Most people that want to get into wood carving don’t know where to start. It can be quite daunting when you see people making very intricate carvings and you may assume that you’ll never be able to do it. But there are also lots of simple, beginner friendly wood carving projects you can try. This article will help you get to grips with the basics of wood carving and give you some great ideas to try.
Table of Contents
- 1 Is Wood Carving Difficult?
- 2 What Tools Do You Need to Start Wood Carving Projects?
- 3 What Type of Wood Is Easiest to Carve?
- 4 7 Beginner Friendly Wood Carving Projects
- 5 Wood Carving FAQs
- 6 Final Thoughts
Is Wood Carving Difficult?
Wood carving takes a lot of patience, but people that are very good at it got there through experience rather than raw talent. You can’t just pick it up and start carving intricate pieces right away. However, it is easy to get started with basic things and the more you practice, the easier it will get.
There are several different types of wood carving you can try and some are more difficult than others. For example, relief carving uses a chisel and a mallet to take pieces out of the wood and create designs. It’s very difficult to get a detailed 3D design with this method and it’s not a great one for beginners. Chip carving works on a similar premise, but using a small blade, which is much easier to handle.
You can also try your hand at whittling, which involves using a sharp knife to carve out sculptures. Whittling is often the introduction to wood carving because it’s more accessible, but making more complex shapes is very hard. Finally, you have pyrography – a type of wood carving that uses fire to burn designs into the wood. This is an easier technique, but it is not carving in the traditional sense of the word.
Although advanced wood carving takes years of experience, if you choose simple techniques and basic designs, anybody can get started easily. However, you need to invest in the right tools.
What Tools Do You Need to Start Wood Carving Projects?
There are several tools you need for wood carving, depending on the method you are using. These are the basic tools you need for most woodworking projects:
Most methods of wood carving require a knife. There are different types for different purposes and the size and shape impacts the kind of carving you can do. When choosing the right carving knife, consider whether long or short is best, and whether you need a curved or straight knife. Types of knives you may come across include:
- Straight cutting edge
- Curved cutting edge
- Skewed cutting edge
- Chip carving knives
- Spoon/hook knives
Whittling is the best place to start for novice wood carvers, so you will need a few basic knives. A sloyd knife is a Swedish designed knife that is a great all-purpose whittling tool. It has a thicker blade with a pointed end, so it can take out large chunks of wood and manage fine detail at the same time. A good sloyd knife is enough to get started with basic whittling. This excellent BeaverCraft Sloyd Knife comes with 10 pieces of Basswood, so you can practice your carving techniques.
Chip carving is also a good place to start and you’ll need a few different knives. Having different sizes makes it easier to manage more intricate work. You’ll also want a skew knife, which is designed for making vertical cuts more effectively. This FLEXCUT knife set comes with a small chip knife, a standard chip knife, and a skew knife.
Finally, a spoon or hook carving knife is used for smoothing surfaces and carving out rounded areas like bowls and spoons. You may not use this when you first get started but as you get more experienced, it’s a good knife to have in your toolkit. This Morakniv hook knife is a good quality tool that comes with a nice leather case to protect the blade.
Chisels are a multipurpose wood shaping tool that every wood carver needs in their toolkit. They come in a range of sizes and have different uses. Large chisels can be used for taking big sections out of the wood to achieve overall shape, while smaller ones are used for smoothing and fine shape. Most chisels have a straight edge but they can also have different shapes, like bevel edge chisels and mortise cutters.
For beginner wood carving purposes, a good set of standard chisels will do just fine. This IMOTECHOM 10 Piece Chisel Set is an excellent choice because you get a good range of sizes and it also comes with a sharpening stone and honing guide, so you can learn how to take care of your chisels properly.
Gouges are similar to chisels, but they have a scoop-like shape for carving channels out of the wood. They are useful for creating curved shapes and they can remove wood from flat surfaces faster because the corners of the tool don’t get stuck, like a chisel does. Gouges are not used as often, but it’s still useful to have a good set. This 7 piece Woodstock gouge chisel set is ideal.
A veiner is a small V-shaped tool, similar to a gouge but with a sharper corner than a rounded gouge. This is used for carving deep, thin gouges in the wood. Usually, it is for creating decorative lines and fine detail, like the fur in an animal carving, for example. While you may not use this very often, you should invest in one as you become more advanced and want to create more detailed carvings. This FLEXCUT veiner is a high-quality, durable tool that will handle all of your fine detail for you.
Your knives and chisels need to be sharp when carving wood. If you use blunt tools, you can’t precisely remove pieces of wood to create specific shapes. A whetstone is the best option for sharpening your tools. It does take a bit of practice to get the technique, but it will help you keep your knives and chisels in good condition for longer. The ‘easy sharpeners’ that you often see can damage knives over time. This Sharpening Stone Set has a few different grit stones for honing and sharpening all of your different tools.
What Type of Wood Is Easiest to Carve?
Choosing wood that is easy to carve makes the learning curve much simpler for beginners. Grain density is the most important factor because wood with a dense grain is much tougher to carve.
Overall, basswood is the easiest wood to carve and it’s the best place to start for beginners. You can get some blocks of basswood to practice on and start trying different techniques and shapes before you try your hand at some full projects.
