Wood Carving

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Wood carving
widely practiced but survives much less well than the
other main materials such as stone and bronze, as it is
vulnerable to decay, insect damage, and fire. It therefore forms an important hidden element in the art history of many cultures.[1] Outdoor wood sculptures do not
last long in most parts of the world, so that we have little idea how the totem pole tradition developed. Many
of the most important sculptures of China and Japan in
particular are in wood, and the great majority of African
sculpture and that of Oceania and other regions. Wood
is light and can take very fine detail so it is highly suitable for masks and other sculpture intended to be worn
or carried. It is also much easier to work than stone.
Some of the finest extant examples of early European
wood carving are from the Middle Ages in Germany,
Russia, Italy and France, where the typical themes of that
era were Christian iconography. In England, many complete examples remain from the 16th and 17th century,
where oak was the preferred medium.

Carved wooden cranes

1 Methods and styles
• Chip carving
• Relief carving
• Scandinavian flat-plane
• Caricature carving
• Lovespoon
• Treen
• Whittling
Finely carved wooden door in the Great Mosque of Kairouan,

2 Techniques

Wood carving is a form of working wood by means of a 2.1 Tools
cutting tool (knife) in one hand or a chisel by two hands
or with one hand on a chisel and one hand on a mallet, re• Carving knives
sulting in a wooden figure or figurine, or in the sculptural
ornamentation of a wooden object. The phrase may also
• Carving knife, used to round a corner of a piece of
refer to the finished product, from individual sculptures
to hand-worked mouldings composing part of a tracery.
• V-Tool, used to part lines and cut V-shaped channels

The making of sculpture in wood has been extremely




• the chisel: large and small, whose straight cutting
edge is used for lines and cleaning up flat surfaces.
• the V-tool: used for parting, and in certain classes
of flat work for emphasizing lines.
• the veiner: a specialized deep gouge with a Ushaped cutting edge.
• sharpening equipment, such as various stones and a
strop: necessary for maintaining edges.
A selection of woodcarving hand tools: 3 fishtail gouges, a vparting tool, 4 straight gouges, 3 spoon gouges, and a carvers

A special screw for fixing work to the workbench, and a
mallet, complete the carvers kit, though other tools, both
specialized and adapted, are often used, such as a router
for bringing grounds to a uniform level, bent gouges and
bent chisels for cutting hollows too deep for the ordinary

2.2 Wood
2.2.1 Selection

Desay Madu Jhya (window) in Kathmandu, Nepal is a specimen
of traditional Nepalese wood carving.

The nature of the wood being carved limits the scope of
the carver in that wood is not equally strong in all directions: it is an anisotropic material. The direction in
which wood is strongest is called "grain" (grain may be
straight, interlocked, wavy or fiddleback, etc.). It is smart
to arrange the more delicate parts of a design along the
grain instead of across it, and the more slender stalks or
leaf-points should not be too much separated from their
adjacent surroundings. The failure to appreciate these
primary rules may constantly be seen in damaged work,
when it will be noticed that, whereas tendrils, tips of birds
beaks, etc., arranged across the grain have been broken
away, similar details designed more in harmony with the
growth of the wood and not too deeply undercut remain

Probably the two most common woods used for carving are basswood (aka tilia or lime) and tupelo, both are
hardwoods that are relatively easy to work with. Chestnut,
butternut, oak, American walnut, mahogany and teak are
also very good woods; while for fine work Italian walnut,
Detail of the Last Supper from Tilman Riemenschneider's Altar sycamore maple, apple, pear, box or plum, are usually
of the Holy Blood, 1501-05, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Bavaria chosen. Decoration that is to be painted and of not too
delicate a nature is often carved in pine.

