Getting into a new hobby like woodcarving is very exciting, but you need to ensure that you start with beginner wood carving projects before you go to something harder so you don’t get discouraged or overwhelmed. We’ll outline four great beginner wood carving projects you can take on, some basic cuts to master, and the wood carving tools you’ll need to pull them off. Before you start, please make sure your tools are sharp and ready to go, you have great focus, and you have the safety gear you need.
Wood carving is a very old hobby that dates back centuries, and it’s popular today because it’s something you can easily get better at the more you do it.
7 Most Important Cuts to Master
There are seven main cuts worth mentioning when it comes to beginner wood carving projects. Each cut comes with a specific and general use that makes certain projects easier to take on. You can even combine some cuts with one another to increase how effective both are. They cuts you should learn right away are:
1. Paring or Thumb Brace Cut
You can compare the paring cut to peeling potatoes. With one hand, you grip the piece of wood you want to carve, and with the other hand, your knife hand, you’re going to slowly cut moving toward the pad of your thumb on your knife hand. You may hear it referred to as the Thumb Brace Cut.
This basic cut is familiar to most. However, it has a drawback as you sacrifice both the control and power you have because you use one hand to hold the piece of wood. This is one of the easiest cuts to master when you start your beginner wood carving projects because most people already have some experience with it. This technique gets used toward the edges or the wood, and you use it to reduce the dimensions of the wood’s surface to make it more manageable.
2. Push Cut
The Push Cut has you remove the rough excess wood from the wood as you work with it. You hold your blade in one hand and the piece of wood in the other. With your knife hand, push the sharp edge of the blade away from your body to remove the unwanted or excess wood. This cut isn’t hard to master because all you do is push the knife blade away from your body using a controlled manner. However, you typically make these cuts very quickly to one another because detail isn’t the focus on this cut. But, if detail will eventually be your aim, you should avoid this cut.
Most carvers turn to this cut for their beginner wood carving projects when the Paring cut isn’t possible due to the distance you’d have to put the blade from your thumb. This cut is another way for you to reduce how large the wood piece is, and it’s worth noting that it’s not meant for details. You also don’t want to use it for deep cuts because the wood grain could turn the blade inwards toward you.
3. Pyramid Cut
As the name suggests, you use this cut to form a triangle shape. When you remove the wood, you’ll form a small pyramid. Generally, it’s a great idea to draw a triangle on the piece of wood you’re using to start off.
- Swap the grip on the knife to a pencil grip.
- At the corner of the triangle you drew on the wood, push the tip of your knife in. Softly trace down to the next point.
- Repeat this step until you get all three lines cut in. At this point, your pyramid should be relatively easy to remove.
This cut will add dimension to your beginner wood carving projects, like garden signs. Deep-set noses or eyes are popular formations of this cut when you carve out figurines.
4. Stop Cut
Stop Cut involves cutting into the block of wood in a straight line and then stopping. Once you make the initial straight cut, take your knife and cut up to your original cut using the V-Cut or Sweeping Cut technique. The wood shaving should make an audible pop and allow you to easily push it away or allow it to fall away. This cut guts you virtually 90-degree, sharp angles. You can use this cut for practical applications like creating a forehead under a top hat or at the bottom of any figurines with pointed noses.
5. Sweeping Cut
You almost always do the Sweeping Cut at the edges of the wood you’re using to create your beginner wood carving projects. It involves combining a sweeping motion of your wrist with the Thumb Push Cut. You usually do it at the edges of your piece of wood to avoid running into the grain of the wood, which could alter your knife’s path. When you carvee, you can utilize this cut to create an accentuated curve.
There are many cuts you can use when you take on wood carving projects, but they all center around seven main cuts.
6. Thumb Push Cut
The Thumb Push Cut is a technique that you can combine with other cuts to increase the control and power of a cut. You utilize this cut by holding your carving knife in one hand. With the thumb of your other hand, press the back of the blade into the wood. This adds strength and pressure to your cut, and in turn, this gives you much more control. Any time you work to push the blade away from the body and have access to you the opposite thumb, it’s a good idea to use this technique.
The Thumb Push Cut is very close to the Push Cut, and the main difference falls into the goal of the cut. The regular push cut is simply used to cut off excess wood while not requiring a lot of control, and this one lies on the other side of the spectrum. It helps to bring control to the cut while increasing the overall power. This makes it a very great addition to your cuts that require you to push the blade away from your body if you have a need for control.
This is arguably one of the most-used cuts when it comes to beginner wood carving projects. It requires you to take your blade and make a 45-degree angle, and then you’ll cut a second 45-degree angle below the original cut. Make sure that you cut up into the original so that you form a V in the wood you’re working with.
You generally combine this cut with the Thumb Push Cut due to the added control you get with it. It has several purposes when it comes to whittling or woodcarving purposes. You can use it to help form features or faces on figurines, or you can use it as a connection point for two pieces.
