wood carving techniques

Types of Wood Carving Techniques

Types of Wood Carving Techniques – Complete Guide!

Types of Wood Carving Techniques

Wood carving is a form of woodworking that has been around for centuries. There are many different types of wood carving, each with its own unique style and technique. In this article I will discuss some of the most popular types of wood carving and basic wood carving techniques.


Whittling is a type of wood carving technique where a knife is used to remove small pieces of wood from a block of wood. This type of carving is often used to create small figures and objects. Whittling differs from carving slightly, as whittling is thought of as a hand knife technique, whereas carving is a bit more broad of a term. Whittling doesn’t use chisels, gouges, or power tools. Whittling is a great entry-level type of carving, requiring minimal tools and expense to get started.

types of wood carving techniques

Whittling is considered one of the simplest wood carving techniques and it has been used for centuries as one of the ways you can express yourself as an artist. When just getting into whittling, I advise you to buy a whittling kit that has:

  • Specialized whittling knives that are awesome to use because they offer you a fixed single blade to use.
  • Leather thimble and cut-resistant gloves will protect your hands from injuries and successfully get you through the process with no blisters.

Chip Carving

Chip carving is a type of wood carving techniques where small chips of wood are removed from the surface of the wood to create a design. This type of carving is often used to create geometric patterns and designs.

chip wood carving technique

You can use this technique to create eccentric projects and furniture and the tools you need are:

  • Pencil and Ruler– this will help you to create a pattern you want to cut out.
  • Chip carving knife– This will help you to cut out the patterns and can also remove the chips of wood when carving with this technique, make sure your knife is at a 45-degree angle.
  • Chisel- This tool is mainly used to remove small chips on the wood you are carving

Relief Carving

Relief carving is a type of wood carving technique where the design appears to be raised from the flat surface of the wood. There are two types of relief carving: high relief and deep relief. 

High relief carvings are where the design is raised significantly from the surface of the wood, think mountains rising up from a landscape.

Deep relief carvings are where the design is cut into the wood to a significant depth, think of it like the contours of a deep lake.

relief wood carving
Example of relief carving done by carved by Ramsey for a medical center

With your carving tools, you will remove the pieces of wood to create a picture that has a 3D shape from beginning with a flat piece of wood.

With relief carving, you will need:

  • Mallet- to drive the different gouges and chisel into your wood.
  • Gouges- typically following the design pattern, you will need U-shaped, V-shaped, spoon, and fishtail gouges.
  • Chisels- Chisels will also help in the creation and it is used to remove chips on wood.

Relief carving also has several different sub-style wood carving techniques:

  • High relief carving- This style of carving is similar to low relief and mostly they are grouped, and in that, they are sculptures protruding from the foreground. The difference between high and low relief is that the figures protrude much further from the background with high relief, creating stark shadows and outlines to frame the figures.
  • Bas or low relief- This style of carving the figures in the foreground will protrude only slightly from the background, with no undercutting of outlines.
  • Deep carving- This style of carving is deeper than high relief and bas relief carving but it doesn’t go through the wood. It is one of the most difficult and intricate. The depth of this style can reach more than 2 inches which demonstrates levels of shadowing and several layers of the design.
  • Pierced relief- This style of carving can have areas that go straight through the wood, creating a hole in the and the opportunity for stunning detail and even allowing light to pass through.

Chainsaw Carving

Chainsaw carving is a type of wood carving where, as expected, a chainsaw is used to remove large chunks of wood from a block of wood. This type of wood carving technique is often used to create large sculptures and figures.

Even though chainsaw artists are using a large machine to sculpt the wood, many are incredibly talented and have the ability to create very detailed and intricate designs.

wood chainsaw carving

When you are using a chainsaw always wear protective gear and make sure you know how to handle the chainsaw. If you are trying it out the first time, make sure you have a supervisor to avoid accidents and also teach you the proper technique.

Spoon Carving

Spoon carving, one of my favorite wood carving techniques, is where a knife or axe is used to carve a spoon from a block of wood. This type of carving is often used to create a variety of functional kitchen utensils.

Certain woods are better than others for spoon carving, especially if you plan to use the spoon for cooking. Check out are article on this topic, Best Wood for Spoon Carving, to learn more!

