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Wood Carving for Beginners – Basics, Techniques, Tips

Basic wood carving is an exciting hobby to start involving yourself with if you are looking for something to let out your creativity and the need to do something with your hands. You don’t require much of a skill or great variety of tools to start because whittling for beginners includes simply a piece of wood, a knife and imagination. There are several styles that you can choose to learn - in the round carving, relief carving, chip carving, intaglio carving and simple whittling. Wood carving for beginners is a broad topic to cover and in this article we’ll try to share everything that we know and is useful for beginners.

three common knives

Why is wood carving great for the body?

Wood carving is a hobby that is useful for your body and mind both. It is always a nice thing to get away from people and responsibilities for a little while, especially now, when our world is full of stress and everybody is on a verge of mental breakdowns or simply giving up on a lot of things. Staying one on one with your own thoughts can seem frightening, but it’s a great relief not to think and worry about things for a while, and when you are carving, you are doing exactly that. Letting your mind rest is a huge help to your mental health so don’t underestimate the power of distracting yourself with something nice to do such as wood carving. What’s more, working with wood on a regular basis can be quite refreshing for your lungs - the smell of wood always makes the air fresher somehow, so why not treat our bodies, tired from fumes, to a little freshness? And if you are carving outdoors it’s a double luck - fresh air and wood together. Lungs can’t say “thank you”, but you’ll definitely feel them doing that with improving your well-being. The calmness that you experience while whittling lets your body slow down and get a break from the rushed pace of our lives nowadays. It’s a good opportunity to let your blood pressure and heart rate go back to the norm. And while your physical health will be improving, your brain will be developing in the ways it can only when you are doing something creative.

creative carver
What to look for in the project you choose for carving?

Some people need a challenge more than others and some prefer to learn and progress at their own pace, not rushing anywhere. Before you try and determine what project is fitting for you, think about that. Do you want it to be difficult for you so you get better through pushing yourself to it? Or do you prefer improving your skills gradually? Remember: hobbies should be fun. We have enough stress in our lives as it is, no need to add on more if there is an option to avoid it. So while exploring all the different options you may find surfing the Internet, consider those things. You have to enjoy what you do and choose the ideas for your creations accordingly. Pay attention to the type of wood that is needed for the project. Basic wood carving can be done on any softwood as it is easier to work with. Most carvers prefer basswood - it is simple to find it and it’s the most comfortable type of wood to work around. Neutral color that allows you to be creative with the look of the project, soft and even texture of the wood makes the process of carving less problematic and more enjoyable. Hardwood might look more interesting and diverse, but it’s difficult to work with and usually only experienced carvers allow some experiments with hardwood. Also it’s quite important to know which wood whittling knife you might need for the project. Of course, finding a new idea that inspires you enough to purchase new tools and learn something new is great, but don’t let it be a surprise for you that you need some tools you don’t have. So be attentive when searching for a project and don’t be afraid of learning new things and trying new tools and styles.

How to create an optimal work environment for carving?

Enjoying the place where you work is as important as enjoying the work itself. You should feel happiness when you come to your workshop or the place outside where you work. And there are some things that are essential for a carver’s workshop and will help you to stay creative and not think of something to change in the process. Make sure that your tools are close at hand and your work table is stable and comfortable for you to work at. It shouldn’t move when you put your weight on it and in general it’s not safe to have any part of the equipment unstable. Pay attention to the humidity and temperature in your workshop. Both of these things can make the process of work less comfortable and, what’s even more important, they may influence your carvings, usually not in a good way. Wood tends to warp under the effects of high temperatures and high humidity level so those are the things to avoid in your workshop. Lighting is very important to the quality of both the process of carving and the result itself. Natural light is always the best option, but when the sun sets you’ll need some extra lights to help you keep working (and in case of working in a workshop it’s a good idea to have big windows allowing a lot of light to come through in the day time). The best lighting choice would be white lights since they are the most similar to the natural light - yellow light makes your eyes work more intensely to see clearly.

beaver carving

How to choose a good carving knife? What to consider?

It’s a good thought to try and start with one general carving knife and see how it works in your hands to then decide what else you need in order to make your projects a perfection. There are a lot of things to think about when choosing a good carving knife and there are no less or more important factors. First thing’s first: always make sure your knife will serve you well and long. It’s better to pay more one time and grab a knife of better quality than get disappointed after a couple of weeks working with a cheap knife. It’s better to look for a high-carbon steel blade: it’s easier to sharpen than other steel alternatives, what’s more, it holds the edge better too. So you’ll get yourself a tool that requires less time on sharpening and needs it less often. The handle of your carving knife should be ergonomic and sit well in your hand. It shouldn’t be slippery or too light. It must have a comfortable grip specifically for you - wood carving is not made for pain or discomfort. Think of how long you might need to work with it and choose carefully. It can also be a good idea to get a wood carving set for beginners if you are not sure what to choose as your tools. Wood whittling kit is meant as a helper in this situation. These kits might include a set of different tools useful for different projects, wooden blocks and other things that come in handy while working such as stropping kits, patterns for carving, etc.

tools ergonomics

What is an ergonomic carving tool?

