How does one get started in Carving ????

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Forum topic by MNbuzzdust posted 04-10-2009 06:16 AM 1516 views 1 time favorited 24 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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99 posts in 3592 days

04-10-2009 06:16 AM

I have always wanted to try carving. Mainly flat carving like something that would go into a frame and be hung on the wall or some table legs. Everything I see seems to about carving santas figures and wood spirt statues etc.. I am not real good at drawing so that is holding me back abit….. as well as what tools to use, and what kind of wood to use and where to get it. Can I just start with a 2×4 or 2×8 from HD
Whats the best way to get started

24 replies so far

View Lee A. Jesberger's profile

Lee A. Jesberger

6866 posts in 4220 days

#1 posted 04-10-2009 06:31 AM

Hi MNbuzzdust,

You don’t have to be good at drawing to carve. You can use carbon paper to transfer pictures. It would be best to get a book on carving, but it really isn’t too difficult.

Just be sure to use good quality carving tools, or you will soon get discouraged.

There’s more information on carving on my website:

I hope this helps.


-- by Lee A. Jesberger

View MNbuzzdust's profile


99 posts in 3592 days

#2 posted 04-10-2009 08:56 AM

Thanks for the reply.
I believe I am interested in chip carving or carving celtic paterns and designs.
So what tools should I buy to start out… I know nothing and hate to buy some lousy knives…. But I dont want to spend a bundle either. Can I get into this for $50-100 to start or not? What do I need and what quality
How about a laminate trimmer is that also something I could use to do this ??

View kolwdwrkr's profile


2821 posts in 3831 days

#3 posted 04-10-2009 09:38 AM

You don’t need a bunch of fancy tools to carve. In fact I carved with a 1/4” straight chisel for a long time. I could never afford a nice carving set. Even now with all the tools I have I still resort back to a straight chisel quite often. That’s not to say that I’m not glad I have all the others. They have made my life easier. You can buy a starter set and be happy for a while. Get a good mallet as well. You can get into carving for less then 100 bucks but you may be buying either a couple chisels or a set of cheapies. The quality of the steel doesn’t seem to matter when you are using bench chisels. But when you are trying to make nice clean cuts everytime and trying to shape something, keeping a nice sharp edge is very important. So a better quality tool may pay off in the end. It will save you time and energy.
You’ll also need some good sharpening stones or a wet grinder suitable for sharpening. I use Japanese water stones— 800, 1200, and 6000. Forget staying under $100 bucks at this point.
For material Basswood is very easy to carve. I use maple, walnut, and mahogany regularly and feel they carve nicely. They are harder then basswood obviously and dull the chisels faster. They also have unpredictable grain patterns that result in tear out so you’re always changing direction accordingly. Whereas with basswood you don’t need to worry as much.
You don’t need much to get started. I say try a piece or two with some basic tools. If you feel comfortable then you can seek out some used tools from ebay or the like. If you choose to continue carving as an ongoing hobby I suggest you get a good set of chisels like 2cherries, good sharpening stones and a wet grinder, a mallet, carbon paper, and some good beginners woodcarving books. I like to relief carve and recommend books by Lora S. Irish and Chris Pye. I am more then willing to make you a mallet for a fee. It would be custom one of a kind. Or you can just buy one from basically anywhere that sells hand tools. I have a shop fox from grizzly that works well, but use my own more often now.
For chip carving all you need is a good knife. I use an old timer pocket knife with good results. They also make knifes specifically for chip carving. The blades are thinner then a standard pocket knife which makes cutting into the material a little easier. They aren’t made for whittling because of the fragility of the thinner blade.
If you have any questions I am more then happy to answer all that I can. You may also frequent They have forums there as well. In my opinion, you will get similar but different answers from everyone. We are all different and set in our ways. You will need to find your way as you are the only one that can see your perspective. Good luck and I look forward to seeing your work.

-- ~ Inspiring those who inspire me ~

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


18426 posts in 3916 days

#4 posted 04-10-2009 09:50 AM

I will second you don’t need to spend any more than you want to. I started by whittling toys with a pocket knife I got for Christmas when I was about 8 yrs old using scraps of wood on my dad’s farm. Just keep the knife or chisels sharp. I whittled a flintlock pistol that impresed my dad enough he wanted to hang it up for a decoration. Just start, get to know the wood and the grain.

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View thelt's profile


665 posts in 3620 days

#5 posted 04-10-2009 04:09 PM

I learned a lot at Woodcraft if you have one in your area. The one around here (Jacksonville, FL) is always putting on classes for various things and wood carving is one of them.

-- When asked what I did to make life worthwhile in my lifetime....I can respond with a great deal of pride and satisfaction, "I served a career in the United States Navy."

View Dick, & Barb Cain's profile

Dick, & Barb Cain

8693 posts in 4540 days

#6 posted 04-10-2009 04:31 PM

I agree with Lee, you don’t have to know how to draw, if you can trace, you’ve got it made.

When I started carving there wasn’t much help, but nowadays there are some great places with tutorials.

Check this site.

-- -** You are never to old to set another goal or to dream a new dream ****************** Dick, & Barb Cain, Hibbing, MN.

