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!!!)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- VERTICAL CUT
- HORIZONTAL CUT
- DIAGONAL CUTS
- CIRCULAR CUTS
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.
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