Tips for Getting Started on Woodcarving

Woodcarving is an art that I have wanted to master for years. My first attempt at carving was mutilating a bar of soap when I was a kid; I’m 100% certain that you will never find that bar of soap in any art museum or on display anywhere. Woodcarving is probably the most ancient woodworking skill and is truly a form of art and expression. From what I can find, it seemed to have been developed in Italy and France back in the middle ages and from there spread worldwide. Taking a block of wood and creating something personal and expressive is truly rewarding.

Like so many other forms of art, the style and tools that are used vary from person to person. To get started in woodcarving there are a few basics that apply to most people. When you choose your first few projects, make sure you are kind to yourself and start out simple. If you choose a project that is too advanced, you might get discouraged and give up on something that you might truly enjoy.

Here are a few basic tips for getting started.
1. Get yourself a good quality basic set of carving tools. A basic beginner set would usually include 6 tools, a chisel, skew, bent chisel, straight gouge, bent gouge and a bent v-parting tool. It’s real easy to get carried away with the tools that you purchase, I found one web site that offered over 20,000 different woodworking tools. You don’t need to start out with the most expensive set of tools, but make sure that they are a good quality. You can increase the number of tools as you get more involved with your art, gradually adding to your tools is easier on the pocketbook.

2. Pick up a book or two that relates to your interest and gives you some basic insights on how to begin carving. I would also suggest that you check around the area where you live for a carving club or maybe just a group of people that you can carve with. Learning by watching and listening to others in your art form is invaluable. Find out if there are any classes held in your area or possibly check with a woodworking store to see if they offer any demonstrations. If you can’t find any classes or help in your area, don’t give up. There are video’s on-line that will help, I know some carvers who are self taught and do beautiful work.

3. To get started, one of the main things you need is obviously a piece of wood. If you are doing a hand held object, soft woods are definitely the ones to start on, such as butternut, aspen or basswood. Any of those three would be perfect for your first few projects. Soft woods such as basswood will not take a stain very well, so a lot of people end up painting their finished item. Your harder woods such as walnut, mahogany, cherry have a beautiful grain pattern that you can finish with a slight stain, but because of that grain they are harder to carve. You will need a mallet in your starting kit if you start out on hard woods. Once you determine the wood that you want to use, sketch out your design with a pencil or transfer the design with granite paper on to the wood and you are ready to start.

4. Always consider safety First! Don’t hold your wood on your lap while carving, use a table and secure your wood to it or use a vice to hold it. You will always be applying some type of force to push the knife or gouge into the wood and it may slip frequently, so be prepared. If you are going to hold the item I would recommend that you get a proper glove for the hand that you hold your wood in before you even start. There are gloves available that are extremely cut resistant. This doesn’t mean that you can’t poke your hand and that you don’t still have to be very careful with a serrated blade or cutting tools, but it will definitely help save on the use of Band-Aids. Wear safety goggles when carving so a small chip of wood doesn’t fly into your eye. When you get advanced enough for power tools, be sure to add a dusk mask to your list of safety items so you are not constantly breathing in dust.

Wood carving is not an easy art to master, it’s usually mastered slowly and gradually, but in my book, it’s one of the most rewarding hobbies or pastimes that you can have. It may also be one of the cheaper woodworking projects to get into, but it can be a great expression of yourself and truly enjoyable. Try it, you just might like it!