View MNbuzzdust's profile


99 posts in 3592 days

#7 posted 04-11-2009 08:40 AM

Thanks everyone for the good advice.
1. So how do you get a pattern on the wood?? Some of those patterns are very intricate and repeat over and over and over? Like celtic knots and rosettes for a border. Is that all drawn with a compas or by hand each time or are there patterns you can get somewhere to trace
2. The only Basswood I could find so far is at hobby lobby and its only 1/4 inch thick…. Is that thick enough to use for chip carving ??

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


18426 posts in 3916 days

#8 posted 04-11-2009 09:16 AM

I’ll leave the pattern question alone because i follow my heart for details rather than trace.

As a beginning carver, you probably want something thicker. Looking for wood you can go to a regular hardwood dealer. If they don’t have basswood, ask for what they have for a substitute. You can go on ebay and find wood, but you have to becareful, a lot of it is cut green. Shipping can get high because of weight, shape and distance if it won’t fit in a flat rate box. You can google wood dealers. Look on Craigs list for wood. The small pieces in hobby shops are pretty highly priced when you compare them to your other options.

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View Waldschrat's profile


505 posts in 3676 days

#9 posted 04-11-2009 11:07 AM


Yup, all done with a compass and a straight edge. It is helpfull if you have a geometrie book near by to help figure out specific ways of makeing geometrical shapes, that is if you are already not a geometrie whiz.

Rosettas are all limited to the imagination… I would recomend getting a book called “How to Carve Wood” by Richard Bütz… its a pretty good all-around book touching on just many things (basics plus a some advanced stuff) that our Woodcarvers (still a profession in Germany) pratice and learn here during the school…. its pretty condensed, (and me being a Cabinetmaker not a Carver) can say for the normal person wanting to learn, its a good book to get. and definetly the important stuff!

Weymouths kiefer is a good substiture. actually maple is nice to carve, It does not tear out as easily (at least the european stuff doesn’t, then again its not as hard as the typical sugar maple flavour.)

1/4 inch is perfect… its about the same demension when I first learned carving (letters and chip caving and rosetta and such).

-- Nicholas, Cabinet/Furniture Maker, Blue Hill, Maine

View MNbuzzdust's profile


99 posts in 3592 days

#10 posted 04-11-2009 06:52 PM

Yes that tool looks great… But I can probably buy alot of glass for $34 plus shipping lol.

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


18426 posts in 3916 days

#11 posted 04-11-2009 08:20 PM

On cheap wood for practice, I forgot to mention the big box stores. Pine is realitively soft. That is mostly what I learned on.

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View Dick, & Barb Cain's profile

Dick, & Barb Cain

8693 posts in 4540 days

#12 posted 04-11-2009 09:07 PM

I use carbon paper to trace on the pattern.

-- -** You are never to old to set another goal or to dream a new dream ****************** Dick, & Barb Cain, Hibbing, MN.

View SCOTSMAN's profile


5849 posts in 3826 days

#13 posted 04-11-2009 11:01 PM

Why not get a good dvd theres a great set 2 .One is on sharpenning and the other on carving I think Chris pye I have them excellent he makes it seem so easy if you were nearer I could ltet you see them Alistair

-- excuse my typing as I have a form of parkinsons disease

View Jeremy's profile


74 posts in 3571 days

#14 posted 04-13-2009 05:12 PM

Hello! I’m new this site and I have to tell you, I’m really thrilled to see everyone helping out! I hope you give me the same someday when I need it.

Here is my two sense on carving. I started a couple years ago and bought a beginners set at store (email me and I’ll tell where as I don’t think I’m supposed to advertise that which comes with a knife to do some chip carving. I then did lots of research on google, on how to get started. I soon realized that even the most experienced carvers use patterns and that I found that there is no shame in using them! With my research, I found books, articles that gave me tips a long the way! Now that I’m on lumberjocks, I wish I knew about this a few years ago! These people are great! After a year or so, I found a one day class with a master carver that taught mostly relief cutting (flat two dementional). Once I did that, I pretty much just practiced, made mistakes, and learned.

After that, I found a great book on chip carving. (can give you that on email too) Still working on that too and loving it.

As for wood, I find basswood is best as the grain pattern is very forgiving. Pine is soft but working with the grain is difficult for me. My most recent wood is working with Mahogany! It’s awesome and carves very nice. It’s harder than basswood but it carves very nice and you’d be amazed how much furniture stores throw out on a regular basis. You can get it for free most of the time as it ends up in the trash anyway.

Now, transfering patterns to the wood. This will blow your mind and will save you hours of time transfering your patterns. The technique is called toner transfering. Here is the process:

Either print your pattern with a laser printer or copy your pattern with a copier. The key is using a machiene that prints using toner, not ink jet. Bubble jet printers won’t work.

Next, using laquer thinner you can actually transfer the whole pattern in one swoop. Apply, thinner to wood, not too much, not too little and place the actual pattern face down on the wood and rub the paper against wood. It’ll take a little practice but you will find the pattern appear on the wood. It’ll transfer right from the paper to the wood, and boom, you’ll have just saved a bunch of time! Email again if you have questions! Happy carving!

-- Jeremy, Rochester, NY

View Dick, & Barb Cain's profile

Dick, & Barb Cain

8693 posts in 4540 days

#15 posted 04-13-2009 05:42 PM

Just a reminder, you should make your copy flipped horizontally, (mirrored)

if you want it the same as the image you’re using.

-- -** You are never to old to set another goal or to dream a new dream ****************** Dick, & Barb Cain, Hibbing, MN.

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