Simple seal wood carving tutorial

Carve yourself an adorable gray seal.


This seal wood carving tutorial was inspired by a week at one of my favorite places on earth—Cape Cod, Massachusetts.  Over the years, more and more seals show up.  One day, we saw 10 seals at one time!  They were all swimming together and it was a glorious thing to see. 

This design is simple and fun to carve. You will end up with a seal that is cute as a button and sure to bring a smile to your face.  

Let’s carve it together! 

Seal wood carving

Supplies needed for your seal wood carving

Use a basswood block that is 1 x 1 x 4 inches (2.5 x 2.5 x 10 cm). If you want to carve a bigger seal, simply double or triple the measurements. 

Grab a pencil or pen and a ruler to sketch your seal wood carving.  Or, you can use the pattern at the end of this page to guide your carving.  Simply attach the front and back of the pattern to your wood block with glue or tape. 

As always, wear a carving glove whenever you carve. Also, place a flat piece of wood—or a cutting board across the top of your legs—if you carve over your lap.  One little slip can sever a major leg artery! 

A painting guide is included at the end (this one’s easy)> Use whatever paint brands and brushes you prefer. 

Seal wood carving tutorial at-a-glance

It may help to view this short video to see the key steps to this seal wood carving tutorial before you start carving. 

Set up your seal wood carving

Draw a line about 3/4 of an inch (1.9 cm) from the top  (all around) to mark the bottom of the head of your seal wood carving (photo 1).

Add a second line 2.25 inches (5.7 cm) from the top (all around) to mark the beginning of the tail (photo 1).

Draw a third guideline (all around) in the middle of the last section of your wood block (photo 1) to mark where you will split the tail (photo 1). 

Photo 1A illustrates the proper orientation for your seal, which will be laying on its side. 

Wood carved seal guidelines from top down1. Guidelines are drawn
Guidelines to carve wood carved seal1A. Block is turned

Roughout the head and tail of your seal wood carving

Remove wood from the top (photo 2) and bottom of the head (photo 3).

Narrow the tail by turning your wrist as you make your cuts, creating a curve as you shave wood off (photo 4).  Continue removing wood until your tail looks similar to photo 5.  You will split and refine the tail later (to avoid breaking it as you carve your seal wood carving). 

Shaping top of head on wood carved seal2. Rounding head top
Starting the tail on wood carved seal4. Narrowing and curving the tail
Shaping bottom of head on wood carved seal3. Rounding head bottom
Narrowing tail on wood carved seal5. Progress on curved tail

Set up the body of your seal wood carving

Roughly sketch the body of your seal wood carving (photo 6).  I’ve colored the wood that you will remove to roughout the body.  

Hold your wood looking down from the top (photo 7) and add little “tick” marks on the top (photo 7), which should roughly line up to where you will make your cuts on the front . Use the tick marks to roughly sketch your guidelines on the back side (photo 8). 

Please don’t worry about your back guidelines being exactly the same as your front guidelines. Once you carve the front, it will be easy to match up the back. Tip: Turn your piece frequently as you carve to check your symmetry. 

The body of the wood carved seal is sketched6. Body is fully sketched
Tick marks on top to help place guidelines on back side of the wood carved seal7. Tick marks on top
Back side guidelines on wood carved seal8. Back guidelines are added

Carve the head and body of your seal wood carving

Make V-cuts to remove all the marked wood and shape the body of your seal wood carving (photo 9). When you are done, your wood carved seal should look like photo 10. Also, add a center line on the front of the head (photo 10).

Start to carve off wood on each side of your centerline to form the seal’s protruding snout (visible from the side in photo 11).

On the front, draw a small box to reserve wood for the nose on the end of the seal’s snout  (photo 12). 

Using a V-cut to remove wood on wood carved seal9. Making V-cut to removed marked wood
Adding centerline to wood carved seal10. Progress shot with centerline
Shaping snout of wood carved seal11. View of snout from the side
Marking snout on wood carved seal12. Reserving wood on snout front

Finish the snout on your seal wood carving

Carve wood off the top (photo 13) and bottom of the snout (photo 14).  Also, create a flat surface for the eyes (visible in photos 13,16).  Turn your wrist as you carve, which will help you create the snout.  If you run into grain problems, try turning your piece around, or carve from side to side.

Continue to shape the head, snout, and body of your seal wood carving. When you are done, your seal snout should look like photos 15 and 16 (side view).  

Sketch the facial details, flippers, and mark wood to remove to split and shape the tail (photo 15).  

Carving back the snout on the wood carved seal13. Shaping the top of the snout
Facial details sketched on wood carved seal15. Details are drawn
Carving bottom of wood carved seal14. Shaping the bottom of the snout
Side view of wood carved seal16. Slide view of seal

Refine your seal wood carving

Mark where you will remove wood to reduce the size of the nose on the snout (photo 17).  Carve off the marked wood and separate the smile lines (photo 18). You can use stop cuts here, or hold your knife like a pencil  to carve the guideline—and make a second slicing cut. Or you can use a V-tool.  Choose whatever method works best for you. 

Continue separating the sketched features all around (photo 19), including the eyes (completed in photo 22). 

Use a V-cut to split the tail (photo 20).  Be very careful here not to break the tail (or your knife). You may want to make more than one pass to split the tail and safely remove wood. Tip: Rock your knife back and forth to deepen your cuts.

Wood is marked for removal on snout of wood carved seal17. Snout is marked for shaping
Separating the facial details on wood carved seal18. Separating the details
Shaping the flippers on wood carved seal19. Separating the flippers
Splitting tail on wood carved seal20. Splitting the tail

Refine the tail of your seal wood carving

Narrow the thickness—and curve the tail—by shaving wood off the front and back (photo 21). 

Sketch the tail lines (photo 22). 

Use shallow V cuts to separate the tail lines (photo 23).  Do not use too much pressure or you risk cracking your tail. Also, make small V-cuts to slightly notch the end of each cut (visible in the top of photo 23). 

Sketch similar guidelines on the back of the tail (photo 24) and carve them in the same fashion.

Curving the tail on wood carved seal21. Shaping the tail
Marking lines on tail of wood carved seal22. Front tail lines are drawn
Carving lines on tail of wood carved seal23. Carving tail details
Lines sketched on back of wood carved seal24. Back tail lines are drawn

Prepare your seal wood carving for painting

Inspect your seal wood carving and make any final adjustments.  Be sure to clean up your cuts (remove visible wood fuzzies), which will make your painting much cleaner. 

Front of unpainted wood carved seal25. Front of unpainted seal wood carving
Back of unpainted wood carved seal26. Back view
Right view of unpainted wood carved seal27. Right view
Left view of unpainted wood carved seal28. Left view

Paint your seal wood carving

Front view of painted wood carved seal29. Front of painted seal
Right view of painted wood carved seal30. Right view of painted seal
Left view of painted wood carved seal31. Left view of painted seal
Back view of painted wood carved seal32. Back view of painted seal

Check out our page on painting a wood carving for great tips.  Use whatever paint brushes you prefer. To get the same look, use these acrylic paints:

  • Body: Apple Barrel dolphin gray wash and reserve extra paint.
  • Flippers, nose, and tail: Add one drop of Ceramcoat black to reserved gray wash. While slightly wet, add 100% dolphin gray to half of the face, belly, and the beginning of the tail. Blend paint with your brush.
  • Eyes, dots, and nose: 100% black. You can use a toothpick for small dots.
  • Whiskers: Black magic marker.
  • Eye whites: Dolphin gray 100%.
  • Dry brush with CraftSmart vanilla.
  • Use your finish of choice (I used Howard’s Feed-N-Wax). 


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