Basic tool set

2.2.2 Sculpture
• the carving knife: a specialized knife used to pare,
A wood carver begins a new carving by selecting a chunk
cut, and smooth wood.
of wood the approximate size and shape of the figure he
• the gouge: a tool with a curved cutting edge used or she wishes to create or, if the carving is to be large,
in a variety of forms and sizes for carving hollows, several pieces of wood may be laminated together to create the required size. The type of wood is important.
rounds and sweeping curves.
Hardwoods are more difficult to shape but have greater
• the coping saw: a small saw that is used to cut off luster and longevity. Softer woods may be easier to carve
chunks of wood at once.
but are more prone to damage. Any wood can be carved

tools such as “rasps,” which are flat-bladed tools with a
surface of pointed teeth. “Rifflers” are similar to rasps,
but smaller, usually double ended, and of various shapes
for working in folds or crevasses. The finer polishing is
done with abrasive paper. Large grained paper with a
rougher surface is used first, with the sculptor then using finer grained paper that can make the surface of the
sculpture slick to the touch.
After the carving and finishing is completed, the artist
may seal & color the wood with a variety of natural oils,
such as walnut or linseed oil which protects the wood
from dirt and moisture. Oil also imparts a sheen to the
wood which, by reflecting light, helps the observer 'read'
the form. Carvers seldom use gloss varnish as it creates
too shiny a surface, which reflects so much light it can
confuse the form; carvers refer to this as 'the toffee apple effect'. Objects made of wood are frequently finished
with a layer of wax, which protects the wood and gives a
soft lustrous sheen. A wax finish is comparatively fragile
though and only suitable for indoor carvings.

3 Traditions
Mambila figure, Nigeria

but they all have different qualities and characteristics.
The choice will depend on the requirements of carving
being done: for example a detailed figure would need a
wood with a fine grain and very little figure as strong figure can interfere with 'reading' fine detail.
Once the sculptor has selected their wood, he or she begins a general shaping process using gouges of various
sizes. The gouge is a curved blade that can remove large
portions of wood smoothly. For harder woods, the sculptor may use gouges sharpened with stronger bevels, about
35 degrees, and a mallet similar to a stone carver’s. The
terms gouge and chisel are open to confusion. Correctly,
a gouge is a tool with a curved cross section and a chisel
is a tool with a flat cross section. However, professional
carvers tend to refer to them all as 'chisels’. Smaller sculptures may require the wood carver to use a knife, and
larger pieces might require the use of a saw. No matter what wood is selected or tool used, the wood sculptor
must always carve either across or with the grain of the
wood, never against the grain.
Once the general shape is made, the carver may use a variety of tools for creating details. For example, a “veiner”
or “fluter” can be used to make deep gouges into the surface, or a “v-tool” for making fine lines or decorative cuts.
Once the finer details have been added, the wood carver
finishes the surface. The method chosen depends on the
required quality of surface finish. The texture left by shallow gouges gives 'life' to the carving’s surface and many
carvers prefer this 'tooled' finish. If a completely smooth
surface is required general smoothing can be done with

The making of decoys and fish carving are two of the
artistic traditions that use wood carvings.

4 See also
• List of woodcarvers
• Chainsaw carving
• History of wood carving
• Wood as a medium
• Woodcut
• Woodturning
• Woodworking
• Woodcarved Catholic saints in the Parish Church of
Ortisei, northern Italy
• National Wood Carvers Association
• Woodcarving events:
• Woodfest Wales

5 Gallery
• A wooden Bodhisattva from the Song Dynasty
• Another Song-Dynasty Bodhisattva


• From Africa
• Tilman Riemenschneider's Saint Barbara from
• in Festac Town, Lagos, Nigeria
• Yombe-sculpture, 19th century
• in Festac Town, Lagos, Nigeria
• Carved gallant genre scene with figurines from Val
Gardena, 18th century
• Sculpture by Medina Ayllón, Spain
• Carving of a duck by a Florida artist
• Carving of unicorn by G&H Studios, Somerset,
• c. 1940s, hobo by Carl Johan Trygg
• The eponymous carving on the Urnes stave church
is an example of the Urnes style, Norway
• A dragon’s head from the Oseberg ship
• Carvings for sale on a beach



[1] See for example Martin Robertson, A shorter history of
Greek art, p. 9, Cambridge University Press, 1981, ISBN
0-521-28084-2, ISBN 978-0-521-28084-6 Google books
[2] “12 top tips for using a V-tool”. WoodworkersInstitute.com. 14 May 2010. Retrieved 30 January 2013.


This article incorporates text from a publication
now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed.
(1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.

This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the National
Archives and Records Administration.

External links
• Chinese Wood Carving
• Woodcarving Magazine
• Sharpening, Honing and Polishing Gouges and
Other Carving Tools by R.M Mottola
• The British Woodcarvers Association
• Maori Wood Carving
• Sculptures and exotic wood lamps




Text and image sources, contributors, and licenses



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