Previously in this article was mentioned “the ergonomic handle of the knife”. So what does it mean - ergonomic? And how to decide if your tool can be called ergonomic? Ergonomic tool in any area of work is a tool that is designed specifically for the needs of this activity and is meant to drastically reduce the discomfort or pain of working for a long time. In wood carving, the ergonomic tool is the one that has a comfortable handle, sits well in your hand and makes the process of carving less difficult and more enjoyable. It’s quite important that the tool doesn’t feel too heavy or too light but is just right for you: that way you have the most control over it and can work with maximum productivity. You can see that the handles of most of the carving tools are made out of wood and that’s not a funny coincidence. Your grip on the tool should be comfortable and not slippery so wooden handles are the best to fulfill this function. Also your fingers should align with the handle when you take it so it’s an important issue of the ergonomic shape of your tool.

How to create good patterns for future projects?

In our age of information it’s not that hard to find new patterns for your projects - there are tons of sketches and examples in the Internet as well as in the books on the topic. So if you are not certain of the greatness of your artistic skills, there is nothing to worry about. However, you’ll have to do some sketches to help yourself mark your patterns on the wooden blocks you use to carve them out successfully. You can use any drawing or writing instrument. there is no need in drawing all the details on the wood, you can start with the outlines, some of the lines to help you create a plan of your work. That is crucial because without a plan you’ll get lost quite easily and it won’t be easy to go back to square one. That includes both unique projects and the ones with premade patterns. Of course, if you have a pattern, it will be much easier for you. Even when you are doing a simple sketch, keep in mind that your project is three-dimensional (most likely) so you have to think through the angles and cuts to make it look how you want it to look. And don’t forget: the carving community is very welcoming! You can ask for patterns, advice or the answers to basically every question that you can think of. Don’t be scared to share your thoughts and borrow someone else’s. It can also be useful to remember that whittling kit for beginners can be of help to you in this question: a lot of beginner kits include patterns and tutorials on carving them.

wooden butterfly

Transportation tips for wood carving tools

Transportation can be different: from one room to another or taking your toolkit to a different city or country with you. It doesn’t matter much because in all cases you have to be certain: your tools are safe and secure and so are you and people around you. There is one option easier than the others: if you buy a wood whittling kit, quite often you get a pouch for your tools so that’s one less issue to worry about. You can also buy a soft-side carry-all, but it’s not very practical for using with sharp tools and usually doesn’t have a lot of space.  However, a lot of carvers prefer making their own safety boxes using the very same tools. You can make tool holders by sawing and cutting the grooves in a wooden block or customize an already existing tool box. Don’t forget about the blades: not only the handles of the tools should be safe and secure. It’s a good idea to get leather sheaths or cases for your whittling tools.

transportation and storage

What is the easiest wood to carve?

The approach to choosing the wood that you’ll work with should be rational but still an excited one. Most carvers prefer to work with softwood as it’s easier and more pleasant in the process. Hardwood is something that more experienced carvers can experiment with, but in the beginning of your way you should definitely stick to the softwood. What type of softwood is another question to consider. One of the most common choices is basswood as it’s quite cheap, easy to find and malleable enough to work with for any level of skill. It has a neutral color so you can be creative with the way of painting it as you wish or leave its natural look and enjoy the white wood.  However, if this option seems too boring for you, there are a lot of different suggestions such as pine, for example, walnut, mahogany or balsa. We would suggest starting with basswood to feel it out and then trying more bald options as you get some experience. If you want the process of carving to be as easy as possible, try to avoid wood with holes or knots and be attentive on this matter if you are looking for wood in a forest rather than buying it. The surrounding nature is amazingly rich in different types and shapes of wood, so it’s preferable to look for smooth branches, for example, from some fruit trees.

Solutions for easy wood carving for beginners

As mentioned a couple of times in this article already, there is such a thing as a wood carving starter kit. This is quite helpful when you are too overwhelmed by the amount of the information in the Internet and need somebody to help you go in the right direction. A lot of people find the idea of a whittling kit for beginners very useful - it is the simplest way for you to get started without getting too confused in a ton of different beginner whittling projects.

geometric carving for beginners

One of the examples that we’d like to share with you is this comfort bird carving kit by BeaverCraft. The beauty of this wood carving set for beginners is that it is indeed an all-in-one kit. You won’t need to look for a whittling knife or some wood carving patterns for beginners to get started. It includes everything: wooden blocks, whittling tools, the pattern of a comfort bird, access to a video tutorial where you can learn wood carving techniques for beginners. There is also a stropping kit to keep your whittling tools sharp. The chances are you don’t like birds or find this wood carving starter kit not so interesting. Fortunately, the same BeaverCraft has much more beginner wood carving projects. You might be more curious about this wizard carving kit. It is as thought-out as the previous one, including the pattern, whittling wood, tools for different whittling techniques, a stropping kit for the said tools as well as a booklet and a video tutorial. To sum up, we’d like to say that basic wood carving is a great distraction from today’s worries and is for sure an amazing hobby to take up. It gives you an opportunity to develop your skills, let your body feel better and your mind feel sharper. It’s also a very warm community to be a part of, especially in the times like these when the most social interactions are happening on the Internet. People are happy to introduce you to wood carving for beginners and share their experience with you. They may share their patterns with you too and that can make your path in whittling for beginners that much easier. We are not an exception - our last article covers the topic of wood carving patterns for beginners. So check it out and get inspired by our ideas and suggestions. Hope you found this information useful for you and enjoyed reading it!

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