What type of carving to learn first?

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Forum topic by EngineerChic posted 01-26-2017 05:08 PM 1435 views 0 times favorited 22 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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34 posts in 652 days

01-26-2017 05:08 PM

Topic tags/keywords: carving beginner tools

Quick background …

I’m a hobbyist, with no plans to go pro. I want to pick up wood carving to embellish some of the wood projects I make. Mostly I make picture frames right now (have all the tools I need for that and a backlog of art I bought that needs framing). But I have needs/plans to make a jewelry rack/display soon and other smaller projects as well.

The ideal carving activity for me will involve sitting away from power tools, it would be something to do with my hands while sitting in the backyard. So … No Dremel or angle grinder action ;)

I’ve looked at chip carving and relief carving as options so far. Both require very different knife sets. The woods I have available to me inexpensively are American cherry, soft maple, and sometimes mahogany (lumberyard often has specials on it, at least short pieces).

Any thoughts on what style of carving is more user-friendly with these limitations? Chip carving seems very approachable (low investment in tools, don’t need a ton of knives) but relief carving seems like it might be a better way to accent edges or corners of projects without having to cover the whole thing (more tools, more money on them, and that delytyays buying a planer someday).

Also open to styles I hadn’t even thought of yet, I appreciate the collective wisdom of the group here. Thank you!

22 replies so far

View GR8HUNTER's profile (online now)


4730 posts in 860 days

#1 posted 01-26-2017 06:38 PM

Tatiana … does excellent chip carving …mostly in basswood … I think she only uses 1 knife …best is talk with here …cuz she could deffinitly help you out

Welcome 2 LJ’s

-- Tony---- Reinholds,Pa.------ REMEMBER TO ALWAYS HAVE FUN

View ClaudeF's profile


773 posts in 1855 days

#2 posted 01-26-2017 08:31 PM

For geometric chip carving, you’ll need three basic knives. Chip carvers often use various gouges to remove curved chips as well.

For relief carving, a couple of knives should suffice – one carving knife, one detail knife. But you’ll need some gouges as well. Here’s a blog article by a carver who makes his living at it. He does a lot of architectural carving, but also does “egg and dart” molding, picture frames, etc. The article is well worth the time it takes to read…

Here’s a site of an expert chip carving with free tutorials, as well as tons of specific info about chip carving – as well as a bunch of free patterns:



View them700project's profile


126 posts in 1166 days

#3 posted 01-26-2017 08:37 PM

flex cut goes on sale tommorrow at woodcraft 30% off. I was thinking of getting a basic blade for in case @&#^

View Bonvivant1's profile


31 posts in 1122 days

#4 posted 01-26-2017 08:54 PM

Those woods, with the exception of the Mahogany (depending on species), are going to be hard to carve. Most people use Linden, aka Basswood, or Butternut. I qualify this statement with the fact that I am new at carving.

-- You took your first pinch like a man and you learned the two greatest things in life...Never rat on your friends and always keep your mouth shut.--Jimmy Conway

View helluvawreck's profile


32083 posts in 3014 days

#5 posted 01-26-2017 10:48 PM

I think that chip carving is a great place to start. All you need to get started is a couple of knives, a sharpening stone, and maybe some finger protection. You can do it anywhere and it’s very relaxing. It helps if you can get a couple of general books on it. Also take a look at My Chip Carving. Marty Leenhouts owns the site and is a fellow Lumberjocks and he’s a great teacher.

helluvawreck aka Charles

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View EngineerChic's profile


34 posts in 652 days

#6 posted 01-27-2017 12:21 PM

Thanks, everyone, these are great tips.

ClaudeF – I read the article you linked and I think that’s probably a great solution for him, but I get the sense he chose that working style to maximize productivity and income. I can see the value in that … I’m just at the opposite end of the spectrum.

Them700Project … Shucks, too bad about the sale, I work less than 10 miles from a woodcraft store ;). I might have to take a drive by … I need a new straight bit for my router, anyhow.

I’m going to google some more pics of chip carving, it sounds like the way to go and if I can find a style that isn’t overly folk-art-esque, I think it could be a winner.

