How to Use Wood Carving Tools- Ultimate DIY Guide

Wood carving is a fun art that is very rewarding when your designs start to take shape. This hobby involves minimal investment in tools and supplies to carve out custom designs. For serious woodworkers, wood carving is a lifelong passion, but it takes patience, dedication, and attention to detail to get it right. 

Various carving tools are necessary for your wood carving project to be successful. And in this post we are focusing on…

How to Use Wood Carving Tools?

Many wood carving tools exist for different wood carving styles. Chisel, for instance, is one of the woodworker’s most time and labor-saving inventions. It is used to shave off excess wood and carve out various designs by hitting it with a mallet. 

Stay with me as I unfold all wood carving tools and how to use them.

Different Wood Carving Tools and How To Use Them

Many seasoned woodworkers and DIYers have used wood carving tools, and only a few can argue against their efficacy. Unlike woodworking tools designed for maximum productivity, wood carving tools are designed more towards artistic and creativity. These tools come in different versions, from power tools to hand tools.

They have exceptional features like ergonomic handles and various blade shapes, allowing you to maintain maximum control as you customize your wood. Whatever tool you choose, ensure you observe the safety procedures as some of these tools are very sharp.

  • Rotary Hand Tool

Image of rotary hand tool. But do you know How to Use Wood Carving ToolsA rotary hand tool is the most affordable power tool anyone can have. You can use it for your wood carving projects, provided you observe the necessary procedures. Grab the tool with your right hand and maintain a 1″ distance from the rotary gear to your thumb. 

Use the bit attachment to shape your wood, following the lines you want your object to resemble. Hold the rotary tool for about five seconds, then pull out to make short strokes.

Hold the tool for 30 to 40 seconds and pull out for larger strokes. Use a fluted carbide bit to make the shaped wood frame more detailed before sanding with a 150-grit sander.

  • Carving Knives

Carving knives come in all sizes and shapes to address your wood carving projects. They feature sharp blades, and the blade’s shape determines its purpose, whereas the size tells how fine your details will be. 

But depending on the wood, a carving knife may not be enough to get much done. It’s also risky if you’re not familiar with the wood type or blade. Therefore, be careful and wear protection on your hands to avoid unexpected injuries.

Most wood carving knives feature a large handle for an easy grip and a ¾ inch blade for getting closer and more detailed with a wood piece. Some wood carving knives have a rounded bottom allowing users to scoop into the wood like a hook knife.

Using a carving knife is easy. Begin by shaping the outside of your workpiece with a carving knife. Carve away bigger pieces to achieve the rough shape, followed by more minor cuts to refine and smooth out the shape. Continue cutting your wood with the grain until your object takes shape.

  • Chisel

Woodworkers on a budget may find chisels a great way to get started on large wood carving projects. These tools can remove large wood chips and cut into corners with one hit. They come in different styles, including mortise chisels, beveled edge bench chisels, and paring chisels.

These names reflect the chisel’s function. You can use a chisel to customize your wood to a different design. For instance, if you want to make straight edges, begin by marking your design with a pencil. Hold the chisel correctly, ensuring you cover part of the blade with one hand.

Align the chisel’s cutting edge with the marking you drew on your workpiece. Raise or lower the chisel angle depending on whether you’re peeling off material or notching a border. Then dab your chisel with a mallet to make a cut or hand-manipulate for very tricky detailing.

  • Gouge

A gouge shares a similar working principle with a chisel, except you don’t need a mallet to use it. They have a curved cutting edge to carve grooves without the tool’s corners digging into the wood. You can use it to remove excess wood from a flat surface where a flat chisel can’t excel.

Here are the different types of wood carving gouges:

  • U-gouge.
  • V-gouge.
  • Long-bent tool.
  • Short-bent tool.
  • Fishtail.
  • Veiners or veining tools.
  • Fluters.

To use a gouge, start by clamping down your wood piece on your bench. Then take your gouge and start peeling off some wood at your desired angle. You can go deeper into the wood when you raise the cutting angle, whereas lowering the angle allows for lighter cuts.

Sway the carving gouge back and forth and keep both hands on the blade to avoid cutting yourself. Repeat swaying the gouge on all sides of the wood you’re cutting and go with the grain direction to avoid raising the tiny fibers.

  • Riffler

A riffler is a double-ended filing device with a grip positioned between the two filing edges. It is used for accessing confined or complex spaces to file them down to the desired smoothness that would otherwise be tricky to access with scrapers.

Rifflers come in various sizes, and each one has a unique profile, including round triangular, flat square, half-round, and have curved, straight, or tapered cutting faces. 

Using rifflers requires minimal exertion. Start by sketching your desired shape on the wood. Then use a straight or round, rectangular riffler to trim the marking depending on your design.

Next, use the flat side of the riffler to file the rough surfaces on the wood and continue cutting until the wood piece takes shape.

