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Thread: Intro to carving?

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Feb 2021
    Portland, OR

    Intro to carving?

    Hi everyone. I'd like to start doing some carving in my down time. I have an unlimited amount of cutoffs and like to keep my mind focused on something when I am "relaxing"

    However, my carving experience is limited to a pocket knife and making a few juniper spoons on camping trips. Could anyone give me a really quick rundown on:

    1. A few different learn to carve projects.
    2. Recommended starter tools, quality preferred. No interest in power tools at the moment.
    3. Woods to embrace/avoid (I always have piles of white oak, walnut, soft and hard maple).
    4. Any quick safety tips are also welcome.

    My wife would like a full set of kitchen utensils but beyond that I'm not sure where the carving will go for me. End of life goal I do need to be able to turn and carve my own chess set at least once.

    Thanks for the guidance and recommendations!

  2. #2
    I suggest taking some pressure off yourself by thinking “whittling”. Wooden chains will astound your friends and your wife. You might even find the whittling will do every project you want to do.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Aug 2014
    Silicon Valley, CA
    Wow, where to start? First, I think "carving" isn't a single discipline, but a landscape of techniques and results. You need to decide where you wish to start to receive good specific suggestions.

    You mention spoons and even there there seem to be several traditions with their tools and techniques. Popular now, or at least often mentioned in places I hang out, is the "greenwood" or "sloyd" style. It typically uses a "carving axe" (hatchet) for roughing blanks from green wood and a Sloyd and a hook knife for finishing the blanks. An example text would be Jogge Sundqvist's "Slojd in Wood" (LAP). (His dad wrote a classic, I'm not sure is in print right now, as another choice.) I have a video, "The Art of Spoon Carving" by Jarrod Stone Dahl, which is good, though I couldn't claim there aren't better. While equipment is limited the carving axes can be pricey. Wood Tools makes a great starting axe for a reasonable price. Lee Valley started stocking it so it's now easy to get in North America. The Wood Tool hook knives are also nice and reasonable. The straight, or Sloyd, knives seem to (almost) always be MoraKniv #106 or, occasionally, #120 which are widely available.

    Another style of carving is chip carving. It too doesn't require extensive equipment. It's (usually?) very geometric and regular and always seemed like it would be easiest to pick up, but I haven't tried. Certainly to do it really well there is a precision required that won't be easy at first.

    I guess most people think of chisels and mallets for carving. There are many variations of what you can do with this tool set, though it seems like the number of your tools grows over time. Two examples for your research are Peter Follansbee and his 17th century style flat panels. He's posted many videos on his blog and shown up on e.g. the Woodwright's Shop many times. Mary May is another carver in this style. She is wonderful at explaining techniques. (I've seen her do demos and presentations, both in person and on the Woodwright's Shop, but never taken a class with her.) She has a website, runs an online school (first few lessons are/were free), and has a LAP book, "Carving the Acanthus Leaf", too. As for tools experts will recommend well known brands, e.g. Pfeil at Woodcraft, but Schaaf has gained a reputation for adequate economical beginner sets of useful (gouge) chisels.

    "Whittling" seems so broad I don't know how to describe it. It seems to include making shavings with a pocket knife all the way to creating museum quality sculptures with knives. Small 3-D caricatures and some of the duck decoys have caught my attention, but are only a small example of the possibilities. Here I don't have any more details, but you can find all sorts of examples with a quick search.

    Probably the best way to get started is a class. (Something I haven't managed. Yet. Between sellouts and conflicts I just haven't had the chance. The one I got signed up for was cancelled due to COVID back in 2019.)

    Good luck & have fun!

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jun 2008
    So Cal
    My suggestion is to stock up and use basswood. Spend as much free time you have on sharpening.
    If you can find a carving group to attend it will be a million times better then try to learn from Utube.
    When I attended a carving group the Christmas mouse was very popular.
    Good Luck
    Attached Images Attached Images

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Feb 2021
    Portland, OR
    Thanks for the tips everyone. I did some digging around and found a few old chisels, a carving knife, and a few nice looking scraps. I roughed out the blanks on the bandsaw and then got to it. I also remembered that I have a spokeshave that hasn't gotten enough use and found I actually really enjoyed using that.

    I did struggle with spoon bowls, took two different approaches but neither was especially satisfactory, I couldn't get much depth with the tools I had. Here's a few pics of the first batch/attempt. Not perfect, but I had a great time.

    edit: tung oil finish


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