My Woodcarving Adventures #1: Getting Started

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Blog entry by stefang posted 04-03-2015 03:45 PM 3099 reads 1 time favorited 24 comments Add to Favorites Watch
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My purpose for this blog is to encourage anyone who has thought about taking up woodcarving to give it a try. I outline below my beginnings and progress so far. I am a complete novice, so I can’t teach you how to carve, but I have some ideas how you might learn. I have posted a couple of projects here on other carving work here on LJ, but the photos below show what I have been up to lately. If you like using hand planes, spokeshaves and knives you might want to consider woodcarving. It is very therapeutic and hard to stop once you start.

If you have tried carving and found it frustrating it might be due to cutting against the grain. The online school I mentioned below has a free beginning project to literally get you headed in the right direction on that.

Woodcarving is a skill that I have always wanted to learn. I’ve tried relief carving with no instruction on my own a couple of times with very poor and discouraging results. I did have better luck with figure carving which I just started doing recently after seeing a youtube cowboy carving video by Gene Messer. He made it look doable and I was able to carve my own original figure using his basic outline figure. Since then, I have bought some figure carving books and learned a little. my favorite book is by Pete LeClair titled ‘Carving Caricature heads and faces. I have only carved a head based on his instructions so far. I also bought a book by Harley Refsal ‘Carving Little People’. That was to please my wife more than myself as she likes those small figures carved in what is known as the ‘flat plane style’. I prefer the more detailed work that Pete LeClair does. Here is a picture of my first effort. Not very good in my opinion, but it’s a start.

At first I was just using my Pfeil chip carving knife, but soon decided I needed another knife which was more suited to removing a lot of wood to speed things up. I bought a sløyd knife for that work from a Swedish chain store and while I was there I saw a chinese carving set with standard size gouges and a skew touted as being made of high quality steel and they had handles identical to Pfeil which I like. I didn’t really need them as those type chisels are made for relief carving and sculpturing, but I couldn’t resist the low price, even though I had no intention of taking up relief carving again. Little did I know that another youtube video by another carver would get me to once again try my hand at relief carving. Here is a link to Mary May’s carving school. I signed up for some free lessons from her online school to see if I could get better results than I had in the past. I watched the lesson on carving a camellia and gave it a try. As you can see below, the results aren’t impressive, but good enough to encourage me to sign up for a one year membership. I pretty much followed her instructions 100% on this one.

My next little practice project was the Grapevine pattern. It was a lot more challenging. I first did the one in the photo below after watching Mary May do it in the lesson video. I stuck to her instructions as well as my memory served me, but I formed the leaf differently than she did while still trying to use her general techniques. Again, not a work of art, but it could have been worse. I decided to give this exercise a 2nd try sticking more exactly to her instructions. The lessons are downloadable, so I was able to take my computer out to the shop and view the video while working on this one. I failed miserably and I won’t even show the result. So now I know that for me it’s best to just learn as much as I can from the video and then do my own thing afterward as to forming the design.

I would like to say that Mary May is a great teacher. Her instructions are very clear and she doesn’t leave anything out. If you are interested in learning carving, especially relief carving I would urge to have a look at her site. There’s a lot to learn there.

If you were interested enough to read this whole blog, then you are probably a good candidate for taking up woodcarving. Thanks for reading and I wish all of you a Happy Easter!

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

24 comments so far

View Druid's profile


2165 posts in 3405 days

#1 posted 04-03-2015 04:24 PM

Hi Mike,
Great starters, and it’s going to be interesting to follow your progress in this series. Glad to see you posting your progress. I’m sure going to stay tuned.

-- John, British Columbia, Canada

View Lenny's profile


1649 posts in 4137 days

#2 posted 04-03-2015 04:33 PM

Hi Mike. You are too modest. For a novice carver, I think your work is very good. I too have begun to do some carving. I have plans to take on two major projects that will have ball and claw feet. I took a day long class at my local Woodcraft store. I learned a good amount that day and got my feet wet in carving. There were only three of us in the class and the other two fellows mentioned Mary May’s online school and products. I ended up buying a 5 part series on carving the ball and claw (It’s a download.) and also purchased the available casting. Her instruction is top notch. I prefer her techniques over those I learned at the Woodcraft class. Best wishes as you continue your carving journey. Fom what you show here, you will be quite successful.

-- On the eighth day God was back in His woodworking shop! Lenny, East Providence, RI

View helluvawreck's profile


32086 posts in 3477 days

#3 posted 04-03-2015 04:42 PM

Mike, I think that it is wonderful for you to get into carving. I’ve seen one or two of the figures that you have carved and they are very nice and these are also great. It is a great hobby and you’ve got what it takes to do very well at it.

helluvawreck aka Charles

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View Dutchy's profile


3508 posts in 2778 days

#4 posted 04-03-2015 05:04 PM

I have read your hole blog!!! You probbely know that last summer I made a chip carved plate and I liked it. I like it because I can do it sitting in front of my caravan. It gives me rest, doing something with my hands and also relaxing. Before that I bought a Pheil knife but also made two of my own. I think next holyday again I will do some chip carving with is here called fries hout snijwerk ( frisian carving ) I want to make a chip carved wooden shoe

But cutting puppets don’t lures me. That camellia of your however encourages me, so you never know. But I’m afraid there must be bought a lot of tools.


