How to carve in wood for beginners

Carving in relief: from basic skills to confident technique

Of all kinds of carving relief technique is one of the most expressive. Realistic wooden bas-reliefs, with careful detailing, a spectacular play of shadows and correctly constructed composition, are capable of truly captivating. Relief carving can be seen as a stepping stone to sculptural carving, which is rightly considered the crown of the carving art.

In this article we will tell you about the basic principles of carving in relief. Our pieces of advice are not only useful for beginners, but also for woodcarvers who have already mastered the technique. On the example of the proposed project you will get acquainted with the basic principles of clean and accurate cutting, learn how to model the volume correctly, learn professional secrets that will help emphasize the three-dimensional qualities of a carved composition.

What is the difference between relief carving and other techniques?

The relief technique is distinguished, first of all, by its emphasized three-dimensional character, which distinguishes it from flat-relief, contour, geometrical and other types of non-volume carving. Here the main composition stands in the foreground by means of the cropped background, thanks to which the image becomes more expressive, with a characteristic abundance of light and shade.

If the main pattern of the composition rises only slightly, no more than half the thickness of the entire piece, such a carving is called a bas-relief carving (and the item itself is a bas-relief). If the relief is higher and more protruding, the carving is called high relief.

Types of wood carving

In order to properly choose your first set of woodcarving tools, as well as auxiliary equipment, you need to decide what artistic style you will be mastering. In this case it is more logical to proceed from the simple to the complex. Most carvers first learn geometric and contour carving, and then proceed to more complex styles. flat-relief and sculptural. For each of the techniques the workhorse is a different set of tools. Therefore, to begin with, let us briefly consider the main artistic directions and describe a starter set of equipment and tools for each of them.

This technique is the easiest to master, but that in no way diminishes its artistic value. The essence of this carving is reduced to the repetition in a certain sequence of wedge-cut notches (incisions), which differ in size, depth and geometry of the angles. There are not many variations of such incisions, but with their help an infinite number of very diverse patterns can be obtained, which are dissimilar to each other. As a separate subspecies of geometric carving, the staple technique is allocated. Here the pattern is carried out not by diamond-shaped and square recesses, but by staple recesses, which are usually made by a semicircular chisel.

In essence, this technique is the same drawing, only instead of a sheet of paper they use a wooden board, and instead of pencils. thin chisels. By means of lines of varying depth and width, the master draws a compositional plot. The principal difference of contour carving from other styles is the absence of a pronounced relief and volume.

Carving (openwork)

The main feature of such carving is the presence of through cuts in the product. In fact, it is a style in which two types of arts and crafts meet. wood carving and jigsaw sawing. Slit carving is done both on the plane and on volumetric sculptures.

In a scalloped carving, a design or pattern is created by selecting the background around the main figure. If an artistic composition has a low relief, it is a so-called bas-relief carving. If a pattern or design has a pronounced volume and is almost detached from the plane. it is a high relief carving.

Bas-relief carving is characterized by a kind of smoothness, while high reliefs are the whole sculptural panels, with a fine elaboration of relief and volumetric compositions. Mastering this technique begins with the study of flat-relief subjects, gradually moving toward increasing the expressiveness of the volume.

Read more about it in a separate article:

One of the varieties of flat-relief technique is “Tatjanka” carving, which had time to stand out in a separate style.

In the carving hierarchy it is the highest and most complex style. Working with three-dimensional compositions requires three-dimensional vision of the figure, the ability to work with proportions and sense of perspective. In order to make wooden sculptures one must have a perfect mastery of contour and relief carving techniques, and be able to use the whole arsenal of carving tools.

For a step-by-step making of this carved sculpture, see here.

After a brief description of the main types of woodcarving, let us move on to a more detailed talk about the tools themselves.

Knife Shoal

Purpose Jigsaws are the basic tool for geometric and contour wood carving. With their help, they create undercuts (notches) of geometric patterns and fine lines of contour drawings.

Blade features Knives have a straight metal blade with a beveled cutting edge. The angle of the bevel varies from 30° to 80°. Jambs with a shallow bevel are used to create triangular recesses in geometric threads. Sharp blades (30-45°) work fine patterns and curvilinear lines on the plane.

Jamb knives have small length of blade. blade protrudes from handle by 30-50 mm, which provides maximal accurate control of tool during cutting.

Sharpening peculiarities A jamb knife is more often sharpened on one side: on the right (for right-handed persons) or on the left side (for left-handed persons). Two facets are seldom sharpened on this type of blade, at least for geometric carving.

The sharpening angle varies from 20 to 40°. To work with soft species (linden, aspen, alder, birch) use a minimum angle of sharpening. When carving hardwood, the sharpening is increased to 35-40°, this makes the cutting edge stronger, which is important for power carving.

