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Wood Carving Tutorial

Wood Carving Tools

Woodcarving can be as simple or as complex as the project requires, or as the carver cares to make it. An amazing amount of work can be done on small basswood carvings with just a chip-carving knife. Add a few gouges and your range of carving possibilities increases.

Power carving tools such as a flexible-shaft Foredom tool can help speed up the carving process and produce effects that you cannot get with hand tools alone. Large power tools, such as a band saw, belt sander, drill press, and chain saw, fill out the woodcarver's shop.

Note: The Sculpture Studio does not sell tools. See links below for tool catalogs.

Knives and Chisels for Wood Carving

Chip carving knife

Chip Carving Knife

Probably the first tool a wood carver starts with is a knife. Its primary use is for whittling and chip carving. A chip carving knife has a blade about 1 1/2" long, and has a handle designed to fit comfortably in the hand. Like gouges, it should be made of high carbon steel that will hold an edge for a long time.

Flat chisel

Carpenter's Chisels

These chisels have a flat edge (#1 sweep). They are not usually used for sculpture, because the edge of a flat chisel tends to dig into the wood, twisting and plunging the tool deeper on one side than the carver may have desired. They can give a crude, unschooled look that may be desirable on some types of sculpture, like Outsider Art.

Small gougesBig gouges


Gouges are the work horses of wood carving. U-gouges are designated by the width of the cutting edge (in inches or millimeters), the sweep, or the amount of curvature of the cutting edge(an arbitrarily assigned number), and the shape of the shaft (straight, bent, spoon, or back bent).

Gouges can be purchased with these characteristics:
  -in widths form 2mm (1/16") to 60mm (2 3/8")
  -in sweeps from #2 (a barely perceptible curve) to #11 (a very deep, half round curve)
  -in straight, bent, spoon, and back-bent shafts.

V gouge


V-gouges are designated by the width between the top edge tips and the angle of the vee bottom edge.

Gouges can be purchased with these characteristics:
  -in widths form 2mm to 30mm
  -in 60 degrees (#12 sweep), and 90 degrees (#13 sweep)

Bent gouge

Bent and Spoon Gouges

These specialty gouges are used to get into inaccessible spots on a carving that a straight gouge can't reach.

Bent Gouge: the entire length of the shaft is curved.

Spoon Gouge: the final 1 1/2" of the shaft is deeply bent in a spoon shape.

Back-bent gouge: a spoon gouge with the curve reversed so the cutting edge is convex instead of concave.


Skewed Chisel

A skewed chisel's cutting edge is angled back from the leading edge at a 45 degree angle.

Palm gouge

Palm Tools

A chip carving knife and an assortment of palm gouges are all that is needed for creating small carvings in basswood or other soft woods. It is best to purchase individual chisels that you know you will be using. Unfortunately, sets of tools usually include several chisels in shapes that you may seldom use.



The traditional mallet for carving is cylindrically shaped and made from a heavy, dense hardwood.

I prefer using a rubber mallet. While it doesn't have the driving power of wood mallet, it is less noisy, and easier on the chisel handles, and has some spring that brings the head back up for the next swing.

Power Carving

Fordom tool

Foredom Flexable Shaft Tool

Foredom tools have a motor (1/8 -14 HP depending on the model), and run at up to 20,000 RPM. A flexible shaft extends from the motor to a hand piece that holds a wide variety of burs and bits used for shaping and texturing wood. Its variable-speed capability is operated by a foot pedal.

The Foredom tool is an invaluable tool that can speed up carving. It reaches into small places that chisels can't go, models wood with almost disregard for the grain direction, makes sanding quick and easy, and allows the creation of textures that can not be made in any other way.

Small bitsBig bits

Burs and Accessories

A wide variety of burs are available to fit the several different styles and sizes of Foredom hand pieces. Burs that may have been intended for other purposes can be used for woodcarving, such as single cut and double cut carbide burs (intended for metal work).

Tungsten carbide and burs coated with industrial diamonds can be used for texturing wood. Drill bits can placed in the adjustable chuck hand piece for drilling holes.

Small sanding discs and drums are also available for sanding and finishing.


Band Saw

A band saw has a long, thin blade welded into a loop. An electric motor powers the blade around two large wheels.

The band saw is the woodcarver's most often used large power tool. It quickly cuts off scrap wood, saving you the work of removing it by hand.

To cut out a small carving, trace a pattern of the subject's front view and side view onto the block of wood. Cut out the side view. Save the two side pieces and put everything back together again.

Next cut out the front view. Now that most of the scrap wood has been removed.  Begin rounding off the square edges.

Drill press

Drill Press

The drill press is another invaluable shop tool. It drills precise holes, but other attachments can be added, such as a sanding drum.

Belt sander

Belt Sander

A belt sander is another tool that comes in handy for doing so many things that come up during a carving project. Once you have one, it seems indispensable.


Planer and Joiner

The planer and joiner are used to surface wood, giving boards flat sides. If you plan to laminate boards into larger blocks for carving, flat surfaces are necessary.

These tools are nice to have, but I worked for years without them. I just had to pay more to have my wood supplier mill the boards when I purchased them.

Chain saw

Chain Saw

A chain saw is a very useful tool to rough out logs for large carvings. For shop use, I prefer an electric model.

Wood for Carving

Types of Wood for Carving.

How to Carve Wood Sculpture

Techniques for Carving Wood.

Note: The Sculpture Studio does not sell tools. See links below for tool catalogs.

Catalogs and Links

560 Airport Industrial Park
PO Box 1686
Parkersburg, WV 26102-1686

Wood Carver's Supply Inc.
PO Box 7500
Englewood, FL 34295-7500

Christian J. Hummul
422 Third Street
PO Box 522
Nescopeck, PA  18635-0522

Ashley Iles (Edge Tools) Ltd,
East Kirkby, Spilsby, Lincolnshire, PE23 4DD
Telephone: 01790 763372 - Fax: 01790 763610

The Compleat Sculptor
90 Vandam Street
NYC, NY 10013
(Full range of tools and materials)

Sculpture House, Inc.
100 Camp Meeting Ave.
Skillman, NJ 08558
(Full range of tools and materials)