carving tools

Twistie Stick Snake Cane Carving, Day 2

Free Lora Irish cane carving projectDay 1 Twistie Stick Snake Cane Carving
Day 2 Twistie Stick Snake Cane Carving
Day 3 Twistie Stick Snake Cane Carving
Day 4 Twistie Stick Snake Cane Carving
Day 5 Twistie Stick Snake Cane Carving

Walking Stick Joinery
Walking Stick Wood Species – Harvesting Your Sticks
Walking Stick – Adding Extras
Walking Stick – How to Clamp Your Handle

Free Mountain Man Cane Carving Pattern

The first stage of this cane carving, today’s work, is to establish the general round shape of the design, determine the path for our snake, and to drop the background area of the cane around the snake. Then we will work to create the path of the twist in the sassafras branch on which he climbs.

Please remember – you can click on any post image for a large photo.


Step 1: Please double check the sharpness and honing of your bench knife. Remember, the most dangerous knife or tool in your kit is the dullest. Use your bench knife and a push stroke to round-over the edges of your basswood blank. Work the cuts from the sharp corner to the center of each flat face of the stick.

Round over your basswood blank

A well rounded stick will have all of the original surface area cut. Note in the photo that no area has been left un-worked.

Of note, whether you are a relief carver or 3-D carver, at some point in any carving you want to insecure that you have actually carved all the wood. The milled surface of your basswood blank has a very different texture than the areas that you have cut. After you have added your finish – oil, varnish, polyurethane – that difference will dramatically stand out, making the un-carved areas an eye sore.

Round over your basswood blank

I like to double check my round by comparing the basswood blank to something that I know is a true circle, or close to a true circle. For this project that true circle is the inside of a toilet paper or paper towel roll cardboard tube. By sliding the blank inside the cardboard tube I can check for flat surfaces or planes that need a little more work.

checking how round your carving is

Step 2: To easily create the path of the snake around the basswood blank, I have marked a roll of painter’s tape at 5/8″. For this cane that will be the width of the snake’s body. With your bench knife cut the tape.

using tape to make your snake body

Secure one edge of the tape at the bottom of your stick, and roll the tape around the stick until you reach the top. My tape ran at about a 45 degree or less angle. Looking at the stick with the bottom edge of the tape facing me, I have four wraps, with the last wrap right at the top of the stick.

carving a  walking stick snake

carving a  walking stick snake

Step 3: Please see the Step 6 for the pattern for the snake head. Using a pencil or marking pen, draw or trace the pattern for the snake head about 1″ from the top of the stick.

tracing the pattern for a walking stick

Mark two tapered lines for the tip of the tail of the snake onto the tape. Begin the tail about 1″ above the bottom of the stick.

tracing the pattern for a walking stick

Using a pencil or marking pen, trace along the edges of the tape to mark on the wood the snake’s body lines.

tracing the pattern for a walking stick

Step 4: Remove the tape. You can re-wrap painter’s tape to the roll and re-use it later for your next snake walking stick or for securing paper patterns and graphite paper to your relief carvings.

wood carving free project by Lora S. Irish

Create a stop cut along the outer edge of the snake body lines, cutting on the marking pen guidelines. A stop cut is made with your bench knife in two separate strokes. First, holding the knife at a 90 degree angle to the wood, cut along the line.

wood carving free project by Lora S. Irish

Make the second part of the stop cut by slicing into the first cut, moving from the background area towards the snake body.

wood carving free project by Lora S. Irish

I prefer to slowly drop the background wood in a stop cut area in thin layers or slivers at a time. As you work you can make the first cut slightly shallow, and then make the second background sliver into that cut. Then return to the snake body line and make a new, slightly deeper first cut. Again, work the second background sliver. This will slowly drop the background level of the wood, giving you more control over your depth of work.

