How to Carve Wood for Beginners [2023]

Have you ever wondered how artists and carpenters take a block of wood and turn it into something amazingly intricate object?

If you are fascinated by this art and want to have a taste for yourself, you’re in the right place.

But as a newbie, you must be thinking, how to carve wood for beginners?

You should carve wood by sketching a design on the wood, carving out the main structure of your desired object, and adding details with whittling knives, gouges, and chisels. And while carving, you must follow the grain of the wood.

So, without further ado, let’s delve into the detailed guide right away!

How to Carve Wood – DIY Guide

In this section, I will show you the step-by-step tasks you need to accomplish in order to carve wood like a professional carpenter.

Step 1: Always Carve with the Grain

  • To carve efficiently, ensure your tools are razor-sharp.
  • They should produce a clean, shiny cut in the wood without any white streaks.
  • If you see any white streaks in the wood after carving, that means the blade is probably nicked.
  • To find the grain’s direction, examine the long cell fibers.
  • Darker streaks in the annual rings can help you determine it.
  • Carve in a downward direction, following the parallel lines of the grain.
  • If the wood tears and your tools are sharp, you might be going the wrong way.
  • Turn around and carve in the opposite direction.
  • Avoid carving upwards against the grain, as it will cause tearing and splintering.
  • Carving parallel to the grain can also be risky, potentially raising splinters under areas you want to preserve.

Step 2: Sketch your Carving

  • Pick one that is smooth and free from knots or defects.
  • Remember, woods with perfect natural lines make it easier to carve.
  • Create a sketch of your desired carving design directly on the wood’s surface with a pencil.
  • This initial sketch provides a guide for your carving process.
  • While drawing, make sure your lines are straight, light, and not too deep.
  • Be careful while sketching the lines because they need to be visible but easy to edit or erase.
  • Pay close attention to the shape and detail of your design, especially if it has striking elements.
  • If you’re working from a reference drawing or plan, keep it nearby so you don’t miss any part of the original design while sketching.
  • Take your time in this step, as the quality of your sketch will greatly affect the accuracy and precision of your final product.
  • A clear sketch makes it easier to carve with confidence and accuracy.

Step 3: Establish the Structure

  • The first step is removing excess wood.
  • You can do it using a band saw or a framing saw, as these tools are perfect for cutting out wood.
  • Cutting out excess wood makes it easier to reach the final shape of your piece.
  • Many novice carpenters make the mistake of going straight into detailing before getting rid of the extra wood.
  • While removing the excess wood, try going for more circular shapes instead of sticking to the original square shape of the wood.
  • Once you are done removing the big chunks, it’s time to remove the chips.
  • Use larger U-gouges to remove the remaining excess wood once you are done with the saw.
  • While carving, focus on defining the major shapes and planes of your carving.
  • It’s crucial to work from the large forms to the small details.
  • Use larger chisels first and gradually move to smaller ones.
  • If you haven’t established well-defined large shapes at this stage, adding beautiful details later won’t rescue the carving from unclear forms.
  • Take your time during this step, as it lays the foundation for the entire carving process.
  • With precision and patience, you’ll create a strong structural base for your wood carving.

Step 4: Start Contouring

  • With the structural foundation in place, it’s time to add the finer details using smaller U-gouges, V-gouges, and whittling knives.
  • These tools define the smaller shapes and intricacies of your carving.
  • It’s crucial to keep your carving tools razor-sharp at this stage if you intend to leave tool marks as the final texture.
  • Any nicks in the tool’s edge will result in white lines in the cut, which can detract from the final appearance.
  • If you want to retain chisel marks as the final texture, focus on following the contours of the shapes as though the marks are wrapping around the form.
  • When working on a small carving area, hold the wood in your left hand (assuming you are right-handed) and the knife in your right hand.
  • Remember you will be carving away from you for this part.
  • Keep your left hand behind the knife and use your left thumb on the blunt side of the blade to act as a fulcrum to control the cut.
  • With the thumb stationary, rotate your right hand and wrist to cut.
  • This position ensures safety, as the knife won’t slip easily.
  • For the larger areas, you will need to use gouges.
  • Hold the handle of the gouge in the palm of your right hand to push it while your left hand firmly holds the metal shaft of the gouge to guide the cut.
  • Rest your left hand on the wood; it can act like a brake to prevent the tool from slipping out of control when pushed forward.
  • Use your body weight to assist in pushing the gouge for smoother and more controlled carving.

