carve is like learning to play an instrument: it is an exercise in muscle memory combined with your own artistic style.
all other art forms, carving wood is a way to express yourself.
the coming years I will tell you about the lessons I’ve learned by myself and
from others, so that you may be better equipped to try it out for yourselves.
though it is your journey and I merely wish to provide you with some basic
principles, the rest I leave for you to discover as I did (along with the many
more I didn’t): there is no ‘right way’ when it comes to art, but you would be
wise to listen to advice on safety when using edged tools for the first time.
Your first project
small. Choose something you believe you can finish easily, and surprise
yourself with the flourishes which come to mind nearer the end of the project:
it is likely you won’t want to put it down!
are many good reasons for this approach when you begin, not least that it is
safer: becoming frustrated with
difficult cuts can lead to poor and dangerous technique.
people will choose first to carve a spoon for the kitchen, and this is a good
place to start, but bear in mind that if you want a deep bowl then you will
need to buy or make a spoon knife or similar tool which can carve out hollow
spaces. A shallow bowl can be improvised with the end of curved knife blade,
but this is more dangerous than using the appropriate tool. My first spoons
were made this way.
you just want to carve, then let your imagination take you wherever it will;
likewise if you want to carve a stick to a perfectly round and even shape
solely for the purpose of carving, there is nothing wrong with that either.
Enjoy it and be proud of it.
Choose the right piece of wood: Hazel, Willow and Alder when cut
green are good carving woods for beginners as they are soft, don’t chip or
split badly and produce usable results. My favourite of the three is Hazel wood
for its radial grain patterns and good finish, but it is also the hardest of
will also need a piece which is the right shape for your project. Don’t start
with an unsuitable piece thinking you will get there eventually: choosing the
wood is the most important part of the process and shouldn’t be rushed, not least because it
the different trees in your area and being able to recognise them for their
individual qualities is an important foundation to wood carving, but it is by
no means exclusive to the experts. Most
of you just starting to carve will already enjoy the great outdoors, and know a few trees already. What
is important is taking the time to find the right piece.
you begin to carve, compile a relevant first aid kit (or buy one) and always
keep it to hand when you do.
where you will not be constantly distracted, and when you have time to. Rushed
or distracted carving can lead to poor technique, not to mention an un-relaxing
carve to relax and to improve my skill, so I do my best to choose the right
time and place. The fireside is the most enjoyable place to carve,
even when you have friends around the fire with you: they will be calm and
relaxed as well so should not be a dangerous distraction.
There are a few guiding principles
you can begin with to ensure safe cutting:
Consider each and every cut, do not go into auto-pilot;
this will help you learn concentration, good control of the knife and a
stronger influence on the outcome of the worked piece, along with the safety
For each cut, you must know where the knife begins and
ends, bearing in mind the pivot point and the force of the cut.
Don’t take chances; there is a safe and controlled action
for every necessary cut. You should consider that if you are taking risks you
may not have the appropriate tool or technique.
Never cut toward yourself. This is perhaps the most well
known piece of knife lore. There are perfectly safe cuts where the knife edge
will begin orientated toward a part of your non-knife hand or body, but the
force behind the blade is not in fact directed toward you when considering the
complete action. These are more advanced cuts and you will discover them when
you are ready, or more ideally when shown by a competent woodcarver.
Keep you knife sharp. This can not be
stressed enough. Carving wood with a dull edge will make you use more force
than is safe, and result in a poor, unconfident technique. I
will write about what it means to have a sharp edge in the future, but essentially
it is the edge most suited to the cutting material and it is kept very keen.
All written material: Copyright Ian Tompsett 2010-2016