Step 5: Continue working the two strokes of the stop cut along both sides of the snake body. The stop cuts are worked about 3/8″ to 1/2″ away from the body lines of the snake. This leaves the center area of the space between the snake twists high or proud. Those areas will become our sassafras twists soon.

wood carving free project by Lora S. Irish

stop cut, wood carving free project by Lora S. Irish

Work the stop cut around the snake’s head. Notice in the third photo for this step, below, that the snake’s body has been ‘freed’ from the background wood by dropping the background areas.

stop cut, wood carving free project by Lora S. Irish
Step 6: Work the stop cuts along the snake body until you are about 1/4″ deep at the marked guidelines.

stop cut, wood carving free project by Lora S. Irish

stop cut, wood carving free project by Lora S. IrishThe wrapped snake is a classic design for walking sticks and canes, one that has a history as old a Genesis in the Bible in the story of the serpent twisted in the branches of the Tree of Knowledge. It is a powerful image and one that is so easy to create in our carvings.

Using the wrapped tape method of creating the snake’s body path, you can quickly change the width of the snake by changing how thick or wide your tape is. The length of your snake also is easily adapted for either larger carving blanks or even short key chain sized blanks.

The snake head pattern is a simple to pencil mark directly to your wood. Begin with an equilateral triangle twice the size of the snake’s neck width.

Make a pencil line at each corner of the triangle to slice off the sharp edges. Now add a small half-circle just in front of the center point on each side of the triangle for your eyes. That’s it! Quick, easy, and fast.

Tomorrow we will establish the wrap of the sassafras twist and stop cut that area to create the second twist or wrap of the cane. Thank you for reading!!!!  If you have any questions, now is a good time to sign up for one of the forums where you can chat directly with me.

– Lora

Twistie Stick Snake Carving by Lora Irish

Twistie Stick Snake Carving Free Project

Free Lora IRish Cane Carving ProjectHi Gang!

I thought I would share a walking stick carving.

Day 1 Twistie Stick Snake Cane Carving
Day 2 Twistie Stick Snake Cane Carving
Day 3 Twistie Stick Snake Cane Carving
Day 4 Twistie Stick Snake Cane Carving
Day 5 Twistie Stick Snake Cane Carving

Walking Stick Joinery
Walking Stick Wood Species – Harvesting Your Sticks
Walking Stick – Adding Extras
Walking Stick – How to Clamp Your Handle

Free Mountain Man Cane Carving Pattern


Walking stick carving is often one of the first carving projects a new woodcarver tries.  This particular design – a snake wrapped around a Sassafras twistie stick – is a beginner’s level project, but I think that even the advanced carvers here may discover a few fun tricks and tips.

We will work, step by step, through creating the round, establishing the snake, marking and cutting the twist, texture the snake and bark, adding a frog on the top of the stick, and how to add a real honeysuckle vine into the twist.  The cane will be lightly coated with a finished with a linseed oil and turpentine mixture and then dry mounted to your walking staff.


These are the tools that I used, but you do not need these exact tools or exact sizes.  Use what you have.  If you are new, a bench knife, or large chip carving knife, and a basic Japanese set will get you started.  Because we will be creating the pattern directly to the basswood you can make this stick in any length!

Sassafra Twistie Cane and Snake by Lora Irish1 1/2″ x 1 1/2″ x 12″ basswood blank
bench knife or large chip carving knife
3/8″ round gouge
1/8″ round gouge
u-gouge, also called a veining tool
several sizes of fine rasps or rifflers
220-grit sandpaper
1″ wide painter’s tape or masking tape
pencil, for marking the cane
old toothbrush for cleaning
carving gloves
thick terry-cloth towel
sharpening tools
cardboard center from a roll of toilet paper
linseed oil
all thread pipe
epoxy glue

walking stick staff – approx. 4′ to 5′ tall, x 1 1/4″ diameter

Sassafra Twistie Cane and Snake by Lora Irish

We will begin tomorrow by rounding-over the basswood stick, establishing the path of the snake, and rough carving the Sassafras twistie area low to reveal the snake’s body.So, go get your knives and carving tools, check them for sharpness, find a basswood cane blank, and join me tomorrow as we begin this fun project.  I’m off to start cropping photos for you.