How to Carve Wood without Tools

Whittling knives, chisels, and gouges may sound really complicated and hard to get tools for a beginner.

So, if you are wondering if there is any more basic way to start the process, there is! Although the finished product wouldn’t be up to the standard, you’ll get the gist of it.

Using a Butter Knife

  • Pick softwood; it’s easier to carve with a butter knife.
  • Avoid hardwood because it’s harder to work with.
  • If you’re new or using hardwood, consider wearing gloves and safety glasses for protection.
  • Draw the design lightly on the wood’s surface.
  • This will guide your carving.
  • Use the knife to remove extra wood outside the design.
  • This shapes the basic form of your carving.
  • Now, use the knife’s edge to add finer details.
  • You can make lines, curves, and shapes by pushing or pulling the knife.
  • Control how hard you press the knife.
  • Push harder for deep cuts and lighter for shallow ones.
  • Be patient to avoid accidents.
  • Use the knife’s tip for precision and add textures or patterns.
  • When done, use sandpaper to make things smooth.
  • Apply wax or oil to protect the wood and make it look nice.

Using a Screwdriver or Flathead

  • Check your household tools for screwdrivers or flatheads.
  • They generally have simple handles and different edge carvings.
  • These tools are great for carving small pieces of wood.
  • You can use them to create miniature forest creatures or characters.
  • Use the screwdriver tip to add detail.
  • Depending on what you want to create, you can create lines, curves, and shapes by pushing or twisting the screwdriver.
  • Be careful about pressure, especially if the tool is not sharp.
  • Dull tools may require more power to cut wood.
  • Be careful not to let the logs slip, as this can cause serious damage.

Using a Swiss Army Knife

  • Start by drawing your design lightly on the wood’s surface.
  • Begin by using the knife’s larger blade to remove excess wood outside the design lines.
  • This rough shaping process establishes the basic form.
  • Switch to smaller blades or tools on your Swiss Army knife to add finer details.
  • Carve lines, curves, and shapes by driving the knife back and forth.
  • Hold the knife using the method described in the main guide above.
  • As you progress, refine the details of your carving.
  • Use the knife’s tip for precision work and to add finer textures or patterns.

4 Most Popular Wood Carving Techniques

If you already have a bit of DIY woodworking experience, then it’s time for you to master different wood carving techniques for more advanced projects.


Whittling is one of the oldest and most simple wood carving techniques in the woodworking industry.

This technique only requires you to have a whittling knife that will leave sharp, textured marks, boasting the natural grain and pattern of the wood.

Using this technique, you can turn a piece of wood into a tiny figurine for your display or wooden utensils for your everyday use.

And since it requires minimal tools, it’s a cost-effective option for most beginners.

Chip Carving

Chip carving is the oldest technique that removes small rectangular pieces of wood to create narrow (wedge-cut) grooves, resulting in geometric shapes such as squares, rectangles, and circles.

This technique is highly effective in decorating wooden houses, furniture, and ships. This method requires chip carving knives, gouges, and chisels of various cut sizes.

Relief Carving

Relief carving focuses on adding depth and dimension to woods with flat surfaces.

This technique involves creating a three-dimensional image or design that stands out from the background but still attaches to it rather than carving out a complete 3D object.

Relief carving is mostly used in decorative panels and architectural establishments. It requires u-shaped and v-shaped gouges, chisels, and chip carving knives.

Carving in the Round

Carving in the round brings out the life of your piece while carving wood. This technique produces three-dimensional sculptures that have more natural lines.

For this method, Basswood is the perfect material as it has uniform color and texture. It is also easier to carve than other woods because they have a moderate hardness.

This technique requires drawknives, whittling knives, chisels, gouges, and sandpapers, as sculptures require a smoother, more detailed finish.

Bottom Line

In conclusion, wood carving is a rewarding skill and experience anyone can learn without prior expertise.

In this blog, we have covered all the wood carving essentials that will turn you from a novice to an exclusive woodworker.

Keep practicing following the given guide, and don’t be discouraged if you can’t get the expected outcome on the first try. Remember, practice makes us perfect!


Which wood is best for carving?

Some of the best woods for carving include basswood, butternut, mahogany, cherry, oak, walnut, and cedar. These woods have medium hardness and straight grains, making them perfect for beginner carving.

Can all wood be carved?

Yes. With the proper tools and skillset, almost every wood species on earth can be carved.

Is dry wood better for carving?

Generally, it’s easier to carve green wood or wood with moisture than dry wood.