Woodcarving is one of the most ancient arts known to mankind, and has remained a popular pastime right up to today. It’s a challenging and fulfilling art form to take on because there are so many different tools and skills to master. A woodcarver can develop and broaden his or her range of art over time by adding more techniques to their repertoire, or hone their ability in one chosen discipline.
Woodcarving Styles and Tools
The tools used for woodcarving can vary; the most basic used is a whittling knife. This is the only tool you need to take on the popular technique of whittling. Whittling is one of the oldest forms of woodcarving, and involves shaping and texturing a piece of wood with distinctive knife strokes.
This is a popular technique for small-scale projects, and amongst those who use woodcarving as a form of relaxation. It’s something you can easily pick on a hike or camping trip to pass the time, or something you can develop more seriously as a hobby. If you’re whittling a branch, look for one with a straight grain and no knots. If you’re buying wood, soft woods such as basswood, pine, and balsa work best.
The great thing about whittling is you can do it with a standard pocket knife. The multiple blades on a pocket knife make it a versatile whittling tool; you can use the knife’s larger blades for your bigger cuts, then swiftly switch to a smaller blade for more intricate details. It’s also great for whittling on the go.
Some, however, prefer the sturdier fixed blade of a speciality whittling knife. These tools tend to be more comfortable for extended use, as they’re generally designed with a curved handle to fit nicely in the hand. Whichever you choose, it’s important to keep your knife sharp. This not only ensures a better quality of cut, but is actually safer to use.
What you whittle is really up to you. Popular options for a first project are the wooden egg, a large (cooking-style) spoon, or anything else with a simple shape which will allow you to develop your basic technique and a familiarity with the law of wood grains. From here, you can follow whittling patterns, or simply attempt to whittle out whatever shapes come to mind.
Another popular style of woodcarving which uses only a chip and stab knife is chip carving. Where whittling generally creates a shape from a piece of wood, chip carving adds aesthetic detail to a finished item. The results are generally less rugged than whittling, so it’s popularly used to add geometric patterns to furniture or wooden boxes. The patterns can be drawn on to the wood before carving, using a ruler or compass.
It’s good to use at least two different knives on a chip carving piece: one to remove wood, the other to add detail. The detail is achieved not by cutting through the wood itself, but through the wood fibres, leaving a wedge-shaped impression. As with whittling, chip carving knives should be kept sharp at all times.
Moving away from knife-based techniques, we come on to relief carving. This is the process of transforming a flat panel of wood into a 3D design which projects towards the viewer, creating a form of optical illusion. This is a more advanced technique, with more elaborate results.
The primary tool used in relief carving is a chisel. A set of chisels is ideal, as a larger chisel can remove substantial sections of wood, whilst a smaller chisel is more appropriate for adding in fine detail. The chisels are generally used in conjunction with a mallet, which is used to strike the chisel, creating a deeper impact than hand carving.
To add curved shapes, a range of gouges can also be used, with each one providing a slightly different effect. The easiest woods for relief carving are softwoods such as lime and basswood. However, experts may use woods like cherry and sugar maple, which are a challenge to carve, but give an impressive appearance when finished.
For a really distinctive effect, some choose to turn their hands to pyrography. This is an ancient technique which involves using heat to etch a design into wood, clay, or leather. Throughout history it has been a popular method of decorating kitchenware and musical instruments. Since the 19th Century it has also been recognized as a means of creating art.
Modern pyrography has moved on a lot from its origins, and now uses a tool known as a woodburning pen, which you can visit the our website to find the best wood burning tool to do this. These come with changeable tips, and most have varying heat control, to give a range of different effects. A design is drawn or traced onto the wood, before being burned into the surface with the pen. There are special tips for adding different types of shading.
It goes without saying that this form of wood modification involves unique safety hazards, and should be carried out with caution. Like any heated tool, the woodburning pen is a potential danger if it’s not handled properly. It’s important to keep the pen from making contact with skin (some wear gloves as protection) and to ensure it’s switched off and allowed to cool down after use.
It’s also vital to consider that some materials become toxic when burned — even some types of wood. The effects can be felt immediately in some cases, or the damage may be done over time. It’s vital to research the properties of your chosen material before starting a project. Woods like basswood, Italian poplar plywood, maple, and birch plywood are safe options, but when using plywood it’s important to take care not to burn into the toxic glue layer.
In addition to the smoke and fumes produced by pyrography, sawdust exposure is another potential safety issue. This can irritate skin, as well as being dangerous if inhaled into the nose, mouth, throat and lungs. To avoid suffering from the dangers of pyrography it’s a good idea to work outside, or in a very well-ventilated area. It goes without saying that if you experience an unhealthy reaction to pyrography, you should stop. With all necessary precautions taken, however, it’s a unique and rewarding technique of woodcarving.