Guide to... wood carving

Want to learn about carving wood?

Browse wood carving courses across the UKspoon carving courses

Here is an introduction to some of the first principles of woodcarving - offered to help you get started with your new interest in working with wood for pleasure, hobby or profession. 

wood carving course Notts

You have so much to choose from if woodcarving becomes your passion - from whittling spoons, relief work, rocking horses… and there are numerous wood carving courses and workshops all across the UK which you can browse here (you can further refine the results by putting in Wood Carving and your postcode or region). 

It is essential to use the right sort of TIMBER - nothing is more disheartening than carving unsuitable wood. Bass wood, poplar, jelutong (‘carves like butter’) and balsa all have a reliable straight grain making them a good choice of wood for a beginner. Once you are more confident then hard woods like walnut, oak and chestnut are Wood carving chisels curvedalso excellent for carving. For fine and ornate carving, fruit trees such as plum, pear and apple are often used, alongside woods such as Italian walnut and sycamore maple. Wood carvings that will end up being painted and are not particularly detailed will usually be carved in pine.

Gouges and chisels for wood carvingTop tips for beginner carvers: 

  1. Keep fingers behind cutting edge
  2. Start small and work up
  3. The strongest part of the wood is with the (Holy) grain, so carve your most delicate bits with the grain rather than against it. 

Consider which type of carving most appeals to you. If you want to carve the bigger structures and forms, then your needs will be different from those interested in carving designs or lettering for relief work. Great fun and success can be had with the small, palm-held tools for whittling projects, others will prefer the buzz of chainsaw carving.

Browse wood carving courses across the UK.


You will not need to invest in many tools to get started initially. A wood carving course is the ideal way to try out some gouges and chisels and assess which feel comfortable in your own hand, and tutors will always be happy to advise on how to continue back at home. A chisel has a flat blade and comes in many sizes. A skewed chisel is where the cutting edge is angled back from the leading edge.

A gouge has a rounded or curved blade - you will almost definitely want to start with a quarter inch and a half inch. Mallets for wood carvingThe number of the gouge denotes the depth of curve - so a No3  1/4 " is a shallower gouge/curve than a No7 1/4" There are many types of gouge -  V, U bent and spoon gouges, all have specific benefits for different requirements as you become more advanced.

A mallet is a woodworkers hammer. Woodcarvers mallets are round and can be beech or maple with ash handles. There are some excellent modern ones are made using urethane which is virtually indestructible. It's important that your chosen mallet should feel easy in your hand because you will be using it frequently!

Vice - to hold the timber securely whilst you work.

A sharpening tool is essential to keep all blades at fan bird carvingtheir best or you will have trouble with the wood ripping. Traditionally an oilstone is used and the technique for sharpening gouges and chisels takes practice. Best to have your early guidance from an expert.


Whittling - there are four basic woodcarving cuts using a knife. 

Paring - the knife is drawn towards you in a slow controlled movement and the thumb is used to stop the blade - a bit like paring an apple - the knife never goes deep.

bird carvingPush cut - the knife is pushed away making very short controlled cuts. The hand holding the knife is used for guiding it whilst the thumb of the other hand is used to apply pressure.

Stop cut - the knife is used to make a straight down cut into the wood and the short push cuts are made up to the stop. This makes a very definite shape and can gradually go deeper and bigger.

The V cut - this is like a stop cut coming in from two directions to form a V shape. The angle is controlled whittling cockerel
by pressure from the thumb that is holding the wood. This requires controlled consistent cuts.

Want to learn the basic steps in woodcarving?  Consider your options; simple, economical projects that require only a very limited tool kit? Or have you a sizeable workshop and a yen to design and make big sculptural forms? Maybe you want to carve with a chainsaw or make delicate fan tail birds? Sign up for a beginners course and learn all the basics to get you started as a woodcarver.

Browse wood carving courses across the UK

Comments from participants of various wood carving courses on CraftCourses:

“Another wonderful four days of wood carving. Although I have been very ambitious this time I feel confident…”

“As a complete novice to wood carving I wasn't sure what to expect from the week-end course in Sussex with Sharon Littley, but it was an excellent introduction to the art. Sharon is a great tutor; knowledgeable, friendly, full of enthusiasm, and able to get a group to 'bond' instantly despite thstudent wood carverse great range of experience in the room.”

“My fiancée booked me on this [spoon carving] course as a birthday present and I can honestly say it's one of the best presents I have ever received. Chris is an excellent teacher whose passion on the subject is contagious. I would highly recommend this or any of Chris' courses to anyone.”

“I have always wanted to whittle and … What can I say - it was so great from start to finish.”wood carving students

“Its hard to find new words to describe this course after looking at all the past reviews.

Lets just say it was everything and more that I'd hoped but with great Yorkshire Hospitality thrown in… With very little carving experience I came away with a head -- and the rest of the kit to build the whole horse at home. Went on the course at the end of June and I have a completed horse sitting in my conservatory today 2 months later.”

“Brilliant course, a nice simple format, and everyone on the course made an excellent carving so it must work. Not only is Tony a gifted carver and teacher, all the staff are marvellous, you couldn't meet a more friendly and helpful bunch.”

“I recently attended this course having never done any carving before. The pace of the course was just right and Tony's patient relaxed style allowed me to produce a good standard of rocking horse head. “

“I was a complete novice but had a really good day on this course. We started with no knowledge at all and by the end of the day were making our own fan Birds… I would recommend this course to anyone who has the slightest interest in wood. A thoroughly enjoyable day in delightful surroundings.”


Browse wood carving courses all across the UK