Are there basic wood carving cuts? In a word: yes. This article will help you learn how to make the most common wood carvings cuts, including the:
No matter what wood carving cuts you use, you should always wear carving gloves. We wear cut-resistant gloves that are reinforced with leather.
You also want to protect your groin and thighs in case your knife slips. We use a wooden vegetable bin that not only protects your lap, but catches most of your chips, too.
This cut is sometimes referred to as the controlled cut, pusha-away cut, or the levering cut.
Some wood carvers find this cut easy to do while others feel it takes more hand coordination than the pull cut.
Since you are using your thumb to help guide the knife, this cut may be particularly useful when you are doing precise cuts and details on a project.
Be careful not to push the knife in too deeply, or you’ll end up splitting the wood.
The pull cut is helpful for removing wood or for shaping wood. You are pulling the knife toward you so make sure that your thumb is not directly in the path of the knife!
It is sometimes referred to as a paring cut, cut back, pull draw, or pull stroke.
While carving gloves and/or thumb guards are always recommended, they are particularly important with wood carving cuts like this one.
If you use this cut a lot, you may also want to reinforce the thumb of your glove with duct tape. Some carvers prefer using vet tape and wrap the thumb several times.
Over time, you can simply replace the duct or vet tape, which is a lot cheaper than buying new gloves.
Personally we prefer the push cut because you are always cutting away from your body parts versus toward them.
But there are times when you absolutely need to use the pull cut.
Our rule of thumb before making any of these wood carving cuts is to assess if there is any risk of slipping and making contact with flesh.
If there is any risk, we try to find a safer way to make the cut.
A stop cut is used to make one straight cut across the wood, and another cut right underneath that slopes in.
This cut is ideal when you are separating areas and removing wood, such as the hairline from a neck on a caricature or the bottom of a hat.
Once you make a stop cut, you can use your knife to cut several thin slices below it. Then take your knife and cut across the stop cut to remove all those slices in one clean pass.
This is a fast way to remove several layers of wood.
If your cut is not clean you will end up with little, hanging pieces of wood (called fuzzies).
If you need to make a deep cut, groove, or notch in a project, use a V-cut.
The V-cut is also a way to distinguish two areas on a piece, such as the head of an animal from its body. It can also be used to carve a mouth, an eye, or to add detail in clothing, hair, or fur.
A V-cut will not create a lot of shadow, which gives a wood carving depth and character.
The triangle cut is good for popping out a triangle-sized piece of wood around a nose of a caricature, or to remove a small piece of wood from the corner of an eye.
It is a cut that gives your piece shadow and depth.
It is sometimes referred to as a pyramid cut because the wood you remove should look like a tiny pyramid.
It may take a bit of practice to master this cut. The more you carve, the easier it will become.
If it isn’t perfect don’t sweat it. You can always use your knife to clean things up.
A line cut is ideal for adding details to a carving. It is also good for separating wood between two areas, like arms or clothing on a caricature.
A line cut can be straight or curved (if you are carving an eye or an eyebrow).
The sweep cut is ideal for making a curve in wood, like when you are carving a hat or the back of the neck of an animal or a caricature.
We use a basic thumb push cut with a flexible roughout knife that allows us to get a nice, controlled curve.
As you make the cut, you will rotate your wrist and push the knife with your thumb to create the sweep.
The trick with a sweep cut is to avoid breaking or chipping your knife (very easy to do).
It is also easier to do a sweep cut on the edge of a piece of wood because you won’t be fighting the grain.
It takes time to get comfortable with a knife and to make the cleanest cuts possible. Practice each cut on a scrap piece of wood until it feels comfortable and you achieve the results you want.
Everyone is different. You may discover a more comfortable way to hold your knife or make a cut.
Some carvers would say “if it doesn’t hurt your hands, it’s all good.”
The best way to improve your carving is to keep carving. It takes a while for your mind and body to learn to work together.
You also need to get comfortable with what you can—and cannot—do with wood.
Try to be patient and keep practicing. Good carvers are always learning new things and improving their skills.