Carving, Whittling and Sculpting: Do You Know the Difference?

Everyone has heard of the terms carving and sculpting. Not everyone knows the difference between them, though. Whittling is more uncommon, and I often get the question of what it means. It can get somewhat confusing when the three different terms get mixed up. 

The Difference Between Carving, Whittling, and Sculpting is the technique that is used to shape wood. Carving is more of a general term, whereas whittling is a technique. Whittling is done in small pieces of wood, making harsher lines. Carving is making a three-dimensional shape. 

 In order to work wood, you need tools. Now that you know that the three above terms are ways to describe woodworking techniques it won’t be surprising that each technique uses its own tools. Whittling, carving, and Sculpting are techniques that have been around for many years. 

What is the Difference Between Whittling, Carving and Sculpting?

Whittling, carving, and sculpting are all terms used to describe a way of woodworking. As we mentioned above, there is a difference between the three terms that we will dive into deeper below. Apart from that, carving is done in various ways. I will describe each technique below as well.

The wood shaping industry is popular. Many different manufacturers develop wood shaping tools. Some tools are better than others. To get an idea of what tools to use. I will recommend a few tools for each technique.

Different types of wood carving


As mentioned above, whittling is a term used to describe a way of working wood. Whittling is done in a small piece of wood and uses rough lines. Whittling gets done with only one tool. This is a knife. The knife gets used to shape the wood in the shape that you want. 

The most significant difference between whittling and carving is that, unlike with whittling, while woodcarving, you use a wider range of tools. These can range from a chisel to a power tool etc. 

 Even though you only use a knife for whittling, this doesn’t mean that there is only one knife to choose from. There are many different knives in various shapes and sizes that will help you whittle the shape you want. 

For whittling, you will need tools like 


Photo by Ilia Zolas on Unsplash

Many people know the terms sculpting. Sculpting is a process where you make a three-dimensional shape out of something. For example, with wood sculpting, the material is wood. Once the shape has been sculpted, you can use tools to carve details inside of the sculpture.

For example, you can make the contour of a body out of wood. That would be your sculpture. However, if you want your sculpture to have eyes, you will need to carve this inside the wood where the head is situated.

Sculpting is a process where you can shape various forms out of different types and sizes of wood. There are many different tools to sculpture with. As you can imagine, size and wood type will play a role in the type of tool you want to use. Sculpturing tools are tools like

Different types of carving disciplines
Without making it more confusing. There is not just a difference between whittling and carving, and sculpting and carving there are also different ways to carve.


Carving is a wide term to describe multiple techniques to shape wood. When you carve you can use a wide range of tools to get the shape, form or contour that you are looking for. Below I will explain the four different carving techniques to give you an insight into these methods.

Relief carving

Photo by Dominik Scythe on Unsplash

Relief carving is a technique where you create a difference between the way the space and depth look onto a piece of wood. It is as if the sculpture sits on top of the wood because of its three-dimensional figure.  When someone is using the relief technique, they are carving inside a flat piece of wood. The flat piece and the carving are attached. The shape is round and complex.

Relief carving often gets done as decoration. You can find this style of carving all over Europe. You can even find this type of art on doors, on walls, and inside buildings. 

 This type of carving is complex and takes a lot of practice and time. 

 As you now know, there are a few different ways to carve. For each carving style, you will need different tools. The tools used to make relief carvings are tools like

Chip carving

Chip carving is almost the same as relief carving when looking at the technique. The result is entirely different, though. Chip carving gets done on a wooden surface. The tools cut out one small chip of wood at a time. 

When chipping out small pieces of wood, it is possible to create geometrical patterns. These chip carvings often get made as decoration, just like the relief carvings. These decorative carvings can be hung on walls to look at something unique in your living room, for example. 
Chip carving is easier than relief carving. Chip carving is a fun technique when you are just getting into carving. It is not easy, but the result is worth challenging yourself.

 The tools that will help you chip carve are tools like

Spoon carving

We see them in shops all the time. Wooden spoons. They often get used to scoop salades out of a bowl or stirring inside a pan. Spoon carving is the process where a piece of wood gets shaped into a spoon, much like the term insinuates. 

Spoon carving is something that people have been doing for ages. All over the world, you can get wooden spoons made out of different types of wood, spoons in different sizes and shapes. So how cool would it be if you created your own spoons?

To make your own spoon out of wood using the spoon carving technique, you will need tools. Tools like these: 

Power carving

If you talk about power carving, you are talking about shaping wood using a tool that is powered by a motor. This technique often gets chosen when you want to remove wood quickly and easily. Some wood types are tougher than others. The harder the wood, the more difficult it becomes to remove wood with hand tools. In this case, power carvers can come in handy. 

The various type of bits allows you to carve out big chunks of wood quickly and let you make small and precise incisions. Therefore, choosing the right bit can be essential. When you buy a power carver, various size bits often get included with the machine.  

 Power carving is fun when you have bigger pieces of wood that you want to carve and are not looking for too many detailed lines and incisions. 

The tools that are necessary to have in your wood carving box to power carve are tools like 

Wood turning

Photo by Andrew Ruiz on Unsplash

When you are woodturning, the wood is turning too. Your wood gets placed on an axis that is rotating. At the same time, as the wood is rotating, the turner or carver molds and shapes the wood simultaneously. 

Woodturning is a technique used to shape longer pieces of wood. Think about table legs, bed frame legs, and even wooden pens. 

A motor often powers the rotating axis, but it doesn’t have to be. In the old days, they would rotate the wood by hand. But, as you can imagine, the motor makes the process a lot easier.

 As you have read, this style of wood carving is different from the styles above. So like with all the other styles, you will need separate tools. Tools that will help you turn and shape wood are tools like: 

Some Last Thoughts About the Three Different Wood Working Techniques

After reading this article, I hope you have more of an idea of the difference between whittling and carving and the difference between sculpting and carving. All three terms are a way to describe woodworking techniques. When you mix up the terms, people will often still understand what you mean.

When looking for tools, though, it can be helpful to know what tools were created for the different woodworking techniques. When you have tools intended for a particular shape or incision, your carving experience will be more fun, more accessible, and enjoyable. 

One last tip. Apart from choosing the correct tool, it is worth looking into the type of wood you want to carve. Some types of wood are more suitable for whittling, whereas others are more suitable for sculpting and carving. The main thing to look at is the hardness of the wood. 

Have fun with your next wood project! 

Brian Carver

A long time carving enthusiast that enjoys carving wood and stone. The main person behind the Carving is Fun website and YouTube channel. Always has way to many carving tools and is willing to try new and exciting carving projects!

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