Handle Handles differ in the way the blade is attached: they can be inset or lamellar. The former consist of a single piece of wood (the blade of the knife has a sharp shank, which is inserted inward), the latter are made in the form of two overlays. Length of handles varies within the range 100-120 mm.

During the execution of geometric patterns the jamb knife is held with the blade downwards, turning the spout away from itself (Fig.1). The knife itself is tilted to the side at an angle, most often at 45°. When performing contour carving, the jamb is held like a pencil

Extra tools

For the convenience of working with the jigsaw, there are additional tools and attachments:

  • guide ruler;
  • Additional attachments;
  • A universal plane. it is convenient for cutting parquet, narrow slats, aluminum profile;
  • A parallel stop to make a parallel cut;
  • compass;
  • LED lighting for the cutting line.

Learn more about the tools for woodcarving in our article “Basic Tools for Woodcarving”.

Work stages

The work of wood sawing with a jigsaw follows a certain scheme, several stages are followed.


We start with the inspection of the plywood. it must be even, without knots and nicks. It must be dry, without flaking or swelling.

Then create a sketch of the work. the stencil is attached to the surface with scotch tape or buttons. At the beginnings and ends of lines, at key points and intersections make punctures. Complex drawings and patterns are transferred to the plywood through copying.

When transferring a pattern, the direction of the fibers must be taken into account. the kerf must run perpendicular to them.

Sawing out with a hand jigsaw

Hand jigsaw is held by the handle, straight, placing the saw perpendicular to the surface. At work it is not necessary to press strongly with the tool on a surface. pressure upon a surface should be minimum. The movements should be smooth, effortless. the tool plunges down almost by its own weight. When the jigsaw moves upward, sawdust is ejected, so you can not bring the surface close to the face.

Basic concepts, necessary for the beginning of work with a hand jigsaw.

sawing with an electric jigsaw

The work takes place according to certain rules:

  • Fix the sawblade to the switched off tool;
  • Adjust the tool before work. choose the frequency and amplitude of blade movement;
  • sketches should be fixed at the eye level. the workplace must be equipped in such a way that while working the hands and back do not get bogged down;
  • saw the contour of the product;
  • move the jigsaw smoothly, without any heavy pressure or jerks;
  • For through cuts, the drill makes holes and then insert the jigsaw blade there;
  • For sawing at an angle, move the jigsaw platform to the desired angle;
  • To cut a circle turn off the pendulum stroke, drill a hole for the saw, and work with a compass holder.

Wood carving with your own hands

Those who are engaged in woodcarving already know that this business brings not only pleasure of creating beautiful things, but also delivers an unearthly delight from the very process of work. After all, woodcarving is good for calming you down and helping you get in the mood for creativity. The main thing is that with wood you can create as dishes and toys, key chains and jewelry, as well as figurines and caskets.

The process of getting started

If you are at the initial stage and have only recently begun to master the technology of woodcarving. you will need to prepare a minimal set of tools. It is also necessary to choose a suitable wood, preferably a soft sort, for example, take a birch or a linden. Purchase and sketches on woodcarving for beginners. To begin with, you can take a simple composition, which will fully allow you to hone the movements you need.

Woodcarving: stages of work

Some of you will wonder how such a set of tools can do woodcarving? We’ll tell you: woodcarving is a complex and fascinating process that should only be started after careful preparation.

The preparation process includes:1. Choosing the right knives. Beginners in this business, who have chosen carving as a hobby, will need basic tools. For this you will only need to buy the most common jamb knife or penknife. Also use chisels and chisels when working. 2. Choose a location. Hand-carved woodcarving in its initial stages can be carried out and at your home. Once you have mastered the complex styles of work, for example, through or sculpture. move the work to a separate room.3. Choosing the right material. Soft woods are best for beginners, such as linden, alder, aspen, or birch. Such a raw material is easy to cut, and also with the reasons that it is possible to create patterns of any complexity. 4. Choosing the right technique. The simplest technique in woodcarving is considered to be a three-sided carving or in other words, geometric carving. There are two steps: first the wood must be heated, and then it must be trimmed.

With what to start such a work? To begin with, you can carve the most elementary triangle. To do this, draw the outline of the figure on the wood and then dot it in the very middle. Then put a knife in this place. The handle of the knife should be placed perpendicular to the working surface. The heel of your tool is directed to any of the tops of the figure, while it must be pressed firmly against the board. Try to do everything so that the blade of the knife on 2-3 mm cut into the work surface. Then it is necessary to prick the wood in the direction of the two remaining tops of the figure. It is done from the same midpoint of your drawing. As you work, you must remember that it is not the board that is being screwed through, but the blade of the knife. Next in line. trimming step. Hold the tool at an angle of 30 degrees during trimming. Slide the knife along the side of the triangle and gradually deepen into the surface of the wood you have selected. If you do everything correctly, then during the pruning phase the material will peel off the board, thus forming a pyramid with three sides.