I will also be posting  this Twistie Stick Snake Cane each day on my favorite carving forums.  Stop by, join up, so that you can post your questions and photos!!!!  Carving forums are like potato chips … just one is never enough … Grin! at Twistie Stick Snake Cane Thread at Twistie Stick Snake Cane Thread

And while you wait to get started, visit Roy’s relief Carving Class thread – See our widgets in the right hand nav bar and on both forums!!!!

Lora Irish carving patternswood carving bench knivesI had a question from one of the forums, and thought I would post the answer here too!

In the photo you can see five different bench knife styles – top to bottom – small chip carving knife, large chip carving knife, detailer, short-blade bench knife, and a long-blade bench knife.

I prefer a large chip carving knife as my main cutting knife whether for relief or for 3-d cane carving. My hand is small, much smaller than my husbands. Where the longer handles of the bench knives fit his hand, they are too cumbersome for me. Also, the short blade of the chip knife puts me hand right against the wood during the cut, a bench knife leaves my hand 1″ to 1 1/2″ away from the wood. The third advantage is that the chip knife serves two purposes – one for my regular carving and, of course, for chip carving.

chip carving knifeIf you haven’t gotten a bench knife yet, consider a large chip carving knife. While you are making your purchases also get some of the new self-adhering bandage wraps. You can cut a short – 5″ length – and wrap the handle of your knife to give added grip strength. Cut a longer piece – 12″ – and wrap your tool handles if you have arthritis. It will make the handles thicker for easier gripping as well as pad the handle to minimize the stress on your joints.


Weekend Whittler #002

Weekend Whittler Wood Carving Newsletter, 2014, Issue #002

Carving Tool Handle Styles

Carving tools come with a variety of tool handle styles, let’s take this time to look at the most common and their specific uses. Shown in the photo above, left to right: palm grip, long straight handled, palm grip, tapered grip, and ergonomic.

Palm handles have a short length from the shaft of the cutting blade and end with a wide, bulbous shape that fits in the center of the palm. The weight of your entire arm from the elbow through the hand is directed by the palm handle into the push cuts of the tool. Palm tools are perfect for long, straight, deep cuts that need a little extra pressure.

Straight handled or long handled tools are griped with the handle reaching across the diagonal of the cutting hand palm. The handle is often 3/4″ or wider in diameter to insecure a solid grip. This handle grip places the cutting stroke in the hand and wrist and gives you total control over small, short, and delicate cuts.

Pencil handled styled carving tools have a wooden or plastic handle approximately 1/2″ in diameter or less, much like a large kindergarten style pencil. These narrow long handles are great for very fine detail work because they are very responsive to small changes in your hand position against the wood.

Thick, long, straight handles are used on carving tools to be worked with a leather or rubber mallet. The extra width prevents the handle from cracking after repeated mallet hits. Often a mallet handle tool will have one or more metal bands at the top of the handle to add more strength.

Ergonomic tool handles are becoming more readily available for the hobby carver. This style is formed to fit within the spaces of your fingers to give a stronger grip during use.

Ergonomic handles are not for everyone, they are not a one size fits all shape.If you have an average or large sized hand they work nicely, but often those with small hands will find the finger shapes along the bottom edge of the handle are too widely spaced for comfort.

Most wood carvers will have a variety of tool handles in their carving kit, ready for use for each of the different types of carving needed to complete a project. There are several excellent beginner/intermediate tool sets on the market that can get you started.

No matter which handle style you chose you can increase your gripping power by adding one or two wraps of flexible self-adhesive bandage around your tool handle. It is easy to apply, easy to remove, and if you have arthritis it can make carving much more comfortable for your fingers and joints.


wood carving setail bench knife

If you would like to comment on this issue of the Weekend Whittler Wood Carving Newsletter, please email our studio.
Copyright, Lora S. Irish, Art Designs Studio, 2014, All International Rights Reserved
Chip Carving Basics E-Project by Lora IrishFor more great e-Projects & e-Books visit

Chip Carving e-Project by Lora Irish

37 page, PDF file format, e-project and the
full cp015 Chip Carving Pattern package
with 100 ready -to-print chip carving patterns.