- HappyDIYHome Tip: To keep your V-Cuts consistent, try to visualize exactly where your top cut ends to form the peak of the second cut.
Picking Out a Type of Wood
You can use any type of wood you like to practice your wood carvins skills, but Basswood has come to the top of ost people’s lists. Basswood is slighlty softer, easy to manipulate, and it’s accessible and inexpensive. It’s seen as the best wood for beginner wood carving projects to help practice your skills, but it remains a favorite for experienced carvers for the same reasons. While Basswood stays at the top of many people’s lists, there are alternatives that have more apples to woodcarvers, including:
- Aspen – Aspen offers the same qualities you get with Basswood to a slightly lower degree. It is slightly tougher and slightly more expensive, but it’s soft and readily available enough to be used efficiently.
- Black Walnut – Black Walnut costs more than both Basswood and Aspen, but it has a very rich and strong nature that makes it very popular for guns and furniture. Working with this type of wood generally requires tools like a chisel or mallet.
- Butternut – Butterwood offers the same benefits you get with Aspen and Basswood with having a softer nature, but it’s darker than both and it polishes very well. It doesn’t have the same strength you get with Black Walnut, but it’s a popular choice for wood furniture.
- Oak – Oak is a strong wood with a defined grain, and this allows carvers to figure out how they want their cuts to go easily. It’s a very popular choice to make furniture out of.
Common Wood Carving Tools + Uses
In this quick section, before we dive into the four best beginner wood carving projects, we’ll briefly touch on the most common wood carving tools and what you use them for. This way, you’ll get a great idea on what you need.
- Angle Grinder – You use your angle grinder to rough out bigger pieces and to help finish them in some instances.
- Chainsaw – Chainsaws are a very popular tool if you’re trying to carve an entire tree trunk.
- Chisels and Gouges – The most common hand tool in woodworking after the handsaw are the gouges and chisels. You use them to produce a range of carved wood pieces.
- Rotary Tool – This is a more recent addition, but it’s a very versatile tool. You can use it to engrave and carve more than just wood too.
- Scroll Saw – You typically use the scroll saw to cut out patterns from blocks of wood, and you finish them with hand tools.
- Woodcarving Knives – The first tool used to carve pieces of wood was most likely a sharp stone piece. This evolved into the knife, and we’re still using them to carve wood today. Most common are the chip carving and whittling knives.
There are many types of wood you can use to take on your beginner wood carving projects, but some are better than others.
1. Chip Carving
The first beginner wood carving project we’re going to touch on is chip carving, and you can easily find patterns for it all over the internet. The main reason why you should try out chip carving when you’re learning woodworking is that it teaches you how to correctly hold the tolls, gets you more confident and comfortable with the carving knife, and it allows you to practice solid safety routines without increasing your risk of injuring something by having the tools slip.
In the modern age, chip carving isn’t a popular type of carving, at least now with beginner carvers. If you’ve never heard of it, chip carving is basically carving out designs and ornaments from a block of wood by chipping the wood using a technique that is very similar to the V-cut. This is a very beautiful type of wood carving, and it’s quite easy for someone who has never held a carving knife up to this point. Most of the time, you simply follow a pattern or you can freestyle using a flat piece of wood to create beautiful ornaments.
Unlike carving in the round, which is a traditional type of carving like creating gnomes, chip carving only requires three types of cuts. These cuts you’ll master are:
- 3 corner chip
- Curvy line cut
- Straight line cut
It’s important to get a good grasp on all types of chips before you get into more complicated designs. A great tip when it comes to this type of carving includes using multiple knives. It’s a good idea to get two types of knives and trace your patterns before you start working. This will give you more confidence as you cut them out.
The reason why carving gnomes are one of the best beginner wood carving projects is that they have great potential regarding your quality of work. What this means is that over 30 days or so, if you carve a gnome two or three times per week, you’ll easily see significant visual progress when you compare your first attempts with the one you carved a month later. Seeing progress in your carvings doesn’t happen with every type of project. However, when it comes to gnomes, the depth, design, shape, detail, and even the facial features will gradually improve. This makes it very motivating to keep carving more projects and getting better.
Another great point about carving gnomes is that you only need a single carving knife and a marker if you want to plan your work out before you start this beginner wood carving project. Depending on the size of your carving block, you will have different measurements for the body, face and feet. You can also quickly add a belt and hat to you gnome carving that will impact the length you have for other areas.
The first thing you have to do is decide where on the block of wood those areas will be. If you want, you can look at already carved gnomes for inspiration. A fairly standard carving ratio for gnomes is to go 20% belt and feet, 20% hat, and 60% body and face. If you aren’t planning on adding a hat, change your ratios to 30% belt and 70% face and body. With a pencil or marker, you’ll mark the different areas with a line. Later, you’ll start to do V-cuts in these areas to have different layers for each section.