  • Carver’s Mallet

A mallet is used for tapping gouges and chisels to drive them deep into the wood. It is the most convenient tool for wood carving projects. Begin by positioning your chisel or gouge on the wood you want to cut. Then hold the mallet with your dominant hand and dab the chisel or gouge to drive it into the wood piece.

Note that the higher you hold the mallet with your dominant hand closer to the head, the more you have control. The closer you hold the mallet to the bottom of the handle, the more force you have to drive the chisel into the wood surface.

  • Coping saw

A coping saw cuts detailed shapes better than other typical saws to give your project a professional finish. First, hold your wood in a clamp, then use a pencil to design how you want the wood to appear. Place the saw’s inner teeth on the line you want to cut and start cutting slowly.

Continue cutting the wood until the teeth bites, then turn the handle and frame to follow the marks of the template you drew with a pencil. This will help you achieve complicated angles.

Tip: Most coping saw blades are weak and liable to snap. Therefore, ensure you have spare blades at your disposal.

How Do I Start Carving? 

Image of wood craft coated with the best epoxy resins for wood craftsWood carving is eligible for anyone to try. It is a popular specialty that some do for fun while others do it for business. Whatever the intention, wood carving is a field that often relies on your creativity. To start wood carving, you will need first to familiarize yourself with the essential tools. 

Learn what cuts wood carving tools can make, what angle to hold them, the pressure to apply when using them, wood carving techniques, etc. Most importantly, be passionate about wood carving to achieve demanding results.

However, that’s a quick overview of the question. Here are primary considerations you need to know before you venture into wood carving.

  • Choosing the Right Wood

Knowing the best wood for wood carving will save you time and enhance your passion for learning more. Avoid choosing a wood with knots or growth rings. Such woods prove difficult to trim around. As an alternative, select basswood and balsa. These are soft, fine-grained woods perfect for beginners.

  • Choose the Right Tools

Don’t purchase wood carving tools before understanding how to use them. Some devices perform similar objectives in wood carving projects, so ensure you analyze each tool to know its uses. Otherwise, you might waste money buying stuff you won’t use in your application. 

  • Wear Gloves

Safety is always a priority in wood carving. Skilled woodworkers work on detailed areas without gloves for a masterly finish. But until then, wearing gloves for beginners is a must since you will be working with cutting and peeling tools.

  • Sanding

Before starting your wood carving project, sand the surface to smooth out any imperfections. 

Using Basic Wood Carving Techniques

Now that you have what it takes to begin your wood carving project follow these procedures to reap the most out of your workpiece. 

1: Trace Out the Desired Design With a Pencil

Start with creating an outline for your idea for the design on the wood piece you want to carve using a pencil. This should guide you during the process as your work starts to take shape and help you visualize the outcome.

Note: The outline doesn’t have to be detailed. It only helps to keep you oriented as you carve away various wood pieces. However, if your drawing skills are minimal, search for exciting designs in coloring books.

2: Wear Wood Carving Gloves

Wear wood carving or leather-hide work gloves on your non-dominant hand to avoid cutting your fingers. Again, wear a leather thumb guard designed for wood carving on your dominant hand to avoid minor injuries. 

3: Hold the Knife With Your Dominant Hand 

Use your non-dominant hand to hold the wood piece and your dominant hand to hold the knife. Position your non-dominant hand on the knife’s back, blunt side while the sharp side of the knife rests on the wood piece where you want to cut.

4: Hold the Wood In Place

Safety is an essential consideration in wood carving. Your wood piece should not move up and down as this can cause injuries. Therefore, use a holding device like a clamp to secure your wood.

5: Use a Scooping Motion to Peel Away Wood Pieces

Carve the wood piece by twisting the wrist of your dominant hand to scoop away wood pieces and use the left thumb as a brace to keep your knife from slipping. This technique is called the push stroke, and it offers you greater control over your cuts.


  • Make long, thin cuts away from your body to trim the wood to the size and shape you want for the best results. The standard wood carving cut is called a straightaway cut. This method is applicable in the first stages of wood carving to achieve a rough shape. 
  • Another indispensable technique is using the carving knife, similar with peeling an apple using a typical knife. This technique creates finer details on your wood piece, but be careful not to slice your fingers. 
  • Remember that the less you angle the carving knife, the thinner the wood pieces you peel away will be. Use sharper angles to peel away larger amounts as you customize your carving. 
  • Keep the proportions of your desired design in mind as you carve your piece. You can exaggerate the proportions, create a realistic-looking piece, or combine both.

6: Cut With the Wood Grain

Wood grains are the darker streaks running through the wood. You will want to cut parallel to these wood grains in the direction offering the least resistance. This technique is called “cutting with the grain.” 