Flat-Plane Carving

Flat-plane carving is a type of wood carving where the design is carved from a block of wood while leaving many flat plane surfaces thus showing the knife strokes. This type of carving is often used to create decorative objects and figures.

Flat-Plane Carving is a sub-type of whittling but with less sanding and “polish” of the finished product.

Carving done by Harley Refsal

This technique originated from Scandinavian culture, to be more specific Sweden. The nature of these wood carving techniques seem odd at first glance, but when you give it a deeper look, you will start appreciating the technique, and the talent required to achieve these results.

The tools that are needed for flat-plane technique are:

  • A Sharpe Carving knife – is the only cutting tool you will need. A dull knife is not only dangerous, but also more likely to tear the wood fibers rather than cleanly cut them.
  • Cut-resistance gloves – to protect your hands from injuries.

Power Carving

Power wood carving techniques rely on the benefits of power tools, whether it’s by use of angle grinder with wood cutting discs, rotary tools and die grinders, or even chainsaw carving could fall into this category.

Essential Wood Carving Tools

As a wood carver, having the right tools is essential to creating beautiful and intricate designs. In this section, I will discuss the essential tools for wood carving, including both hand tools and power tools.

Hand Tools

Hand tools are the backbone of most wood carving techniques and are essential for creating intricate designs. Here are some of the most important hand tools for wood carving:

  • Wood Carving Knife – A wood carving knife is the most basic tool for wood carving. It is used for shaping, carving, and cutting wood. It can be a simple pocket knife or a fancy German hand crafted carving knife.
  • Chip Carving Knife – A chip carving knife is a small, pointed knife that is used for intricate chip carving designs.
  • Whittling Knife – A whittling knife is a small, sharp knife that is used for shaping and carving wood.
  • Stab Knife – A stab knife is a pointed knife that is used for carving fine details and for making deep cuts.
  • Wood Carving Chisel and Gouge – A wood carving chisel is a tool that is used for shaping and carving wood. It has a sharp, flat blade that is perfect for removing large amounts of wood. A gouge is similar to a chisel but has a curve, scoop-like, blade for making deeper rounded cuts.

Power Tools

Power tools can make wood carving faster and easier, but they are not always for beginners. Here are some of the most important power tools for power wood carving techniques:

  • Rotary Tool – A rotary tool is a small, handheld tool that is perfect for carving intricate designs and for sanding wood. Dremel is a common brand that you’ll see, they offer many types of bits and make a high-quality product.
  • Power Carving Tools – Power carving tools are electric tools that are used for carving and shaping wood. They include angle grinders, die grinders, and reciprocating carvers.
  • Saws – A bandsaw is a power tool that is used for roughing out carving wood shapes, or for cutting large pieces of wood into smaller, more manageable pieces. Other saws that a woodcarver likes to have around are table saw, circular saw and jig saw.

When using hand tools or power tools, it is important to always use sharp tools. Dull tools can slip and cause injury. Additionally, always wear protective gear, such as gloves, ear protection and safety glasses, when using power tools.

Choosing the Right Wood for Carving

As a woodcarver, choosing the right wood is crucial to the success of your project. Not all woods are created equal, and selecting the right wood for your project can make all the difference. Here are some things to consider when choosing the right wood for your carving project:

Wood Type

Different types of wood have different characteristics that make them more or less suitable for different wood carving techniques. Hardwoods, such as oak, maple, and walnut, are denser and more difficult to shape, but are ideal for intricate and detailed carving.

Softwoods, such as pine and cedar, are easier to carve and can be used for larger projects. Other wood species, such as basswood and butternut, are also commonly used for carving due to there soft nature and even grain, making them easier to carve.

Wood Hardness

The density of the wood also plays a role in its suitability for carving. Dense, harder woods, such as oak and maple, are more difficult to carve but can produce beautiful results. Less dense woods, such as white pine and basswood, are easier to carve but won’t not hold up as well over time.

Moisture Content

Green wood, or wood that has not been dried, is often used for carving because it is easier to work with. However, it is important to note that green wood will shrink and warp as it dries, which can affect the final product. If you choose to use green wood, be sure to allow for this shrinkage in your design and unless it dries properly, don’t be shocked if your piece splits or cracks when it dries.


