire English Oak you could easily do more detailed work without having the grain interfering with your design.

Alaska Cedar which comes from well you can figure that out on your own. This wood carves much like Linen wood but is somewhat harder. It has a yellowish coloration and was used by northwest tribes to carve mask and totem poles.

Aspen and Cottonwood have also been used for carving but I personally have not enjoyed working with them.

There is a variety other woods that have been used by carvers from all over the world so there is no end to woods that you can use for carving. I have only mentioned some of the woods which I am personally familiar with. So find some wood and start carving.

Terry R. Wolff

Sunday, July 12, 2009


As I mentioned before I use traditional hand tools and carving knives. Throughout my years of carving I have come to realize that there are but a handful of tools which I refer to as the Basic Carving Tools. These are the tools that will do over 90% of your carving needs. I consider all my other tools as specialty tools.

Over time I have acquired several sets of these basic tools. Some are redundant and others are of various sizes, some smaller and one larger.

Here is my personal recommendation for the Basic Carving Set for both the beginner and for anyone who carves with traditional carving tools. I will list them by tool type, size, and sweep for the gouges...
  1. V-Parting Tool - 1/2", 60 degree angle
  2. Gouge - 1" wide, #3 sweep
  3. Gouge - 1/2" wide, #5 sweep
  4. Gouge- 5/8" wide, # 9 sweep
  5. Magic Knife - 1" wide blade
  6. Detail Knife - straight blade
  7. Wood is Good #20 Mallet
There you have it, the six main tools plus the mallet that everyone should start out with.

Here are a few other recommendations for once you have mastered the basics. These are tools which I have found quite useful...
  1. Skew Chisel - 3/4" wide blade
  2. Carvers Chisel - 3/4" wide blade
  3. Fishtail Gouge
  4. Detail Knife - curved blade
  5. Detail Knife - french curved blade
  6. Crock Blade Knife - used by northwest Indian carvers
  7. Scorp
  8. Adz
  9. Draw Knife
There are other tools which you can add to your collection. But remember, that they are just that, part of your collection. Over the past 30 years I have acquired what I would call a fair amount of tools. Some of these tools were required because of doing antique restoration and may have been used on only one project and then left to collect dust. Others were acquired to make some projects easier. Many of the tools I have, have not been put into service in years but when I need them, they are always a welcomed site.

But as I had mentioned, that for most of you, 90% of all the carving work you do will involve the Basic Carving Tools which are mentioned here. Get these tools and learn them well.

Terry R. Wolff
See samples of my carvings

Sunday, June 21, 2009


There are any number of ways in which you can carve wood. Some of these include the use of traditional hand tools, power carving using rotary electric tools, chain saw carving, and various combination's of these and perhaps others.

I will be concentrating mainly on traditional carving techniques which uses tools such as gouges, fishtail gouges, knives, chisels, scorps, drawknives, and a carver's mallet. This does not exclude the use of modern tools such as saber saws, bandsaws, table saws, joiners, planners, grinders, chainsaws, and other devices which I recommend for bulk removal of large amounts of waist wood (this simply means any wood which does not belong with your finished carving).