Tip: If the wood chips or tears as you cut, you are cutting against the grain. Turn the wood and try cutting it in the opposite orientation. If it cuts smoothly, that is the correct way to cut with your wood grain.

7: Begin With Working In Stages to Get the Basic Shape

Start with making more significant cuts to carve away more wood to get the basic shape of your design. Then slowly make smaller and more detailed cuts as your wood takes form until you arrive at your preferred design.

After you’re pleased with the overall shape of the design, use the carving knife’s tip to add fine details. For instance, if you are carving a person, use the knife’s tip to create fine lines that resemble hair.

8: Use a Carving Gouge to Create Hollow Areas On the Wood

Ensure your wood piece is firmly secured with a vice or clamp before beginning this step. Hold a carving gouge in your non-dominant hand, position the curved blade against your wood piece and push the bottom of the handle with your free hand to gouge out wood pieces.

9: Use An Electric Dremel Tool to Finish Your Design

A Dremel tool easily cuts through the wood to make precise lines. However, you need to wear a face mask, given this tool produces plenty of dust.

Hold the Dremel tool in your dominant hand like a pencil and keep your fingers 1-inch up from the rotating end of this tool. Also, ensure the power switch faces up for easier access.

10: Start With Slow and Short Strokes.

Hold the Dremel handle at a 45-degree angle to your wood to get greater control and avoid touching the rotating bit while it’s running. Work in slow and short strokes in the wood grain’s direction to avoid removing too much of the wood. 

Also, don’t rush your design, or you will carve out a section you didn’t plan to remove. 

11: Use a Fluted Carbide Bit Workaround Outlines

A fluted carbide bit integrates small channels with sharp edges to guarantee a smooth finish. Attach one fluted bit into the end of the Dremel tool and start carving out your outlines. Press the Dremel tool into the wood lightly in fluid motions, so you’re less susceptible to making mistakes.

Next, use a diamond bit with a rough texture to smooth out the sharp edges in your design. Work slowly around the edges to address all rough areas before taking breaks to wipe away the sawdust from your wood piece.

Tip: Don’t blow the sawdust off your workpiece because the dust will become airborne. Alternatively, dab the back of your wood against a solid surface to remove the loose sawdust from crevices and tight spots.

How Do You Hold Wood Carving Tools?

If you intend to improve your skills in wood carving, you should first understand how to hold wood carving tools. This guide offers insight into these techniques, so read along to learn more.

  • Low Angle Grip

The lower angle grip involves using both hands to control the cut’s forward motion and shape. Mastering this technique allows users to make consistent lines and grooves.

Because you will carve the wood from left to right, you need to swap your tool between hands. Push the tool with one hand and use the other to resist the forward movement. This balance between pushing and resisting allows the device to cut in a controlled manner.

  • High Angle Grip

It’s advisable to use a high-angle grip when you want to create depth with your cut. This technique can feel a little complicated initially, but you will appreciate that it doesn’t require swapping hands.

Start with positioning a gouge straight to the wood while holding the handle like a dagger in your hand. Place the middle fingertip onto the wood and tight behind the gouge’s bevel. This acts as a bridge between the wood and the tool.

Raise the little and ring finger behind your middle finger to support it. Then use the thumb and the index finger to grip the blade and start customizing your design.

  • Combining the Grips

The best way to combine and practice these techniques is to try ornamental carving. Start by sketching the main parts of your design with a V-tool, then add other details. Try to get your lines and cuts smooth to make your carving look good.

What Is the Difference Between Whittling and Carving?

Although they sound similar, whittling and carving differ in various aspects. Whittling involves using one tool, making the carving project less detailed and having rough edges. It is a technique projected for beginners, especially if you are on a budget.

On the other hand, wood carving involves shaping a wood piece to your desired design using different tools. This option allows for a professional finish, even for those who lack prior experience.

The secret to successful wood carving is understanding how to use the tools and the type of tools needed for your project.

How Long Do Wood Carvings Last? 

Wood carvings won’t stay in prime condition for long unless you practice special care to keep them from the elements. You can achieve that by keeping your wood carving from direct sunlight, as excessive sunlight can dull the appearance of your carving.

But how long do wood carvings last? Wood carvings can last a lifetime depending on the exposure to elements how you store them and treat them. You can protect your wood carvings from degrading by applying a wood finish. 


It’s possible to carve into various surfaces including stones, but wood carving remains popular because it’s simple and allows you to get more creative. However, you will need to know how to use wood carving tools and commit yourself to performing this art properly. 

I hope the tips highlighted in this article will help you bring your designs to life, provided you don’t rush your project.

Image of a woodworker wearing hearing protectors for woodworking

Tyron Otieno

Tyron is an avid woodworker and writer. He founded this website to help other woodworkers, whether hobbyists or professionals by sharing his knowledge and experiencie after a decade of woodworking.

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