is a form of working wood
by means of a cutting tool held in
the hand (this may be a power tool), resulting in a wooden figure
or figurine (this may be abstract in nature) or in the sculptural
ornamentation of a wooden object. The
phrase may also refer to the finished product, from individual
, to hand-worked mouldings
composing part of a tracery
the finest extant examples of early wood carving are from the
Middle Ages in Italy and France, where the
typical themes of that era were Christian iconography. In England many
complete examples remain from the 16th and 17th century, where
oak was the preferred medium in this
Figural carving seems to have been widespread. The carving to
represent one's god in a tangible form finds expression in
numberless ways. The early carver, and, for that matter, the native
of the present day, has found a difficulty in giving expression to
the eye, and at times has evaded it by inlaying this feature with
Methods and styles of wood carving
Techniques of carving
A selection of woodcarving hand tools:
3 fishtail gouges, a v-parting tool, 4 straight gouges, 3 spoon
gouges, and a carvers mallet.
Knife used to round a corner of a piece of
wood.Image:Vtoolusage.JPG|V-Tool used to part lines and cut V
Basic tool set
- the carving knife: a
specialized knife used to pare, cut, and smooth wood.
- the gouge: a tool with a curved cutting
edge used in a variety of forms and sizes for carving hollows,
rounds and sweeping curves.
- the chisel, large and small, whose
straight cutting edge is used for lines and cleaning up flat
- the V-tool used for parting, and in
certain classes of flat work for emphasizing lines.
- the veiner: a specialized deep gouge with
a U shaped cutting edge.
- sharpening equipment, such as various
stones and a strop, necessary for maintaining edges.
A special screw for fixing work to the workbench
, and a mallet
complete the carvers kit, though other tools, both specialized and
adapted, are often used, such as a router
for bringing grounds to a uniform level,
bent gouges and bent chisels for cutting hollows too deep for the
- Gouge – Carving tool with a curved cutting edge. The most used
category of carving tools.
- Sweep – The curvature of the cutting edge
of a carving gouge. A lower number (like #3) indicates a shallow,
flat sweep while a high number (like #9) is used for a deeply
- Veiner – A small deep gouge with a U
shaped cutting edge. Usually #11 sweep.
- Fluter – A larger #11 sweep gouge with a
U shaped cutting edge.
- Sloyd knife – A whittling knife having a strong, fixed blade
slightly shorter than the handle (around 5 inches), suitable for
marking or carving.
- Chisel – A carving tool with a straight
cutting edge (usually termed #1 sweep) at right angles (or square
to) the sides of the blade.
- Skew Chisel – A chisel with the edge at a
"skew" or angle relative the sides of the blade. Often termed #2
sweep in the Sheffield list or #1s in continental lists.
- V-Tool or Parting
Tool – A carving tool with a V shaped cutting edge. Used for
outlining and decorative cuts. Refered to as 'the carvers pencil'
by old time professional carvers.
- Long Bent – A gouge, chisel or V tool where the blade is curved
along its entire length. Handy for deep work.
- Short Bent or Spoon – A gouge, chisel or V
tool where the blade is straight with a curve at the end, like a
spoon. Use for work in deep or inaccessible areas.
- Fishtail – A gouge or chisel
with a straight, narrow shank that flares out at the end to form a
"fishtail" shaped tool. The narrow shaft of the tool allows for
clearance in tight areas.
- Back Bent – A spoon gouge with a reverse bent end. Used for
undercuts and reeding work.
- Palm Tools — Short (5"), stubby tools
used with one hand while the work is held in the other. Great for
detail and small carving.
- Full-size Tools — 10" to 11" tools used with two hands or a
- Tang — The tapered part of the
blade that is driven into the handle.
- Bolster – A flared section of the blade
near the tang that keeps the blade from being driven further into
- Ferrule – A metal collar on the handle
that keeps the wood from splitting when the tool is used with a
mallet. Some tools have an external, visible ferrule while others
have an internal ferrule.Some old, small detail tools have neither
bolster nor ferrule as their light use makes them unnecessary.
- Rockwell Hardness – A scale that
indicates the hardness of steel. A Rockwell range of 58 to 61 is
considered optimum for fine woodworking edge tools.
Selecting a wood
The nature of the wood being carved limits the scope of the carver
in that wood is not equally strong in all directions: it is an
material. The direction in
which wood is strongest is called "grain
(grain may be straight, interlocked, wavy or fiddleback, &c.).
