Working with the Grain of your Wood

By L. S. Irish


Click image for close-up view.

Understanding the grain of the wood is an important skill for wood carvers. Before you begin any project find the grain lines and grain patterns in your wood block. Plan how the flow of the grain will affect your cutting strokes and detailing. With any project you will at times be working with, against, or diagonally across the grain of the wood.

Every piece of wood will have it’s own grain pattern and flow. Begin each project by determining the direction of the grain, the angle of the grain lines, and where any imperfections are in your wood block. Most wood surfaces will be cut at a slight angle, your grain lines will not be perfectly square to the wood form. This means that the grain lines of the wood will flow at an angle to the edges of your wood block.

Tips to working with the grain:

  1. Place your pattern on the wood so that long carving strokes go with the flow of the grain.
  2. Know the angle of the wood grain as compared to the angle of your wood boards edges.
  3. Avoid placing heavily detailed areas against the grain or where there are knots in the wood.
  4. Determine where in a pattern you will have to work against, with or diagonally to the grain.


Working into the Grain Line Angle

If you are cutting into the grain line angle your cut strokes will take more wood, cut deeper, and cut wider slices. You can use this to your advantage when you need to dramatically drop an area into the background of your work.

In the wood spirit carving below I need to make three deep v-cuts to create the eye, nose and mouth areas of his face. Notice in the center image that I am working these cuts into the grain angle of the wood block. This allows me to take larger slices easily which drops these v-cuts down quickly.

Working into the wood grain angle can cause an area to split out. Because the cut is along the grain a split can occur where the wood separates along the grain line above your knife edge. When working into the grain angle use stop cuts to control this tendency of the grain splitting or tearing. Notice in the wood spirit sample that each area; the eyes, nose and mouth, were first cut with a stop cut, then the v-cut was worked into that stop cut.

Click the images for a close-up view.

For this wood spirit I need to create three deeply angled v-shaped cuts for the eyes, nose and mouth areas.
I have started the work by first finding the grain line angle. In the Close Up you will see the grain line compared to the square edge of the wood block.
By working with the grain line angle I can make my deep v-cuts easily.


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