Advice for Beginners to Woodcarving
Woodcarving is a terrific craft and also a journey, and like the beginning of every journey it's wise to set off well.
Before you start, do read this short essay written by Woodcarving Workshop's member, Justin Moon, who had never carved anything before he joined our site: A Beginner's Perspective by Justin Moon
The Very Best Way to Begin Carving...
... is to take Our Beginners Woodcarving Course. You'll need to subscribe to Woodcarving Workshops - and that's a fantastic bargain because in addition to the course you'll have full access to the whole site, including all the other beginner videos mentioned in the notes below!
Our Beginners Course has 15 hours of video lessons in which Chris teaches you fundamental carving skills and takes you step by step to your first relief carving. Chris has written a course manual to download and you can probably complete the course in an intensive weekend. When you've finished, you'll have the comfidence and competance to tackle lots of projects on Woodcarving Workshops.
As well as that, there's this!
Some notes to help you get set up for woodcarving:
- Prepare your workplace
- Get some tools and equipment
- Learn a bit about sharpening
- Absorb basic information about wood.
We've selected some lessons from Woodcarving Workshops that cover these fundamentals and list them below.
Over time you'll see these crucial, basic techniques repeated continually through all the lessons on the website. We strongly suggest you work your way through the lessons we are listing below - total running time about 1.5 hours - and then you'll be in a great position to get going on your creative journey proper with some simple projects.
Work Area & Work Safety
You will need a work bench. It need not be big or fancy and can be just a strong table, but it does need to be well-constructed and heavy.
Watch: BENCHES (4:07)
2. Holding Your Work
Both your hands will be holding your tools so your work must be secured to your bench. The way you hold your carving varies with its size and shape. For beginning projects, inexpensive clamps and wooden 'fences' usually do well.
Watch: HOLDING RELIEF CARVINGS (3:37)
Carving tools are very sharp! And accidents will happen. So make sure you carve safely and have a first aid kit to hand. Watch: SAFETY (1:46)
Confused by the overwhelming number of carving tools out there? These lessons give you an overview of woodcarving tools.
Beginner's Tool List
Good carving tools are not cheap - though woodcarving as a whole is quite inexpensive compared with most other wood crafts. Woodcarving tools usually cost between £25-35 each ($US45-55) from reputable makers and, if you look after them, they'll last a couple of lifetimes.
Carving tools are often available second hand! They might look old and rusty but usually they are perfectly usable. So, if you're a bargain hunter…
Watch: RESTORING RUSTY GOUGES (5:51)
There are 4 projects that we recommend for all beginners (below) and you will need a total of 8 tools and a mallet to complete them. There is no need to buy any more to start with. Get familiar with these tools and then slowly grow your tool kit as you need to.
If you already have some carving tools that are fairly similar to the ones listed below, you should find they'll work for these projects, so give them a go before buying any more.
You can purchase this 7 Piece Basic Set of Auriou gouges as a set or individually from Classic Hand Tools and other links which you'll find below the video. And, while I recommend them, there are several other good makes of carving tools to be had as well: Pfeil, Ashley Iles, Henrty Taylor, Stubai, to name a few.
Gouges (Sheffield List, followed by Pfeil nomenclature):
- # 3 x 1/4in. (6mm) - Pfeil Cut 2/6
- # 3 x 1/2in. (14mm) - Pfeil Cut 2/14)
- # 6 x 1/4in. (6mm) - Pfeil Cut 7/6)
- # 6 x 1/2in. (14mm) - Pfeil Cut 7/4)
- # 9 x 1/4in. (6mm) - Pfeil Cut 9/6)
- # 9 x 1/2in. (14mm) - Pfeil Cut 9/14)
- V tool - 60 deg. x 1/4in. 10mm
- Skew Chisel - Double bevel x 3/8in. 10mm
- Mallet (20oz. 9kg)
Sharpening your tools is not a mystery! It's just another skill. And, unless you plan to have someone else maintain your carving tools, you'll need to learn it! Here's a video to teach you how:
Watch: NO FEAR SHARPENING 1 & 2 (23:00)
You'll need to find a source of wood to carve. Look to carving magazines and clubs, and search for local directories.
Never stint on the wood: There are 'good' carving woods and woods that will hinder much more than help you.
Understand your material: The wood you carve was once a tree, living and growing, and for better or worse, this makes each piece of wood unique. However, understanding how wood 'works' will avoid frustration.
Fundamental Carving Skills
Learn to hold your tools properly and how to carve cleanly, right from the start. We've created a beginner's series: 10 short videos with simple exercises and projects to spotlight skills you must have. These lessons are bedrock. Watch them again and again...
We recommend you complete these 3 projects before trying more advanced carvings. They're fun in their own right but also work with basic skills, so do repeat them: you'll be much quicker a second time and drop all those mistakes you made first time around!
Have a go at any project you find interesting, pushing yourself a little further each time. Even if you don't actually carve a project, you'll absorb a huge amount just by looking through it, studying Chris' approach and techniques. You'll find the same techniques repeated, rather like the same notes on a piano being made to produce a world of melodies. Don't ever feel intimidated. Carving should be satisfying and fun, and half of that comes from building up your skills and taking the carving journey in what Chris calls 'regular steps'.
Also, start thinking about your own ideas and what you want to carve.
Watch: WHAT SHALL I CARVE?
If you have a good idea that we haven't covered, let us know! And don't be afraid to ask questions and add comments under the lessons. We value all feedback and work hard to make this a great site for the learning and love of woodcarving.