How Long Does it Take to Learn How to Carve Wood?

Wood carving is a relaxing hobby where a crafty and patient individual can shape a simple stick or block of wood into a work of art. These sculptures can range from a small figurine that can fit in your hand to large displays and statues that are several feet tall!

A common question that many people showing interest in wood carving is how long does it take to learn how to carve wood? This is dependent upon if you are focusing on one type of wood carving style or trying everything at once.

It can take a couple weeks to several months to learn how to proficiently carve wood depending on how much time and effort the person puts into learning. The best way to accelerate your learning is to stick with one type of wood carving style (chip carving, whittling, spoon carving, ect), practice every day, and learn from others on Youtube or local shop classes.

Wood carving itself isn’t hard to do, but there is a small learning curve in regards to taking care of the tools, learning how to cut into the wood properly, and learning different techniques to making shapes and details.

Is Wood Carving Hard to Learn?

Many people looking at other peoples wood carvings for the first time and think that the process is hard to learn. This is primarily because they are just looking at the end result and can’t see the process it took to create the sculpture.

Wood carving is not very difficult to learn. Beginners will only need to learn the basic skills and have the basic supplies to get started. There are many affordable beginner kits available as well as free training videos on Youtube to help accelerate your learning growth.

There are many different ways you can carve wood, and most of them will require specific tools for that style of carving. Some branches of wood carving, like whittling and chip carving, only require a couple of cheap tools to get started. Some other ways, like wood turning, require more expensive equipment.

Lets go over a few different tools you may need to get started.

What You Need to Get Started

Wood carving as a whole is the process of shaping wood with knives, gouges, and/or chisels by slowly removing wood and creating shapes.

There are many different ways to carve wood, and they are categorized by what tools you primarily use to carve with. Here are several common tools used by different wood carvers:

  • Knives
  • Chisels
  • Gouges
  • Hook Knives
  • Wood Rasps
  • Power Tools
  • Saws

You can basically use any tool that allows you to sculpt wood to be a wood carver, but there are some specializations that only use certain tools or create certain designs.

What You Need to Start Whittling

Whittling is the simplest and cheapest way to start wood carving. This is my personal favorite way to carve wood as I almost always have the tools I need on me at any given time.

You don’t need very much to start whittling, and you may already have most of the tools needed already!

All you need to start whittling is:

  • A good quality whittling knife
  • Leather strop with polishing/honing compound
  • Wood to whittle with.

That is it! The only thing you may not have is a leather strop to help create and maintain that razor sharp edge on your knife, which is crucial for any wood carving knife.

These tools are cheap and you can buy complete beginner whittling kits like this one made by BeaverCraft on Amazon.

What You Need to Start Relief Carving

Relief carving is a perfect way to make beautiful wall art that is 3 denominational where the end result is a combination of a painting and a sculpture.

You can create beautiful sculptures and displays to decorate your home with or give to family and friends.

Here is what you will need to get started:

  • Wood carving chisels
  • Wood carving gouges
  • Wood carving knives
  • Leather strop with polishing/honing compound
  • Wood to carve.

Relieve carving can be a little more involved than whittling, but the end results are very satisfying.

You will need more tools to get started than some other styles of wood carving, but you can purchase a great beginner kit with everything you need from this carving set made by FlexCut on Amazon

What You Need to Start Chip Carving

Chip Carving is very similar to what you see in some carved photo frames with various designs cut into the wood. It is very simple to do and can be quite relaxing.

Just like with whittling, the tools you need are affordable and you don’t need a lot to get started.

All you need to start chip carving is:

  • A chip carving knife
  • Leather strop with polishing/honing compound
  • Wood to carve.

There are plenty of chip carving knives on the market, but my favorite chip carving knives are made by OCC Tools and can be picked up on for a great price!

If you need a leather strop, you can pick one up from BreaverCraft for a great price on Amazon.

What You Need to Start Spoon Carving

Spoon carving is exactly like it sounds, you carve spoons and other similar utensils! These are great for creating a more utilitarian item at the end that can be given as gifts or used in your own home.

This style of carving benefits from having a specialized “hook” knife so you can cut out the recessed portion of the spoon that holds food or liquid.