Overhead and spiral carving

Spiral carving is the kind of carving that creates a unique style. Its distinctive feature was and will be the alternation of protrusions and screw hollows. This alternation can be either single or consist of several screw lines at once. The most common types of carvings also include overhead carving. In other words, it is also called furniture carving. Peculiarity of this type of carving consists in the fact that on the ready-made background an ornament, created by the piercing method, is nailed.

Power tool


Bormachina, which is used for woodcarving, in fact, does not differ from that horrible preparation, which you can observe and hear at the dentist’s office. Similarly, the rotation of the electric motor shaft is transmitted by a flexible shaft to the rotating cutter. The latter, in turn, allows you to hollow out the wood of your choice of any width and shape.


This is another device that is used for wood carving. The only difference between this thing and a drill is that the electric motor is directly in the handle of the tool. For convenience, restrictions are imposed on the size of the handle and on the power of the electric motor. This is what affects the speed of cutting grooves, as well as the very ability of the tool to cope with hard wood.


In terms of functionality, the cutter is the opposite of the dremel. It is used in cases where it is necessary, using maximum speed and accuracy, to select a groove or recess of a large volume. Since wood carving cutters are quite diverse. it makes it possible to make a shaped section of the groove if necessary, thus giving it a rather complex shape.

Getting ready for work

To start creating a pattern on a wooden base is possible only after carrying out preparatory measures. The preparation consists of several steps:

Next, the direct process of carving is carried out.

Preparing a piece of wood

You need to saw off a piece of wood to the right size. For the first time it is enough to take a small blade with a thickness of 2 cm.

The surface should be sanded with sandpaper. It is not necessary to mash up too much. it is enough to remove small chips and splinters. Removing such imperfections will allow the tool to glide easily over the surface. Additionally, no splinters will remain on the hands.

Preparing the field

Even, smooth surface to be outlined. Using a ruler and pencil, divide the entire area into cells with sides of 5 cm. The parameters of the cells depend on the size of the pattern and its “detail”.

Draw the workpiece along the entire perimeter. Each cell will become the basis for the formation of the element of the future ornament.

Creating a sketch of the pattern

Passing between the cells, a pattern is formed, which will later be cut with a knife. You can use the one shown above, or more complicated. it all depends on the skill level of the master.

The more complex versions of the ornament use smooth curved lines.

The carving process

Getting ready to work

When we have acquired everything we need, we can start mastering the technique of cutting figures with our own hands.

However, at first we take not a knife, but a pencil:

  • On a sheet of paper we make several sketches, tracing the main elements of our future figurine. This experienced craftsmen can work “from the material”. to us at the beginning it is desirable to have a preconceived sketch.
  • If possible, we divide the future figure into several parts, which can then be assembled on pins. Very often this method is used to cut long animal tails, limbs that are perpendicular to the main plane, etc.д.

Sketch, plasticine model and preparation of the form

  • Then we take a blank and mark the main parts of the future figurine on it. Of course, it is not necessary to completely transfer the drawing, but the basic lines should be before our eyes.
  • Then we cut the parts of the workpiece that will not be used in the work.

Important! Do not cut off the excess exactly on the edge of the sketch. As a rule, masters leave parts of wood on edges and cut them off in the last turn from an already almost finished piece. it is much more convenient to hold a figure when carving.


The instructions for roughing will be as follows:

  • First, from the workpiece we cut off or saw off all the parts that will extend beyond the figure. Our task is to obtain a simple geometric shape, the contours repeating the future product.

Photo of the results of roughing

  • Then on the boundaries of parts of the figure (head, torso, limbs) we make cuts, the depth of which is slightly less than required by the sketch.
  • Using a carving knife, we begin to shape the contours of each part, cutting off pieces of wood from kerf to kerf. It is most convenient to begin with the corners of the workpiece, gradually bringing each part to eight faces.
  • We continue work, removing each time thinner and thinner chips.

Making basic shapes


After we have outlined the general contours of the figure, we need to move on to the formation of small parts, relief elements and ornaments. For this purpose, we use not only a standard knife, but also additional cutters, which were listed in the previous section.

Some patterns have to be cut out separately

carve, wood, beginners

Important! Fine work requires the use of perfectly sharp tools, so before you start carving, first sharpen all the blades on the abrasive blocks, and then rule on a leather belt using chrome pastes (GOI and similar).

Finishing is done this way:

  • We draw the contours of the future elements on the rough workpiece.
  • Mark the edges of the workpiece to be carved either by piercing it with an awl, or by penetrating it to the required depth with the tip of the knife.
  • Then do the carving, picking out a small amount of wood with each movement and smoothing out the corners if necessary.