Supplies needed for chip carving
Creating basswood chip carving practice boards
Knife sharpening
Transferring a chip pattern to your board
Styles of chips – triangles, square, straight-wall,
curve-edge, free form, and accent chips

Work a set of chip progressions



Chip Carving Seminar

Its that time of year, time to start our Free Online In-depth wood carving Winter 2014 Seminar, taught by Lora Irish, wood carving and pyrography book author and line art pattern maker.

Chip Carving Seminar by Lora Irish

Chip Carving Seminar
Chip Carving Supplies
Chip Carving Graphed Patterns
Chip Carving Hand Positions and Grips
Chip Carving – Triangles and Square Chips
Chip Carving – Straight-Wall Chips
Chip Caved Game and Chess Board
Chip Carving Sampler Pattern Layout
Chip Carving Common Mistakes
Chip Carved Shortbread Cookies

Free Chip Carving ProjectFor this year’s seminar I have chosen Chip Carving, also called Spoon Carving!  This wonderful style of wood carving uses geometric and free form cut chips to create intricate designs.  This free seminar is only being offered here on my blog, so please lets your friends and fellow carvers on your favorite message boards know!  Post a link today.

I am delighted to say that we have a new Chip Carving Pattern Package and a new Chip Carving Basics E-Project on our pattern site,, created just for this seminar.

Over the next week or so we will take an in-depth look at this wood carving technique, create several chip carving practice boards, and take a close look at a classic needlepoint sampler layout, shown above, that you can use to carve multiple chip carved projects.  The pattern and photo sampler for this  Needlepoint Layout is available in both our new Chip Carving Pattern Package and in the Chip Carving E-Project.

We will explore:

free Irish chip carving patternSupplies needed for chip carving
Creating basswood chip carving practice boards
Wood preparations
Knife sharpening
Transferring a chip pattern to your board
Knife angle
Common problems
Positive and negative space
How to cut the different styles of chips
Learn triangles, square, straight-wall, curve-edge, free form, and accent chips
Using chip styles in your patterns
Work a set of chip progressions
How to turn a corner


free Irish chip carving patternTo get ready for this seminar you will need the following supplies:

basswood practice boards – 3″ to 4″ wide x 18″ long, 1/4″ basswood is available at most hardware stores

11″ x 14″ basswood plaque – needlepoint sampler pattern

14″ x 14″ basswood plaque – chess game board pattern

large chip carving knife

stab chip carving knife

detail wood carving bench knife

sharpening stones and leather strop

graph paper

removable spray adhesive


320-grit sandpaper

white artist eraser

boiled linseed oil


paste wax finish

Class begins Wednesday, January 15th!  I’ve saved a chair at the teaching table just for you!


Celtic Dragon Wood Carving by Lora Irish

Wood Carving Celtic Dragon 1

Beginner Level Wood Carving Project

This quick, easy, and fun Celtic Dragon pattern is perfect for your first endeavor into relief wood carving.  It uses a very basic set of carving tools, a bench knife, and a pre-routed basswood plaque.  Your dragon carving can be completed in just one weekend.

Over the next several days I will be posting all of the step you need to create your own Celtic knot relief carving project.  Please bookmark our blog so that you don’t miss any of the fun.  I hope that you will share this link on your favorite wood carving forum or message board.

Please take a moment and download our free PDF e-book, Your First Carving.  This is an in-depth look at the woods, tools, terminology, and techniques used in relief wood carving, written and shared by Lora S Irish.

Wood Carving Celtic Dragon 1
Wood Carving Celtic Dragon 2
Wood Carving Celtic Dragon 3

Celtic Dragon Wood Carving by Lora IrishSupply List:

8” x 10” x 3/4” (203 x 254 x 19mm) router-edged basswood plaque
Bench knife
Large and small round gouges
Wide sweep round gouge
Straight chisel
Sharpening tools and strop
220-grit sandpaper
Graphite tracing paper
Painter’s tape
Ruler and/or compass
Soft, clean cloth
Stiff toothbrush or brass wire brush
Thick terry cloth towel or non-slip mat
Depth Gauge

free celtic dragon knot by Lora IrishPreparation of the carving board

1.  Most of the supplies used in this project can be obtained online at your favorite wood carving supply house, through, or at your local large craft store.  The sandpaper, painter’s tape, ruler, compass, and brass wire brush are available through most hardware stores.

