How to carve wood without tools

"There is no such thing as bad wood, only bad tools or a lack of skill!"

Each type of wood naturally has different structures and properties.

Now let's start with the most important material in carving, wood. In most cases you will be working with wood or carving blanks made of linden, Swiss stone pine or Weymouth pine (strobe). These woods mentioned are very soft in their texture and are therefore ideal for carving. Other harder woods such as oak and maple can of course also be carved, but require a lot more time, experience and patience.

... but, let's save the annoying wood science! To put it bluntly, it would be a waste of time if we wanted to teach you all the theory now. It wouldn't help you much! It is best to always stick to the motto: "learning by doing", which means something like:

Start with practice and learn from experience.

Get a piece of wood carving, ideally linden, and start making a few different cuts with your different tools. This is the best way to learn how the wood reacts to the tools, which cuts work well, which ones rather badly. Why it sometimes tears out quickly or lets it cut "buttery soft". Try it. You will see that differently applied cuts also produce different results. Remember for the future: Always think about each cut in advance before you ultimately carry out it!

The following knowledge is important for you: Not every type of wood is the same!
There can be serious differences between one piece of linden wood and the other. Although both pieces of wood are from a linden tree, they can differ greatly in color, grain and hardness.

  • The wood of a tree that has grown very quickly has z. B. broad annual rings and is very soft in its texture.
  • A tree that grows slowly due to its location has closely spaced annual rings and is therefore a lot harder.
  • Chamber-dried wood also usually looks harder than conventionally air-dried wood.

Do not forget that trees are naturally growing plants whose properties and growth can hardly be influenced!
You must therefore be prepared for such natural tolerances. Because a different grain or hardness also requires a different way of working with your tool.

tight annual rings
(= harder)

broad annual rings
(= softer)

These are all NATURAL TOLERANCES that you generally have to pay attention to! The above properties are in no way grounds for complaint!

Some workpieces will require more attention and caution than some others. That's exactly what's interesting about carving - isn't it?

Should you ever work on particularly porous, brittle wood that has dried out for a long time, for example, it is best to moisten it with a little water. In this way you can make the wood a little more supple again for a short time.
A pump sprayer for indoor plants is ideal for this.
With its help you can moisten the wood evenly and start carving after a waiting time of approx. 5–10 minutes.

It is of great importance when working on such soft and porous woods that you guide your carving tool with the correct cutting movement. So don't just push and push, but also make a slight sideways movement. If you only guide your tool in one direction here, you would literally push the very brittle wood fiber in front of you. Smaller tears and a very unclean surface would then be the result.

Think of cutting through a sausage. If you only push it through with the knife, you would hardly have any success. Because you can only get a clean cut by moving the knife "back and forth". It is the same with wood. Don't try to push in one direction only, try to make a clean cut.

You can already see that some types of wood will require more attention and caution from you than others. Prepare for it!

Many hobby carvers tend to blame the type of wood when carving a blank where the cuts simply won't succeed. However, only very few get the idea that their own carving tool might not be sharp enough. Because the prerequisite for correctly carving different types of wood are perfectly sharpened carving tools. Without a sharp tool, you will definitely always have problems with particularly soft or particularly hard woods.

It is therefore essential to memorize:

In many carving courses it is actually taught to wash off the resulting dirt on the carved works with soapy water.
Absolutely refrain from this! In the long run, you will have considerable problems with this, especially with larger, glued figures. The glue joints can tear open as well as stress cracks.

Make sure to carve with clean hands!
Also, wash these more often while you are carving and especially after sharpening and honing your carving tools. Do not wipe away any wood chips with your hand, it is best to blow them off your carving. Also clean the chisels after each sharpening process by wiping off the grinding and polishing paste residues with a cloth. This is the only way to keep your carved work nice and clean! If it doesn't affect your “feeling”, the use of a fine cotton glove might be a good solution.

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Choosing the right type of wood for your carving projects
The right type of wood is crucial for success. Find out more about choosing the right type of wood here.