It can be a little overwhelming carving from scratch because you don’t know where to start. What tools do you use, what kind of wood do you carve, and do you need talent?
So many questions. Let’s talk about answers.
In the Just a Few Simple Tools to be a Wood Carver article, you’ll learn the answers to all those questions and more. I’m going to break it down into a step-by-step, easy-to-do tutorial.
Don’t worry you can do this.
Let’s start out with what tools you’ll need.
Equipment: Only a few tools needed
I am going to be carving a Cottonwood Bark fairy house. I’ve chosen Cottonwood bark because it’s very easy to cut and gives the piece a bit of character in the process. Bark carving, unlike other forms of carving only, requires a few simple tools.
- 2 basic knives
- 1 small dogleg bench chisel
- 2 diamond honing plates
- 1 Leather strop and compound
- 1 Kevlar carving glove
- 1 thumb guard
- CA glue
- CA Insta-Set Accelerator
- Quilting pencil with white lead
- Cottonwood Bark
Let’s talk about each tool.
CARVING KNIVES & CHISELS:
I use two basic knives and one chisel.
A 1 1/4″ roughing knife like the one shown above.
The blade is long and thick, it’s used for roughing out the majority of the design. This knife has a sturdy wooden handle and fits in my palm nicely, giving me a good grip. Its blade is strong enough to cut through wood and bark with ease and is the primary workhorse for all my projects.
A 1/2″ mini detail knife, like the one shown above.
This very small blade is used for detailing intricate designs. This knife has a tapered wooden handle that fits into my small hand easily. Its small edge allows me to get into the smallest areas and make precise cuts.
A 2.4 mm small dogleg bench chisel, like the one shown above.
It’s used for cleaning out small spaces and scraping straight lines. This tool has an octagon-shaped wooden handle that allows for a good grip, so you can get into the places where you need a flat surface.
These plates are used to sharpen your blades. Sharpening the knife makes carving easier and safer. A dull blade does more damage than a sharp blade, if and when you slip but don’t worry about this right now, it doesn’t happen very often.
You need two diamond-encrusted sharpening plates, they are also called honing plates. You’ll want a 250-grit plate, shown below with the blue background, it’s the one on the left. You’ll also want a 400-grit plate, it’s the one in the middle with the yellow background. These two sharpening plates are around 3 1/2″ wide and around 6″ long. You’ll want a plate that is a decent size so your fingers are not too close to the blade as you sharpen it.
Here I show three plates, the red one on the right is a 600-grit plate, but you really don’t need to hone your knives to that degree at the beginning.
I’ll go over how to use these plates in another article.
I use a wooden base strop with a soft leather cover over the top. This is used for taking the burs off your blade after sharpening and cleaning up the edge to give a smooth clean-cutting surface.
I’ll discuss how a strop is used in another article.
Compounds are used on the strop to help the blade glide over its surface easily without destroying the leather. They come in two forms, a powder, and a stick. Either one works fine.
I want to point out that the pink powder in the picture above is called Blue Velvet compound, even though it’s a pink color. This compound used to be blue when the company first started out, but since then they have added many colors to their line. The yellow stick compound is the form most companies sell, but I prefer to use the powder instead.
I’ll discuss these in more detail in the next article.
Gloves are used to protect your hands from cuts and scrapes while carving. Most of them contain a Kevlar material that is woven into it. Kevlar is a metal that is now used in all shark suites, so you can understand why it’s relied on for this.
I use this Kevlar carving glove to protect my hands from cuts.
This is a must-have item. If you can’t do it safely, then you shouldn’t be doing it at all!
These gloves feature a rubber-dotted pattern across the palm and fingers, as shown in the picture above. This increases your grip on the wood. Kevlar gloves give great protection from cuts but offer minimal protection from stabs, so be careful.
Wear the glove on the hand you’re holding the piece of wood with, not the hand you’re using the knife with.
The picture above shows the backside of the glove. It’s made of a lightweight Kevlar knit material with a ribbed wristband for comfort.
I’ll discuss different kinds of safety gloves in another article.