All carvings consist of two basic roughing out cuts followed by your detailing cuts. The first of these is called a Stop-Cut and the second is called a Back-Cut. (A word of caution, and I really mean this... DO NOT START DETAILING YOUR CARVING BEFORE IT IS COMPLETELY ROUGHED OUT!!!)
  1. STOP-CUT - this is the first cut which you will make around a portion of wood which you do not want removed (This is like making a wall around a city to prevent outsiders from getting in). This can be made with a chisel or a v-parting tool. I personally prefer the use of the v-parting tool as I find that it goes faster. When working large sculpture this can be done with a chain saw.
    A. When using the chisel you only want to drive it into the wood with one easy stroke of the mallet and keep your cut about a 1/16th of an inch outside the line of your carving (this will prevent damaging the wood you want left behind). When you make your first cut you basically just want to pierce the surface of the wood. Always start your cut parallel with the grain. So lets say you have a circle which you want to keep, therefore you would start at both the top and bottom and work your way a 1/4 of the way around the circle until your chisel perpendicular to the grain. Once you have completed your initial stop-cut, go back a second time and carefully drive the chisel deeper into the wood.
    B. When using the v-parting tool (parting-tool), you simply follow along the line of your carving. Here you will want to make one pass of the tool as described above. I prefer to drive my tools using the mallet as it provides more control to the cut. Again the cut would start at the bottom and top with the grain and end a 1/4 of the way around the circle until it is perpendicular to the grain. One thing you need to keep in mind when working with the parting-tool, is that while one side is cutting, the other side will be ripping which means that on softer woods this could cause problems if you are not careful. This means that your Stop-Cut can be no deeper that the depth of your parting-tool or you will rip the woods surface.
  2. BACK-CUT - this is simply the cut which you will make to start eliminating your waist wood. This cut is usually made with a gouge, but a chisel may be used if you are looking for a rip look. The gouge is driven toward the Stop-Cut.
    A. Once the Back-Cuts are made, continue by making your Stop-Cuts deeper. This is followed by another round of Back Cuts. You will continue this process until you have reached your desired depth. You will notice that as you go deeper, that the parting-tool will be further away from the line where you started and that is acceptable as you will correct that after you have reached the desired depth.
    B. You will notice that your gouge edges have cut into the wood which you want as part of your carving, that is why we kept the Stop-Cut away from the carving line. Next you will cut the wood straight down at the line with your chisel in order to eliminate this.
    C. You will follow this procedure until you have completely roughed out your carving (I highly recommend this because if you start detailing, you will be sorely sorry later on).
    D. Once your carving is completely roughed out it will be time to start your detailing cuts.
  3. I have been asked numerous times, "How can you carve so fast?" Here is my secret and it is really quite simple.
    A. Before I start a carving project, I carve a no brainer carving first and if I still don't feel ready, I will do it again and again until I am ready.
    B. This is for new carvers, you beginners as well for us seasoned carvers.
    Here is what I teach every new carver and I will list it in steps. After all the years I have taught carving, this still holds true. I have just refind it over the years and I am giving it to you for free so I hope you take advantage of this (I am saying this because I have come to know that people seem to have it in their minds that they get what they pay for and on this blog it is FREE. So my dear friend if it will ease your mind and make you feel any better that you have to pay for what you get, you are welcome to go to
    C. All carvings consist of four basic types of cuts.
    D. Start by purchasing a soft, even grain wood such as Basswood or Linden Wood. If you use any wood with a hard grain or because it was "free", you will not be doing yourself any favors plus wasting your time.
    E. My first exercise for you is to do a series of these types of cuts on incised rectangles and arches (about a 1/2 inch wide and 3 inches long) until you get really good at it.
    F. The second exercise is to create a series of design elements (keeping them from zero to about an inch wide) which incorporates all of these cuts.
    G. The third exercise is to carve a sign with 3 inch incise letters such. Use "WELCOME" or "OPEN" as these both of these include these four basic cuts. I refer to these as the sparing partners (just like every boxer does to ready themselves for a fight). As you become proficient at these you can literally go to any style carving without having to think about your cuts. This leaves your mind free to concentrate on your subject matter.
    H. I don't care what you are planning to carve. Whether its a carousel horse or anything else in the round, or a relief carving, or carving signs, this is the absolute best way to get started. This is the key to fast proficient carving.
    I. Or you can jump right into whatever your finished project maybe and dinker around with it, slice by slice until you finally give up out of frustration, which I have seen over and over again.
In closing, here is my theory. Start by doing a simple project over and over until you are proficient at it. I like using the signs mentioned above because I wind up with a finished carving that can be sold or given away.

By following this method, all other carvings become easier to do in the long run. If you want more in depth coverage on this, I do have all this and more available in my book.

"By warming up carving just a 20 minute Welcome Signs before starting a commission, means I won't have to think about my cuts, tools, or wood grain. I just have to concentrate on the subject matter."

Terry R. Wolff

Friday, June 19, 2009


Hi, my name is Terry Wolff and the reason I am starting this blog is to get some of my 30 plus years of woodcarving knowledge out in the hands of other carvers or would be carvers and to also get your feedback as well.

I started carving as a professional back in 1976 and continue to do so. My background is in commercial art and electronics. Nice combination right?

Anyway over the years I have accumulated a bit of knowledge and lots of tools. So at this point, I should let you know that I am a traditional carver. Meaning that I mainly use hand tools such as knives, gouges, and chisels. When necessary I will resort to power tools in the roughing out stages of a carving project.

As a professional carver, I have chosen to do what is called for by my customers. I do not necessary feel that this is the best way to go about carving. I think that it is good to experiment with different carving styles and subjects but in the end find the one which suits you best. In other words, as you get into carving you will feel more comfortable with certain styles and subjects and that is where you should direct your energies.

My carvings have ranged from small caricature figurines, bias relief, free standing realistic, stylized, and abstract sculpture, carousel animals, carved signs, burial urns, grave markers, and just about anything else you can think of. You can check out my work at or at to get a feel for the type of work I do.

I live in northern New Mexico just west of the town of Taos and south of Colorado at a place I call the Solar Ranch and rely on the Internet for my lively hood. This is because there isn't anyone out here to support me.

And just because "the Internets" is one of my sources of generating income, I am dedicating this paragraph to promoting my income sources so I can keep things going. So, here it is, besides carving, teaching carving, I sell carving knives (which I make), some wood care products, a couple of books which I have either written or published, The Text Book For Carving Letters and I maintain an on-line solar energy retail business at

That is about all you really need to know about me. You have my Web Sites which you can view at your leisure. So in future blogs I will be concentrate on things that have to do with woodcarving. Things such as styles, techniques, tools, finishes, and woods for carving.

So if you have a topic you would like some information on please send me an e-mail and I will post it on this blog and if I remember, I will send you an email announcing the post.

Terry R. Wolff