View GR8HUNTER's profile (online now)


4730 posts in 860 days

#7 posted 01-27-2017 04:14 PM

Also take a look at My Chip Carving. Marty Leenhouts owns the site and is a fellow Lumberjocks and he’s a great teacher.

also :

-- Tony---- Reinholds,Pa.------ REMEMBER TO ALWAYS HAVE FUN

View MikeinWaunakee's profile


4 posts in 657 days

#8 posted 03-22-2017 10:28 PM

I ram a very experienced woodworker (also an Engineer) who recently started carving and found Mary May’s online carving school perfect for me ($15 per month, but you immediately get access to a couple hundred lessons previously released, which you can download and save for future use). She has beginner to advanced projects, mainly relief carving but a few other types as well. She does classical carving most often (think acanthus leaves) but many other kinds as well. She basically sets up a video camera (which her son then produces) and talks you through the entire project, commenting the entire time. If it takes 3 hrs to carve a project, she will release three one-hr videos, and she explains what she is doing and why she is doing it throughout (“I’m now using a #7 6mm gouge, and I’m going to go clockwise in this area to avoid grain tearout”). She also provides pdf photos of the finished product, tool lists, and outlines to copy. If you check out her website and see what she has to offer, I think you might be pleased.

View Planeman40's profile


1257 posts in 2908 days

#9 posted 03-23-2017 12:16 AM

A piece of advice here from an experienced carver.

No matter what type of carving you do, your knives must be RAZOR sharp!!! You must learn how to sharpen a gouge, knife, or chisel until it can shave the hair off your forearm (being a woman, you may have to select another part of your anatomy). Dull blades or blades with a poor cutting angle to the edge make carving difficult and usually give poor results.

Sharpening is not difficult, but understanding the process and having the right sharpening stones (only a very few are necessary) and strop are necessary. I suggest you watch some videos on YouTube about sharpening. One trick I find very necessary to me is to view the edge periodically under magnification while sharpening. I use a cheap $5 2X degree of magnification Chinese-made magnifying visor and look at the edge straight on under a powerful lamp. An un-sharp edge will show as a bright streak. A sharp edge will show nothing.

I recommend using Arkansas stones and slips for your final sharpening ( and a good leather strop with jeweler’s rouge rubbed on it to bring the edge to razor sharpness.

Good luck with your new venture and ask us any questions here that you come to.

-- Always remember: It is a mathematical certainty that half the people in this country are below average in intelligence!

View LittleShaver's profile


398 posts in 767 days

#10 posted 03-23-2017 01:16 PM

I tried my hand at chip carving for the first time this past weekend. Softest wood in the shop was some cherry. Results were about what you’d expect for a first effort, without the “right” knife in relatively hard wood. I watched a number of youtube videos and found some free patterns to get me started. quite fun to do and could be relaxing once you move up the learning curve a bit.

-- Sawdust Maker

View Planeman40's profile


1257 posts in 2908 days

#11 posted 03-23-2017 01:36 PM

I feel sure you know Basswood, also called Linden, is the standard for carving. Relatively soft, not much grain, but holds detail well.

-- Always remember: It is a mathematical certainty that half the people in this country are below average in intelligence!

View rwe2156's profile


3092 posts in 1628 days

#12 posted 03-23-2017 02:38 PM

Those woods you have don’t lend themselves to chip carving. Basswood or butternut are the standards.

Chip carving is an excellent way to start out because you only need a couple knives. I find chip carving much more enjoyable than mallet carving and quite soothing to the soul, too.

The only drawback is carving wood can be difficult to find. There are many supplies who will ship short lengths of basswood and butternut for a reasonable price..

Mallet carving requires a much more extensive collection of gouges + sharpening stones.

-- Everything is a prototype thats why its one of a kind!!

View pontic's profile


634 posts in 756 days

#13 posted 03-24-2017 12:48 AM

Don’t try to carve Cherry until you’ve gone thru quite a few board feet ot bass wood or mahogany. Cherry will break a carvers heart. ask me how I know.

-- Illigitimii non carburundum sum

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Arlin Eastman

4248 posts in 2709 days

#14 posted 03-24-2017 12:56 AM

I would also say chip carving since it gets you to know two tools very well and that is all it takes.

-- It is always the right time, to do the right thing.

View Dave Polaschek's profile

Dave Polaschek

2656 posts in 730 days

#15 posted 03-24-2017 10:07 AM

For what it’s worth, I started carving spoons in dry, well-cured cherry. It’s a pain, but you’ll learn a lot about working with the grain if you pay attention. Knocked out two spoons from some elm last night, and compared to cherry, it was a snap to work. By all means, work with the cherry if it appeals to you, but be aware that’s not the easiest path. The soft maple may be easier to work. And have fun!

-- Dave - Minneapolis

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