Finishing of small details is very important

  • Qualitatively work through the recesses, first scratching them with a lance and then shaping the edges with a jamb or an angular chisel.
  • If the sketch provides for the presence of through holes, then at first we drill the groove with a thin drill, and then expand, processing the edges with cutters.
  • On smooth surfaces we apply the relief of the set of similar elements. notch or sampling.

Naturally, the smaller will be the size of decorative elements, the more difficult we will work, so it is better to start with enough large objects, gradually improving the skill of figure carving.

Finishing figures

For wooden figures of animals for the interior and other details to look attractive and retain their original appearance for a long time, it is necessary to subject them to protective treatment:

Tip! Relief surfaces, such as imitation fur or scales, should also be processed with an abrasive to remove burrs. But in this case the grinding must be carried out very carefully, so as not to “blur” the texture.

Varnished product after polishing

  • Wipe the figure with a damp rag, removing the finest wood dust.
  • Finish the piece with a stain or other composition that protects the wood from rotting.
  • Apply a few coats of varnish on top, which will prevent moisture from getting into the cellulose fibers.

Let’s begin carving

Depending on the complexity of the figure, you need to choose the right tool and start working. You should make a cut along the contour. If necessary, reapply the contour and make the cut. Then more and more, until the workpiece takes the desired shape.

In the next step, begin to gradually cut out small parts. If you doubt you can do it without pre-marking, don’t take any chances, but use a felt-tip pen or pencil again and then continue cutting.

After all parts of the figure are cut out, you need to lightly sand the product with sandpaper, and then coat it with sunflower oil or boil it in it. The oil will cure, and the wooden surface will be reliably protected against dirt and moisture.

carve, wood, beginners

The preparatory stage

Before carving a figure out of wood, we should decide on its appearance. Ideas can be different. Sometimes the image arises after reading an interesting book, a trip to a movie or an exhibition, and a lot of information can lead to the creation of your own original idea. The variant of full copying of the works already created by the masters is also taken into account.

An idea requires a sketch. It can be embodied on paper in the form of simple sketches. It is recommended to take into account the dimensions and clearly outline the details. This will greatly simplify the process and allow you to make it step by step. Already experienced craftsmen begin the work with direct woodworking, the product with simple shapes requires minimal detailing and is much easier to perform.

History of the origin of the craft and types

Wood carving is a type of arts and crafts, which originated back in ancient times. In Russia, carving in wood was called carved work, and the figure made in this technique is called omenka, uzorochie. In this technique, on a flat surface, masters performed braids, scallops, grooves, poppies, mushrooms, etc.д. You can see such specimens in the Assumption Cathedral, visiting the tsar’s.

The monk Amvrosy, a novice at the Trinity Sergius Lavra, who at the end of the 15th century united Russian ornamentation with Western and Eastern in his work, owed the development of woodcarving in Russia.

In 1660, masters decorated the king’s dining room with German carvings, which were figurative, with Gothic motifs. This is how elements of German carving appeared in Russian carving, including new tools, terms.

    Carving is subdivided into applied and through. It includes a carving of a carving with chisels and chisels, and a profile carving, where such areas are sawn out with a jigsaw or saw. If these types of carving are performed with a relief ornament, such carving is called openwork.

Woodworking tools, carving blanks

When you learn how to use them to perform simple elements, and you want to improve, then you can buy woodworking tools, such as this set.

There may be even more tools, but such a number is needed only for professional carvers who perform complex work.

See what kinds of notches you can make with different sized semi-circular cutters, sharp-angled.

    Pay attention to the cutters that are used for manual wood turning. In addition to the semicircular, there are flat slant, angular, cut off, beveled, angular, etc. д.

Picture sketches and templates for woodcarving

Much has already been said about templates. You can make them, of course, relying only on your wild and unbridled imagination. Or you can do something simpler and use ready-made. They will especially help beginners. The most common patterns depict flowers and trees.

Carvers also often depict people and animals on their creations.

Also incredibly popular are ornamental compositions that consist of all kinds of arabesques, wreaths, rosettes, palmettes, garlands and other patterns suitable for woodcarving.

Of all this variety, all that remains is to choose the sketch you like, download it, bring it to the right scale and use it for carving.

Wood carving for beginners from experienced wood carvers

Now let’s look in detail at the master class for beginners on geometric carving. We will make an interesting rim on a pine board, pre-primed. It is not necessary to do this, but it is advisable, if you do not want sloppy breaks to form in the process of work.

Be careful when making wood carvings, especially when using sharp tools! It is best to produce them while standing at a desk. But since this process is long, in the end even the physically strong master will “fall off” the waist, legs and neck. So the work is done sitting and only on the working surface! No need to put the workpiece on your feet or hands. One awkward movement, one tool slipping and injury is inevitable.

carve, wood, beginners

Work stages of woodcarving

So, first of all, let’s prepare the necessary tools and equipment. After that you can start working.

The master will tell you in more detail about cutting such a pattern in the video below.