2.  Using 220-grit sandpaper lightly sand your plaque, working the sandpaper with the grain of the wood.  Avoid sanding against the grain or in circular swirl strokes.  This will leave fine scratches that can appear during the painting and staining steps.

3.  Sand again using 320-grit sandpaper.  Remove all of the sanding dust using a dry, clean cloth.

free wood carving celtic knot dragon pattern by Lora IrishTransferring your Pattern

Click on the pattern images to the right and save a copy to your Desktop.  Print one copy of each pattern – the outline tracing pattern and the shaded contour pattern.

Center the pattern to the board, secure one side using painter’s tape.  Slide a sheet of graphite paper under the pattern paper with the graphite side against the wood.  Using an ink pen and light hand pressure trace along the outer boundary lines of each element of the dragon.  Remove the pattern and graphite papers.

Learn more about how to work with your patterns and tracing.


wood carving tool setGather your wood carving supplies

For this carving I am using a nice quality Japanese carving tools set which includes a large round gouge, small round gouge, straight chisel, skew chisel, and v-gouge.  Carving tool sets can cost between $25 per set up to several hundred dollars.  I strongly advise any beginner to start with an inexpensive tool set while you discover which style of wood carving will be your favorite.

Learn more about creating a basic wood carving tool kit.

Suggested tool list at :

Ramelson 6 Piece Palm Set Tools, 1/8″ to 1/4″ Profile
Raemlson 6 Piece Long Handle Beginners Carving Tools
Flexcut 3 Knife Starter Set
FLEXCUT Carving Kit – 5 Piece
FLEXCUT Carving Kit – 11 Piece
Flexcut Slipstrop
Power Grip Carving Tools, Seven Piece Set
Walnut Hollow 8-Inch by 10-Inch Basswood Rectangle Plaque
Walnut Hollow 8″ by 10″ Basswood French Corner Wide Edge Plaque

stop cut in relief wood carvingCutting the background area

1.  Mark a 1/4″ margin using a pencil and ruler along the outer raised carving area of your plaque.  This 1/4″ area will remain uncarved, at the original level of the wood. During the next two steps treat this margin line as if it were a boundary line to your pattern.

2.  This project begins with dropping the background area of the plaque to free the dragon pattern for carving.  With a bench knife or large chip carving knife, cut along the outer boundary lines of the dragon pattern.  Hold the knife vertical to the wood and slowly pull along the tracing line.  Stop cuts are made in several shallow cuts instead on one deep lunge of t he knife tip.

3.  Using the small or large round gouge, rougehout the background.  Lay the center of the gouge about 1/2″ to 1″ from the stop cut tracing line.  Glide the gouge into the stop cut.  This will release a small chip of wood.


stop cut using a bench knifestop cut using a chip carving kniferoughing out the background with a round gouge
1.  The background rough-out step begins with a stop cut made with a bench knife or chip carving knife.2.  Hold the knife vertical to the wood and make several shallow cuts along the tracing lines.3.  Use a round gouge to carve from the background area into the stop cut line at the pattern edge.









rough out cuttingthe background of a relief wood carving4.  The rough-out stage may take several layers of round gouge cutting.  As you deepen your background re-cut the stop cut along the outer pattern line to slowly drop the straight-edged wall along the dragon.  My final layer of round gouge cuts was worked with the grain (vertical to the plaque) to set all of the carving strokes in one direction. More about Background treatments for your relief wood carving.

Determining the depth of your relief carving

The depth of your carved background and carved design is determined by how thick your carving board is.  As a general rule the carving is cut to approximately 1/2 the depth or thickness of the wood at the deepest point.  For a 3/4″ board this makes the background drop about 3/8″ deep.  More about Determining the depth of a carving.

Please join me tomorrow, November 16, 2013, as we work through the shaping and contour steps for this Celtic Dragon Knot pattern.  Thank you, Lora Irish

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