Wood Carving image of a piece of hardwood lumber being carved with a metal chisel

Woodshop 101: Wood Carving for Beginners

Wood carving is a method that has been around since man was on Earth. By using primitive materials like sharp rocks, wood was able to be shaped into spears for defense and hunting. Since its origin, wood carving has evolved into an artform, with more refined tools that enable masterpieces to be created.

There are many different types of wood carving styles, each adding a unique aspect to the appearance of the sculpture. Here are 5 styles of woodcarving we think everyone should know about:  

Chip Carving

Chip carving refers to knives and chisels removing small, patterned chips of wood from the surface in a single piece. Chip carving has two main stages: the woods surface and its inner layer, with the second stage creating more depth and contrast to the final decorative piece. Chip carvers employ various carving cut techniques to achieve their desired decorative pattern including: fine triangle chip cuts, plunge cuts, slicing cuts, straight line cuts and curved line cuts. Chip carving is embedded in the woods surface, alternatively to relief carving that protrudes from the surface.

Relief Carving

Early relief carvings date back to ancient Greece and Rome. Relief carving is a method of carving that makes the art 3-dimensional, with figures protruding from the background. Relief carvings are categorized by their depth: low relief (or bass relief) has depictions only slightly projected from the surface while high relief has depictions stand out prominently from the background.

Scandinavian Flat-Plane

Scandinavian Flat-Plane carving is named for the area in which it originated as well as the cuts made to create the carving. The Scandinavian flat-plane style is a style of figure carving; each figure is carved from one piece of wood, generally using a carving knife that slices large flat planes. The style is unique in that tool marks are generally left in the finished project, and little rounding or sanding is done.


Whittling is the most pure form of woodcarving and an artform of its own. Though “whittling” and “carving” are often used interchangeable, whittling is a method of itself. All that is necessary to begin whittling is a piece of wood and a sharp knife (many thing a folding pocket-knife will accomplish the task!) This method of wood carving can be done anywhere, at any time, as long as a piece of wood and knife is available.

Chainsaw Carving

Unlike the other methods of wood carving, that employ small, precise hand tools (and sometimes glasses and a bright light to see what you are creating clearly!), chainsaw carving is a much greater scale endeavor. The earliest chainsaw carving came from Ray Murphy in 1953, when carving his brothers name into a piece of wood. With the use of a chain saw and a large piece of wood, chain saw carving is able to create large scale, wood sculptures

 Looking to get started with wood carving? Check out our full guide Wood Carving 101 for Beginners, where we cover basic wood carving skills, wet versus dry wood for carving, the best wood for wood carving, wood carving tools you will need and more.

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