Your First Carving Pattern

Five basic stages to relief carving

Every relief carving goes through five basic stages.

rough out stage of wood carvingRough out

The first stage is called the rough-out where you will drop each area or element of the pattern into the wood to a pre-determined depth. During this stage you are removing the excess wood from the board, exposing the basic shapes in your pattern. Larger profiled cutting tools are used to quickly drop each area of work. When you are finished this step the carving will literally look rough with many cut cuts and ridges showing. My favorite tools for the rough out stage are my large round gouge, wide sweep gouge, and bench knife.



shaping stage of wood carving


Next you will begin shaping each area of the design. This is when you add the contours, rolls, and under cuts in the carving as well as taper or blend one area into another and joining the intersection lines between areas. During this stage you begin removing the ridges left from the rough out stage. The straight chisel, skew chisel, and bull nose chisel are used during these steps.



smoothing stage of wood carvingSmoothing

The smoothing steps are worked with your bench knife, bull nose chisel, straight chisel, and the wide sweep gouge. Any of these tools can be laid at an angle close to the wood and used to remove thin slivers of wood – a technique called shaving. Shaving leaves very small flat planes across the surface creating an even, flowing surface. Once you have an even surface you can use 220- and 320-grit sandpaper to give a pristine surface to your work. For tight corners or deep crevices try cutting foam core finger nail files to the size and shape that fits that area. Remove any sanding dust with a tact cloth.


detailing stage of wood carvingDetailing

Fine cut details can be added to your relief carving using the v-gouge, u-gouge, or bench knife. During these steps the mustache and beard of our sample is divided into small clusters of v-gouge hairs, the veins of the leaves are added, and any crisp corners or edges are cut. During the detailing stage I check the carving for any area that may need a little extra work to take a nice carving into a great carving. Check for double lines where you have used the v-gouge as in the leaf veins.



finishing stage of wood carvingFinishing

Adding a finish to your carving adds color, luster, and longevity. Which finish you chose dependents of which gives you the best results, and the final use of the carving. Craft and acrylic paints can be used to add coloring to your work. Brush on and spray polyurethane or acrylic sealers are easy to use and dry quickly. Oil finishes are a favorite of mine as they leave a soft luster while deepening the color of the wood.

For more information please visit Joint Lines and Smoothing your Background.


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  1. Pingback: Wood Carving Free Projects, Lora Irish Books |

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