View doubleDD's profile


8980 posts in 2653 days

#5 posted 04-03-2015 05:47 PM

Mike , I had a knife in my hand most of my life doing flooring. Had a few good cuts which should of resulted in going to the hospital, but never did. Although I don’t miss that part of working I am interested in carving some day. I think I would have good control with those carving tools so I will keep this as future enjoyment in woodworking. The guys at the woodcraft store are always trying to sell me some carving tools. Maybe sooner than later. Thanks for this info.

-- Dave, Downers Grove, Il. -------- When you run out of ideas, start building your dreams.

View stefang's profile


17039 posts in 3944 days

#6 posted 04-03-2015 05:51 PM

John I’m so unskilled at this carving work that there will probably be some long pauses between improvements so I hope you don’t get too bored.

Lenny Glad to hear that you are onboard with the online lessons. The clawfoot should be fun to carve. Are you are making a Chippendale chair(s)?

Charles I’ve always wanted to carve, but I think very few people can learn it on their own, so I hope that now with some good instruction I might get it going. I know you are a carver and it would be nice to see some of your work too if you are still doing it.

Jan I just looked at your chip carved plate and it is a beauty! I have done some chip carving in the past and I have to say that your work on that plate is really excellent and it is far far better than anything I ever did. I have looked at your gallery before, but I must have missed that one.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View kiefer's profile


5713 posts in 3277 days

#7 posted 04-03-2015 06:04 PM

You are making big strides Mike and you seem to have talent .
I can shape stuff with a spoke shave and files ,rasps and sanders but carving with a knife is another story .I just don’t have that gift like you .

Happy Easter


-- Kiefer

View stefang's profile


17039 posts in 3944 days

#8 posted 04-03-2015 06:58 PM

Klaus It isn’t a gift, it’s a skill that just about anyone can learn if they want to. You don’t need a lot of tools either. You do need to keep the carving gouges and chisels very sharp though. This is mainly done with a strop or a felt wheel mounted on the lathe or handrail after an initial sharpening. I’m lucky and have a Tormek leather honing wheel to keep mine sharp.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Brit's profile


7891 posts in 3453 days

#9 posted 04-03-2015 09:40 PM

Chris Pye also has a site with online instruction which might be worth checking out.

-- Andy - Old Chinese proverb says: "If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it."

View Lenny's profile


1649 posts in 4137 days

#10 posted 04-03-2015 10:00 PM

Mike, I will be making an eighteenth century corner chair. I do not recall if it is considered Queene Anne or Chippendale.

-- On the eighth day God was back in His woodworking shop! Lenny, East Providence, RI

View SPalm's profile


5334 posts in 4492 days

#11 posted 04-03-2015 10:11 PM

Very nice Mike. You got some skills.

I am like Klaus, I can shape but I can’t carve or paint a picture. My Dad could, and we used to have these discussions about skill vs practice. I don’t have any skill, maybe with a zillion hours I could, but I think not.

Anyway, your stuff looks great and it looks like a lot of fun.

-- -- I'm no rocket surgeon

View stefang's profile


17039 posts in 3944 days

#12 posted 04-03-2015 10:21 PM

Andy I have one of his carving books. I’ll have to take another look at it. I got it a few years ago and I haven’t really studied it much.

Lenny I don’t think the Queen Anne style had ball claw feet, they usually have a kind of large spoon foot combined with a cabriole style leg. My guess is that your chair is probably a Chippendale style, and I have seen Chippendale corner chairs. It is a very elegant style. I hope you post it when finished.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View stefang's profile


17039 posts in 3944 days

#13 posted 04-04-2015 11:11 AM

Thanks Steve. I am finding carving to be fascinating and fun now that I have learned a few basic things to get me started thanks to those who have shared their skills.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Schwieb's profile


1897 posts in 4071 days

#14 posted 04-04-2015 11:20 AM

Hi Mike, You keep wetting my appetite for carving. I will have to check out the Mary May thing. I a little concerned about what I am going to do with myself this summer when my wife and I make a cross country trip in our RV. Keep up the good work.

-- Dr. Ken, Florida - Durch harte arbeit werden Träume wahr.

View Roger's profile


21030 posts in 3414 days

#15 posted 04-04-2015 11:47 AM

You are going full throttle Mike. I really like those grapes on the vine. All your carvings are very good. Keep on chippin away.

-- Roger from KY. Work/Play/Travel Safe. Keep your dust collector fed. [email protected]

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