Arts & Crafts / Be Creative! / Hobbies

A Few Woodcarving Basics

My sister tells me that, as a girl scout, I used to carve bars of soap, and she says I was pretty darned good at it. too. I have exactly no recollection of this. None. And, as far as I can recall, I never took a knife to wood.

But I’ve really felt the pull to put my hands on things that don’t resemble a laptop keyboard lately. I’m willing to try pretty much anything that doesn’t involve typing. So woodcarving seemed like a good way to spend some time this weekend as I sat in front of the TV watching a Walking Dead marathon.

Yes, I like zombies. But I didn’t carve one (this time).


Here are the three things you need to carve wood: an idea, a piece of wood, and some carving tools. That’s it, folks. I actually bought these supplies a few months ago:

Wood carving

A low-end carving kit and a few blocks of soft wood cost about $20.

Supplies at the ready, I poked around online for some guidance, and you won’t be surprised to learn that there are a lot of pages dedicated to carving mallards. But there’s not a darned thing about my house that says “duck on a shelf.”

No matter.

One thing from my scan was clear, however: Start by sketching your idea onto your wood before you carve. 

Wood carving

Yes, it’s a fish. Not hard at all, but I have a lot of fish, so…

From here, I say be fearless! Carve away the wood that won’t be needed.

Wood carving

Start by carving away the wood you don’t want.

Wood carving

The fish “outlined.”

Once the basic shape was carved, I started experimenting with the carving tools to refine and shape the fish. The tools, cheap as they were, were ideal for working with soft wood. They can cut grooves of different sizes, shape edges, and plane the wood.

Wood carving

Starting to give some shape to this fish.

The more refined I tried to get, the longer it took to get things right — a mouth, eyes, gills, fins, and even the suggestion of scales. But while I felt far more focused, I also felt some satisfaction that I wasn’t totally botching it. It did, in fact, look like a fish!

At the end of carving, I used a fine sandpaper to smooth rough patches.

wood carving, fish

Carving and sanding is finished. Here, the fish is compared to the same sized block from which the fish was carved.

Because I’m also big on using up supplies I’ve already got around the house, I gave my fish a two-tone stain, topped with a coat of gloss.

Wood carving, wood stain

Staining my gave this little carving a more finished look.

And here you have the finished fish, my first foray into simple woodcarving:

Wood carving

My first attempt at woodcarving, finished!

A carving... and a beta.

A carving… and a beta.

I’m pretty happy with this little guy. Was it fun? I’m not sure yet — I think I need to do several more carvings before I make that call. And I will–I’m feeling a big pull to work with my hands these days. And, as with most things, if I get better at it, my satisfaction quotient is likely to grow.

Last tip: This task may be better suited to a back porch than a living room. But then again, that’s what vacuum cleaners are for, right?

Finally, here’s a little more fun I had with this guy:

Swimming fish

Jean Synodinos,  Jean Synodinos,  Jean Synodinos,  Jean Synodinos,  Jean Synodinos,  Jean Synodinos,  Jean Synodinos,  Jean Synodinos,  Jean Synodinos,  Jean Synodinos,  Jean Synodinos,  Jean Synodinos


4 thoughts on “A Few Woodcarving Basics

  1. A wonderful mallard you made! (sorry had to make the joke). I’m in to spoon carving lately but guess I have to broaden my horizon a little bit and enjoy little sculptures to keep the idea’s flowing.

    Side question: Didn’t draw blood?

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