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 Joel's Blog at Tools for Working Wood

Practice Makes Perfect - On Learning To Carve  


For all the billions of articles written on learning to carve the one that really spoke to me touts an idea that is sadly neglected. "Wood Carving" by Charles G. Leland (1931 my edition but originally published in the 19th century ) starts out with a series of exercises for practice. I show the first four of them here. The concept is very simple. Pick a fairly narrow deep gouge - say 1/4" #9, lay out a series of pairs of parallel lines going with the grain the final width of the groove you want to carve and go too it. The book recommends 6" squares but I'm using 4" square poplar (what I had). Of course basswood works great too. Go in both directions as the grain dictates and take light cuts. First cutting very lightly down the center of the marks to define the groove and then deeper and deeper to finish up. The goal is to get even grooves across the board. Sharp tools make this go faster. Repeat as need be.

Then do the same thing across grain. cleans cuts across the grain show that the tool is sharp.

Then do a checkerboard pattern,

Then some diagonals - these are harder as you have to come from each side of the scallop from a different direction depending on the grain. Then a diagonal checkerboard. Then some curves and so on.

The point of all of this is to develop dexterity and technique before focusing on a project. How easy is it to get permanently discouraged because you started a project and while the project is simple no single part of the project has enough repetitive areas so that you really get any technique down. These days most instruction stresses getting the project out the door but for me learning basic technique is the key to my early project success last year. Click here for a look.

I plan to talk about other carving exercises in the future but until then try it - practice makes prefect and you will be a better carver because of it. If you examine the practice carvings you will notice that I am not very good.

I occurred to me after writing this that I spend a fair amount of time teaching people how to get to the first step. What tools to get, how to use them, and how to sharpen them. I also seem to spend a fair amount of time practicing so that when I have to demonstrate carving I'm fluid and and do a good job. But I don't have anything to show for it. I have zero artistic ability, and all I do is practice.

For those who are curious the #9 x 1/4 is available separately or as part of the Ashley Iles York Set.

Tags:Woodworking Tools and Techniques
Comments: 3
08/07/2009David A. P.
Thanks for sharing this! I've been carving for quite a while, but it seems like it still might be useful. I'm going to give it a shot :).
08/07/2009Paul Chapman 
Excellent advice, Joel.

Cheers ;-)

08/11/2009Michael Rogen 

Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts and efoorts. It wil definately encourage me to practise more and maybe share my rose with you.

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