Basswood is not the only easy wood to carve. Other popular options include:
7 Beginner Friendly Wood Carving Projects
1. Wooden Spoon
A wooden spoon is one of the simplest wood carving projects because it’s very forgiving. It also gives you the chance to practice a few techniques, using a sloyd knife and a hook knife for the bowl section, and perhaps a detail knife. It doesn’t matter too much about the shape of the bowl and the handle as long as you have the general shape of a spoon, making this a great project for beginners.
You can even buy a pre-cut blank for spoon carving, which already has the general shape. Alternatively, get a standard block and cut it yourself. The latter is the best option if you are just starting out because you want to practice all of the techniques. You can use any type of wood you like, just choose one that is easy to carve.
You can find full instructions for carving your own wooden spoon in this excellent video.
2. Wooden Fox
Carving animals might sound daunting for a beginner, but there are some simple shapes you can do quite easily. A wooden fox is a great one because you don’t need to include a huge amount of detail, it’s more like a silhouette.
However, this project still gives you an introduction to more complex 3D shapes and helps you hone your whittling skills. You will need a simple block of basswood and a sloyd knife for this project. You begin by drawing the general outline of the fox on the block, and then carving the shape out of a single block. When you have the general shape, you can then add the fine detail to bring your fox to life.
You can find a full video tutorial for carving a wooden fox here.
3. Wooden Mushroom
A mushroom is another simple shape for beginners to whittle, and it’s very forgiving. Mushrooms come in all shapes and sizes, so you have a lot of flexibility to be creative with it. It also doesn’t matter if it’s not perfect, it will still look good.
This video has a great tutorial on carving mushrooms out of found pieces of wood (although it does take a bit of time to get into the actual tutorial so you can skip ahead a little). This is a good one to try once you have done a few simple shapes using bought wood. Using found pieces of wood forces you to try different types of wood and work with the shape you have. But the basic shape of the mushroom is simple, so it’s still doable for beginners.
4. 5-Minute Wood Wizard
The 5-minute wizard is a very popular wood carving project, especially for beginners. It involves using a series of simple, predetermined cuts to create the image of a wizard’s face. When you have practiced it a few times, you should be able to finish one in as little as 5 minutes, hence the name.
The great thing about this one is, once you know the basic technique, you can tweak it to create more interesting designs and add more detail. You can also do it on whatever piece of wood you like.
You can find the basic technique for the 5-minute wizard in this video tutorial.
5. Wooden Heart
Curved shapes are harder to master, so carving simple curves is a good way to practice. A 3D heart is a great one to go for because it has a lot of rounded areas but it’s still a very simple shape. Drawing out the initial shape is very simple and if you go a bit wrong, you can just keep going.
You will just end up with a slightly smaller heart. This one makes an excellent gift for a loved one too. You can find some great detailed directions in this heart carving tutorial.
6. Wooden Comfort Bird
A wooden comfort bird is a simple bird shape that fits in the palm of your hand. It is designed as a sort of wooden stress ball, and they make an excellent wood carving project for beginners. The shape itself is simple, but it’s good for practicing getting the piece nice and smooth. This video will help you learn the basic shape.
7. Chip Carved Wooden Nameplates
Chip carving is harder than simple whittling, but with a bit of practice, you can master some basic techniques. Nameplates are a good place to start because letters and numbers are relatively simple. There are some that are harder than others, like ‘S’, for example, but letters with straight edges are not too difficult.
This video covers the basics of the letter ‘R’, which is a good place to start because it has curves and straight edges combined.
Once you are more confident with the basic whittling projects, you can move on to this chip carving project to advance your skills.
Wood Carving FAQs
Is Wood Carving Dangerous?
Wood carving can be dangerous because you need to use very sharp knives to get the best results. There is always a danger of cutting yourself if you do not take care. Always make sure that you are handling the knife carefully and keep your other hand away from the sharp edge. It’s also important to wear the right safety gear.
What Safety Gear Should You Wear Carving Wood?
Some kind of protection for your fingers is the most important thing when wood carving because it’s easy to catch yourself with the sharp blade. You can wear gloves, but this makes it hard to handle the small knives. Most people use leather thumb and finger guards instead. This gives you the protection you need without having to compromise on dexterity.
You may also want to wear safety goggles when carving. This is to protect against small pieces of wood that may ping off and hit you in the eye.
Can You Sell Your Carvings?
Yes, if you want to. A lot of people sell homemade crafts like wood carvings through Etsy or eBay. Just bear in mind that there is a lot of competition out there so if you are a novice wood carver, your pieces probably won’t be up to the standard of other people selling online. Selling your carvings is something that you want to aim for in the future, not when you are first starting out.
Wood carving looks very complex and most people don’t think they could do it without years of practice. However, it’s actually not as difficult as it seems, especially making basic shapes. These beginner projects are all very achievable with a little bit of practice.
Jamie is the founder of The Backyard Pros. When he was 15 years old he started working at a garden centre helping people buy plants, gardening products, and lawn care products. He has real estate experience and he is a home owner. Jamie loves backyard projects, refinishing furniture, and enjoys sharing his knowledge online.