What is Wood Carving?

Wood carving is a medium of art expression that many people tend to overlook or forget about, but have you ever spent time in the woods as a child? Taking a small pocket knife, whittling a stick from a tree into a walking stick to help you maneuver around rough areas during your exploration? How about having a bonfire with your family and watching a parent turn a branch into the perfect tool to roast a marshmallow for s’mores?

If yes, then you have essentially been practicing or been exposed to wood carving before but today? We are breaking wood carving down to a science so maybe you will pick up a new skill before the month is done!

Definition Of Wood Carving

Carver in wood working in workshop, India

The most common definition of wood carving sums of the art form to a tee:

Wood Carving is the action or skill of carving wood to create ornamental or practical (functional) objects.

Wood Carving History

The art and skill of wood carving has been around for a millennium; if not longer. Archeologists have found numerous preserved wooden carvings from different races, tribes, and countries throughout the recent years. German wood carving is one of the better known, but it has been found through various cultures around the world as far back as medieval and Victorian gothic times.

For example, members of First Nations tribes would use wood carvings to illustrate legends passed down through generations and they would use wood carving in a functional way to live off the land. You could say they were the first famous wood carvers!

Famous Wood Sculptures

Wood carving tools close up

There are so many famous wood sculptures and wood artists, it would take all day to discuss them all.

Some of the most famous carving in history include the arrowhead tools used by ancient ancestors and the intricately detailed carvings of North American Indian tribe

Types And Facts Of Wood Carving


Whittling is the most common form of wood carving and it involves using a sharp blade or specially made knife for the task. A chisel can also be used but either way, it involves the use of a sharp blade to create objects out of a piece of wood. Small pieces or long strips of wood are removed in tandem until a distinct pattern starts to emerge.

Relief Carving

Relief Carving is the method of carving figurines, shapes, or stories into a flat piece of wood. The wood is generally in the form of a plank and can be used to create a series of images, kind of like a cartoon strip, to tell a story from generations passed.

Tools such as chisels and gouges would be most commonly used but also a mallet could come in handy to really drive the sharp tool into the area of wood you are wanting to transform.

Carving In The Round

Carving man and woman

While the title might invoke a childhood nursery rhyme, carving in the round is actually the practice of transforming a piece of wood into a 3D dimensional object. These are the carvings that you see that are extremely lifelike and this style is generally used in depictions of human beings or animal life.

This style of wood carving is the most intense and could invoke a number of tools, from blades to knife to chisels to mallets to sanders; whatever is needed to create the perfect look.

Chip Carving

This form of wood carving uses small chisels and blades to remove pieces of wood one little bit at a time. You would literally chip away at the wood to create your object. Blades and chisels are the most commonly used tools for this form of wood carving.

Types And Characteristics Of Woods


Basswood is one of the best types of wood for beginner carvers. It chips away easily, has a softness that is ideal for carving, and it also responds to treatments (such as stain, weather preserver, etc.) quite well.

Knives and chisels are the best tools to use on Basswood, as harsher objects could damage the grain.


Butternut squash on table shot in studio

Butternut wood is another type of soft wood that responds lovely to wood carving. This wood has straight grains running from one edge to another, adding a touch of class to the objects. Most benches, such as those found in places of worship, are made from butternut wood.

White Pine

The texture of white pine is smooth to the touch and creamy in a visual sense. This wood is between soft and hard; making it perfect for the woodcarver that is ready to advance their skills to the next level.

With White Pine however, you could encounter knots throughout the grains; so, it is important to have a tool on hand to remove or transform the knot.


Mahogany is a medium wood that ranges from deeper brown to deep red, making it one of the most sought-after woods for texture and color. This wood responds excellent to the drying process, preservation treatments, and can be transformed with minimal amounts of pressure. The grain runs in a straight line as well, allowing the carver to fully put their artistic expressions on wood.

Black Walnut

Walnut Wood Veneer Tile Grunge Texture Sample

One of the hardest wood types to destroy, Black Walnut is a medium to hard wood that can be quite dark in color. Black Walnut can be used by carvers as a contrasting piece to truly draw the eye, but preservation is key for these pieces. While it is resistant to an extent against decay and external forces that can speed up that process.


This wood will create many attractive pieces, but it is hard to work with as it is difficult to maneuver. It takes a considerable amount of force to transform this wood into a masterpiece but once it is done, the deep brown with silvers of red color is truly breathtaking.

Sugar Maple

Sugar Maple is one of the strongest wood types in the wood and was used in ancient times for weaponry. This is why wood carvers with considerable experience will seek this wood for their carvings, but it can be hard for a beginner to navigate.

White Oak

White Oak is sought out by the most experienced wood carvers for its durability, strength, and grain. However, it can be one of the hardest types of wood to work with because it doesn’t offer any resistance and it takes considerable strength to transform.

White Oak wood with colorful leaves on the right side

A lot of wooden furniture would be made from White Oak for its strength, but it does have to be treated to prevent disintegration and rot.


The conclusion to our discussion on wood carving is that this is the perfect activity to truly express your creative side. Why not create guardians for your flower garden? How about a cheerful cherubic figurine that greets visitors on their way into your home? You can even bring your carvings indoors for practical means, such as carving one-of-a-kind bookends for your favorite series. If you have any questions, or you know of the perfect place to get quality wood carving tools, please feel free to comment below!

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