It is wise to arrange the more delicate parts of a design along the
grain instead of across it, and the more slender stalks or
leaf-points should not be too much separated from their adjacent
surroundings. The failure to appreciate these primary rules may
constantly be seen in damaged work, when it will be noticed that,
whereas tendrils, tips of birds beaks, &c., arranged across the
grain have been broken away, similar details designed more in
harmony with the growth of the wood and not too deeply undercut
remain intact. Probably the two most common woods used for carving
(aka Tilia or Lime) and
, both are hardwoods that are
relatively easy to work with. Chestnut
are also very
good woods; while for fine work Italian walnut, sycamore maple
, are generally
chosen. Decoration that is to be painted and of not too delicate a
nature is as a rule carved in pine
A wood carver begins a new carving by selecting a chunk of wood the
approximate size and shape of the figure he or she wishes to create
or, if the carving is to be large, several pieces of wood may be
laminated together to create the required size. The type of wood is
important. Hardwoods are more difficult to shape but have greater
luster and longevity. Softer woods may be easier to carve, but are
less resistant to damage. Any wood can be carved but they all have
different qualities and characteristics. The choice will depend on
the requirements of carving being done: for example a detailed
figure would need a wood with a fine grain and very little
figure.Once the sculptor has selected their wood, he or she begins
a general shaping process using gouges of various sizes. The gouge
is a curved blade that can remove large portions of wood smoothly.
For harder woods, the sculptor may use a chisel and mallet, similar
to a stone carver. Smaller sculptures may require the wood carver
to use a knife, and larger pieces might require the use of a saw.
No matter what wood is selected or tool used, the wood sculptor
must always carve either across or with the grain of the wood,
never against the grain.
Once the general shape is made, the carver may use a variety of
tools for creating details. For example, a “veiner” or 'fluter' can
be used to make deep gouges into the surface, or a “v-tool” for
making fine lines or decorative cuts. Once the finer details have
been added, the wood carver finishes the surface. The method chosen
depends on the required quality of surface finish. The texture left
by shallow gouges gives 'life' to the carving's surface and many
carvers prefere this 'tooled' finish. If a completely smooth
surface is required general smoothing can be done with tools such
as “rasps,” which are flat-bladed tools with a surface of pointed
teeth. “Rifflers” are similar to rasps, but smaller, usually double
ended, and of various shapes for working in folds or crevasses. The
finer polishing is done with abrasive paper. Large grained paper
with a rougher surface is used first, with the sculptor then using
finer grained paper that can make the surface of the sculpture
slick to the touch.
After the carving and finishing is completed, the artist may seal
& color the wood with a variety of natural oils, such as walnut
or linseed oil which protects the wood from dirt and moisture. Oil
also imparts a sheen to the wood which, by reflecting light, helps
the observer 'read' the form. Carvers seldom use gloss varnish as
it creates too shiny a surface, which reflects so much light it can
confuse the form; carvers refer to this as 'the toffee apple
effect'. Objects made of wood are frequently finished with a layer
of wax, which protects the wood and gives a soft lusterous sheen. A
wax finish is comparatively fragile though and only suitable for
Wood carving traditions
The making of decoys
and fish carving
are two of the artistic traditions
that use wood carving.
Image:WoodCarvingSurface.jpg|From AfricaImage:Austria souvenir.jpg|from AustriaImage:Wood Bodhisattva 2.jpg|Chinese wooden
bodhisattva, 12th to 13th
century.Image:Tilman Riemenschneider Barbara-1.jpg|
Saint Barbara from GermanyImage:2006130505.jpg|in Festac Town, Lagos, NigeriaImage:2006130504.jpg|in Festac Town, Lagos, Nigeria
Image:Krishna in wood.jpg Wooden Krishna, IndiaImage:Genre.jpg|Carved gallant genre scene
with figurines from Val
Gardena 18th centuryImage:Rupintojas.jpg|Pensive Christ in a Lithuanian cemeteryImage:Sensibilidad.jpg|Sculpture by Medina
Ayllón.(Spain)Image:Carving of duck.jpg|Carving of a duck
by a Florida artist
of unicorn by G&H StudiosImage:cjtrygghobo1.jpg|circa 1940s,
by Carl Johan