Thumb guards are used on the right hand that holds the knife to protect your skin from certain types of cuts such as the paring cut that is directed towards to thumb. There are several types of thumb guards to choose from. You can buy a letter thumb guard like the one below.
Or, you could make your own thumb guards like I have.
I’ll show you how to make these in another article.
GLUE AND ACCELERATOR:
There are a lot of different glues out on the market today. I suggest using CA glue. (Cyanoacrylate glue) It works best on Cottonwood bark, helps stabilize it, and fixes accidents. Here I show the Insta-bond thick CA glue, it’s a bit more expensive than regular CA glue due to its thick nature, but it’s much easier to control and I glue my fingers together much less than using the regular thin stuff.
Be careful while using this glue, as it’s similar to superglue and sets very quickly. I’ve glued my fingers together many times, and so will you. Don’t worry though, you can remove the glue from your skin by rubbing some asatone fingernail polish remover on it and rubbing till gone.
You can also buy CA glue remover if you prefer to go that route. The CS glue remover does work better than the asatone, but I prefer to use the cheaper version.
The CA Insta-set accelerator pictured on the left is used to set the CA glue instantly and make the wood stronger than without it. This is the reason I use it, to help strengthen the bark and so I can move on to the next step faster.
Sandpaper is used to remove the rough spots on the bark or wood. The best sandpaper for carving depends on what you need it for. Sandpaper is chosen by its grit, and the grit determines how much material is taken off. The higher the number on the sandpaper the finer the grit and the less material it removes.
I use 3M Sandpaper in coarse 80-grit, medium 120-grit, and fine 220-grit.
80-grit sandpaper is a very rough grade and I recommend it for rough surfaces, dents, gouges, splinters, or loose fibers in the wood. It does remove wood pretty fast though, so check your piece often while using it.
When you’re done with a carving project there will be leftover scratches, and defects to clean up. Use 120-grit sandpaper to remove the remaining defects and uneven edges.
I use the 220-grit sandpaper for cleaning up the door frames, window frames, and anything else want a smooth finish on or anything that will get a lot of touching.
QUILTING PENCIL WITH WHITE LEAD:
A light-colored pencil is useful to draw the lines that you’ll be cutting. I use a quilting pencil with white lead to draw the doors and windows on the dark-colored bark.
You can buy these at any store that sells sewing materials or at any art store. Drawing the design in advance allows you to keep track of progress as you are cutting away the wood bit by bit.
Don’t worry about losing your marks while you’re cutting, you can always redraw them as needed.
I use Cottonwood bark for all my fairy houses.
It’s great for beginner carvers because it’s easy to cut, and gives the finished piece a lot of character. It seems to lean toward that whimsical look you want in a fairy house.
Cottonwood bark is just that, bark. It’s the bark of the Cottonwood tree. It’s not wood at all, this is the reason it’s so soft and easy to carve. It’s also why I suggest it for all beginner carving projects.
The best kind of bark is northern Cottonwood bark, it’s a much thicker bark than other trees. It ranges from one inch to six inches thick.
The more forest fires the cottonwood tree goes through the thicker the bark becomes. The thicker the bark the more detail you can carve into it, and the more expensive it is to buy.
TALENT: don’t worry you CAN do this
As far as I’m concerned, you don’t need talent to carve. Anyone who practices can become a good carver. Practice leads to perfection and by using the basics I’ve shown you, you’re going to be an awesome carver.
By participating in the wood carving for beginner’s step-by-step class, it’s easy to become an artist in woodcarving. The more carvings you do the better you’ll get and the more detail will be put into your creations.
YOU CAN DO THIS!
In this article on Wood Carving For Beginners, It’s Easier Than You Think you’ve learned about the tools you require to carve and a few basic facts about them. I will be covering more details on each of these tools in other articles, so please check them out for further information.
I hope you enjoyed this overview of carving materials, if you have any questions, would like to leave a comment, or your own personal views on carving, please feel free to do so below.
I would love to hear from you and help in any way I can. I will get back to you as soon as possible. (Usually within 24 hours or less.)