When choosing a wood type for wood carving techniques like relief carving or wooden spoon carving, it is important to choose a piece of wood that is as flat as possible. This will make it easier to carve and ensure that the final product is even and smooth. If the wood is not flat, you may need to use a planer or sander to even it out before you begin carving.

Safety Measures in Wood Carving

As someone who has been wood carving for years, I understand the importance of safety measures when it comes to this craft. Wood carving can be a dangerous activity, and it is essential to take the necessary precautions to prevent injuries, regardless of which wood carving techniques you’re using.

One of the most critical safety measures in wood carving is the use of safety gloves. When you are working with sharp tools, such as carving knives or chisels, it is easy to slip and cut yourself. Wearing safety gloves can help prevent these types of injuries. Make sure to choose gloves that fit well and do not hinder your ability to grip your tools properly.

Another safety precaution that should not be overlooked is proper ventilation. Wood dust can be hazardous to your health, and it is essential to have good ventilation in your workspace. Wear a respiratory mask to prevent inhaling wood dust particles.

It is also crucial to keep your tools sharp and in good condition. Dull tools are more likely to slip and cause injuries, so it is essential to keep them sharp. Regularly sharpen your tools and replace them when necessary.

Lastly, make sure to keep your workspace clean and organized. This will help prevent accidents and injuries. Keep your tools in a safe place when not in use and avoid cluttering your workspace.

In summary, safety measures are crucial in wood carving. Always wear safety gloves, have good ventilation, keep your tools sharp, and maintain a clean workspace. By following these safety precautions, you can prevent injuries and enjoy the craft of wood carving safely.

Starting Your Wood Carving Project

As a beginner wood carver, starting your first wood carving project can be a daunting task. However, with the right mindset and tools, you can create beautiful decorative pieces and small figures that will amaze your family and friends. In this section, I will guide you through the first steps of starting your wood carving project.

Simple Projects

For a beginner wood carver, it is best to start with simple projects that require fewer tools and less time to complete. Simple projects will help you develop basic techniques and skills that you can use in more complex projects later on. Some examples of simple wood carving projects include:

  • Kuksa Cup
  • Wizard Face
  • Miniature Decorative Ax
  • Whittle a Wooden Flower
  • Wooden Spoons and Forks

When starting your simple wood carving project, it is important to choose the right type of wood. Softwoods like basswood, butternut, and pine are great for beginners because they are easy to carve and have a consistent texture. Hardwoods like oak, maple, and cherry are more difficult to carve but have a beautiful grain pattern – they are also more expensive!

Complex Projects

Once you have completed a few simple wood carving projects, you can move on to more complex projects that require more tools and time to complete. Complex projects will challenge your skills and creativity and allow you to create more intricate and detailed decorative pieces. Some examples of complex wood carving projects include:

  • Bowls and Plates
  • Animal Figurines
  • Relief Carvings
  • Carved Furniture

When starting your complex wood carving project, it is important to have a clear plan and design in mind. You should also choose the right type of wood for your project based on its hardness, texture, and grain pattern. Hardwoods like mahogany, walnut, and cherry wood are great for complex projects because they have a beautiful grain pattern and can be carved into intricate designs.

Wrapping Up – Learning and Mastering Wood Carving

Wood carving is an art form that has been around for centuries, dating back to the 17th century. It involves creating intricate designs and shapes on wood using sharp-edged cutting tools such as knives, chisels, and gouges. Mastering wood carving requires patience, practice, and a good idea of the different techniques involved.

The learning curve for wood carving can be steep, but with dedication and practice, anyone can become proficient. The best way to start is by learning the basics, such as making straight cuts and deep cuts. It is also important to learn the proper technique for holding and using the tools.

One of the most important things to keep in mind when learning wood carving is safety. Always wear protective gear, such as gloves and eye protection, and be aware of the potential dangers of using tools such as chainsaws.

When it comes to mastering wood carving, there are several techniques that can be used to create different shapes and designs. These include relief carving, chip carving, and flat-plane carving. Each technique requires different tools and skills, so it is important to choose the one that best suits your style and preferences.

In summary, learning and mastering wood carving requires patience, practice, and dedication. By starting with the basics and learning the proper techniques, anyone can become proficient in this timeless art form. Always prioritize safety and choose the technique that best suits your style and preferences.

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