- Narrow down the wood to the size you need and want using V-cuts. This is especially important if you want to carve a pointy hat on top.
- Use the V-cut to smooth out any corners around your gnome’s face.
- Continue using V-cuts to create a new layer right under the hat (if you’re adding one)
- Draw your gnome’s face before you carve it, and don’t forget the mustache.
- Try to have as much depth in the face as you possibly can. The more your gnome’s nose stands out and the deeper the eyes are, the more volume you bring to the face.
- Carve out the gnome’s feet from behind the beard, or you can do it separately by carving a niche out of the wood.
Overall, carving gnomes is a great beginner wood carving project as it involves learning and using many different techniques as well as planning and 3D wood vision as you work. The only downside to carving a gnome is that they can take a very long time to make, and if you’re someone who doesn’t have a lot of patience, you may get bored repeating the project over and over. However, it’s a good idea to test your skills and carve at least one.
Gnomes are a nice beginner project if you want to see your progression as you get better, but they’re more time-consuming so you’ll need patience.
Carving something useful, like a type of spoon, knife, or fork is very practical. We’re only going to concentrate on a spoon for your beginner wood carving project as it’s a very popular item and one that will serve you well. Spoon carving is very different from other projects. Thai is one of the reasons why beginners like it. By trying new carving styles out and following odd instructions, you’ll end up with a very diverse experience with wood carving which can help you understand how carving wood works by picking out your favorite type of wood carving.
It’s very important to use a wood like basswood, birch, or apple while making sure the wood is green but not dry. This is due to the fact that not every range of wood works well for spoon carving, and you should use mostly fruit woods and some hardwoods to carve spoons. Green wood is also very popular to carve spoons because it’s easier to whittle. Most of the type of wood you use for spoons are hardwoods, and this makes them very dense, so carving them dry along with this is very hard.
The first thing you need is a unique tool to hollow out your spoon’s bowl. The sweep gouge like the Beevercraft hook knife that you can find online. This will help you with projects like bowl carving as spoon carving requires you to remove wood is a very precise shape, and this tool makes it easier. Once you have all of your tools and you picked out the wood you want to use, you start the beginner wood carving project by drawing out your spoon on the block. Make sure that the wood is deep enough for you to carve the bowl out.
The process of carving a spoon isn’t very challenging from a technical point of view, but it is more physically tiring. Carve out the drawing you made and define the bowl of the spoon using the hook knife. After you finish carving out your spooner, there aren’t many details you can add. You should smooth out the edges and make it look as presentable as you can before you add the finish. It’s essential that you apply a food-safe wood finish to your spoon to finish this beginner wood carving project. Toxic finishes can be harmful if you choose to use this spoon
The final beginner wood carving project on the list is spirit carving, and this is very similar to what you’d do with the gnome without as much carving in the round. Instead, this carving project focuses heavily on the facial features you carve into the wood. For a beginner, spirit carving is most likely easier than carving gnomes, and it can be slightly more fun. It doesn’t have as many drawbacks except for the slower progress because it takes longer to develop your spirit’s facial features. The basic concept of spirit carving is:
- Accenting the eyes and mouth
Just like any beginner wood carving project, the first thing you want to do is roughly envision what you want your carving to look like. Decide if you want your spirit to have a bigger nose or a small one, European or Asian eyes, a large chin, or a large forehead. Once you have an idea on what you’d like it to look like, start sketching it out on the wood.
The next step is to mark the different areas of your carving. The mouth, eyes, and nose are the most important areas to mark out. Make sure that everything is centered and that you have a somewhat symmetrical structure on your spirit’s face.
The most difficult and fun part of this beginner wood carving project is figuring out how to carve what you just drew on your block of wood. How difficult this step is is hard to explain, but you will understand it after you take a few attempts to try it out. Don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t turn out 100% as you envisioned the first time. Practice will make it better.
Spirit carving is a very old form of wood carving that is still popular today, and it’s easy to customize it to your wants and needs.
Accenting the eyes on your spirit carving is the key to making it look great. Every carving will look more professional-grade when you add different depths to it, and in the instance of spirit carvings, you can always add deep eyes to lend an extra carving layer to your final design.
The final part of this project is to add some character to your spirit carving. Any layers, tiny details, depths, and anything you think you’d like will go in here. Don’t be afraid to experiment, even if it makes the spirit look worse at first. Over time, some of your experiments will work out very well for you, and this is how you learn. Spirit carving is also popular to do with power tools, but for a beginner, you want to focus on getting good using hand tools.
We’ve outlined four beginner wood carving projects you can attempt if you’re just getting into wood carving. You should also know the basic cuts and tools required to get these projects up and running. Try them out and make projects that you can hang around your house or gift as gifts.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.