All you need to start spoon carving is:

  • A hook knife
  • A wood carving knife
  • Leather strop with polishing/honing compound
  • Wood to carve.

There are a bunch of spoon carving knives on the market, but if you want to get started, BeaverCraft makes an excellent spoon carving starter kit and can be picked up on Amazon for a great price.

What You Need to Start Wood Turning

Wood Turning is one of the more expensive ways to carve wood as you need specialized equipment to hold the wood in place and rotate at high speeds like a wheel.

This is great for making bowls, pens, and any round wood carving. Because you are spinning the wood block on a single axis, you can create a uniform and round body very easily.

All you need to start wood turning is:

  • A wood lathe
  • Wood lathe chisels
  • Face Protection
  • A buffing wheel or leather strop to keep your tools sharp
  • Wood to carve

I have found that you can pick up lots of these tools second hand or by going to your local hardware store to start looking.

What You Need to Start Power Carving

Power carving is a great alternative to traditional wood carving with knives and gouges. By using a rotary tool, similar to a Dremel, you can use specialized cutting buts to quickly carve out smooth and detailed sculptures.

This does require the use of more expensive gear and it is highly recommended that you wear eye protection as well as a dust mask. Grinding the wood will make it airborne and you will be covered in wood dust in no time.

All you need to start power carving is:

  • Rotary tool
  • Various cutting bits
  • Eye protection
  • Dust Mask
  • Wood to carve

While you can use a Dremel, I have found that the general all purpose rotary tools wear out quickly and will eventually stop working as the dust gets inside of them easily.

You can pick up specialized carving rotary tools that hang and have a shaft that connects to the cutting tool, just like this Fordum wood carving kit on Amazon.

What is The Easiest Wood to Carve?

Picking the right wood to carve is key to a good wood carving experience. If the wood is too hard, it will dull your tools faster. If it is too soft, you won’t be able to get a lot of detail in the wood.

The best and easiest wood to carve for beginners is basswood. Basswood is soft enough to easily cut with regular wood carving knives, hard enough to make small details, and has a consistently fine wood grain to work with.

You can use other woods like pine, but the wood grain tends to change direction in the middle of the wood and can cause you to split the wood if you aren’t careful.

The best basswood I have found is sold by TreelineUSA. This wood is uniformly soft and has a beautiful creamy color. Click here to see what they have to offer.

Does Soaking Wood Make it Easier to Carve?

Sometimes you just want to make the wood easier to carve, especially if you want to make finishing touches.

Soaking wood will make it easier to carve with a knife as it softens the wood, allowing the knife to cut through a little easier.

There is a downside to this, you may experience that the wood chips or cracks along the grain when it dries. This doesn’t always happen, but it is typically best that you only wet down the areas you want to carve instead of soaking the wood all the way through.

Does The Wood Need to Be Dry Before Carving?

Some wood is better than others for carving, but does the wood need to be dry before carving?

No, the wood does not need to be dry before carving. If you are carving wood freshly cut from the tree (commonly called green wood), it can sometimes be easier to carve because of the moisture already in the wood. One of the main downsides to carving green wood is that the wood may start splitting as it drys, especially if it drys too quickly.

You can purchase dry carving wood from various craft supply stores. Like I mentioned above, basswood is one of the best options for beginners and can be picked up from TreelineUSA for a great price.

How Long Should Wood Dry Before Carving

If you just cut some wood to carve a spoon with or wish to make a random sculpture, you may want to let it dry beforehand to prevent splitting.

You should let your wood dry for 6 to 8 weeks before carving. Store it in a dry and warm location to allow the wood to naturally dry before use. Larger pieces and colder temperatures may need more time to dry before carving.

I usually let my wood sit in the garage in an open box for several weeks before I start whittling them. This way I can date the box and keep track of how long it has been sitting.

Of course, you don’t need to wait for it to dry if you don’t want to and many people prefer carving wet wood. I have found that it reduces any worry of wood splitting in some wood like pine and allows for a more predictable end result.

For more carving tips and tricks, check out my one stop whittling resource for more information:

Brian Carver

A long time carving hobbyist that enjoys everything from whittling to stone carving. A firm believer that you should have the right tool for the right job but shouldn't be afraid to just wing it.

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