Tips for the Beginner Wood Carver

You, as a beginner wood carver, may be ready to think of designing something yourself. Before doing so, look at some really good wood carvings. Photographs can remind us of things seen but for proper appreciation it is better to see the actual work. A visit to the local museum is a good idea, or to a church or building where fine wood carvings can be seen

There is no harm in borrowing ideas from the richest sources. This has always happened as a natural evolution in the arts. It would be absurd to say that the artist must always endeavor to copy natural forms, but rather that in nature we have a field of inspiration and profitable study. If for instance, we use the human figure or animal form in design, we are engaged in a translation from flesh to wood, stone, or paint, from life movement to movement in a static material.

We can find pattern motives in such natural forms as shells and leaves. The African carver finds many of his patterns in the skins of snakes. We draw our ideas then from works of the present and the past and also from life. Even visionary artists such as William Blake did not find the image of their designs without the influence of environment and the work of other artists.

It may appear at a glance that the business of wood carving is too involved or costly. I must therefore point out at once that you can carve if you have a piece of wood, a kitchen table, three gouges, and two ‘G’ cramps. Indeed, some well-known highly successful wood carvers manage perfectly well with very simple equipment and prefer to do so. So much depends on the work in hand. As you progress you will naturally wish to buy more tools from time to time but this can be a gradual process.

Do not try to work too small at first. It is easier to work on broad surfaces and will also make you bolder and more fearless in the way you use the tools. A complete figure may be too difficult if you have no experience in drawing.

A head or an animal would be less of a problem. If you are interested in ornament, you could pick a leaf from the garden and use it as a basis for a design. In leaves you can find simple shapes with infinite variety. When you have carved one simple piece well it is easy to advance to something more difficult.


If you are very eager to try a figure, it will do no harm to look at primitive and peasant carving. Carve the body and head as one uniform statement. In the work of early civilizations and more primitive communities there is a zest and simplicity far away from naturalism.

There is also a great feeling for pattern and design. It is interesting to make a near copy of something you admire but you will not wish to continue working in a manner that belongs to other countries and civilizations. Therefore, it is better to learn from them but gradually begin to make your own designs.

You can try out texture and pattern with your different tools and master the use of them before starting on a definite project. It is often easier for the beginner to visualize his design as a profile or silhouette. If you are working in relief, an outline is enough to work from. You will discover how to develop this in the process of cutting. Even if you prefer to carve some object of simple design, these principles can be adapted and will still hold good.

If you have a desire to carve, take note of the above tips and begin. Remember, practice makes perfect!

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