The thought of carving may bring visions of an old gentleman whittling as he sits in his rocking chair on a porch with a chunk of wood in one hand and a knife in the other. Actually, modern carving methods vary, depending on the type of project you have in mind. A beginner-carving project may include the use of specialized tools and techniques as well as a variety of lumber choices. To begin, choose one of the four main styles of woodcarving.
Although whittling is probably the oldest style of carving, it involves a certain amount of skill. Modern whittling or carving knives consist of a handle that accepts a variety of blades. A beginner's knife kit typically includes six blades, ranging from straight-edged to various degrees of curves. As your skills improve, you can add other blades to your collection.
Round carving produces "lifelike" figurines with realistic surface textures all the way around the figure. You can choose to carve a person, an animal or inanimate object. Alternatively, you can carve a miniature figure or a life-size shape. Tools for round carving are more involved than those used for whittling. In addition to knives, you need chisels, gouges and possibly even some power tools for life-size carvings. Handheld rotary tools equipped with an engraving cutter or high speed cutter accessory are excellent for creating small details with unmatched accuracy.
Relief carvings have a flat back, while the front of the image is in three dimensions. This style is typical for scenery carving and anything that you plan to display on a wall. Tools for relief carving are palm-style handles with high-carbon steel chisels and gouges. A set of six basic pieces, including two straight gouges, a straight chisel, a bent V-tool, a straight skew chisel and a bent chisel, should get you started.
Chip carving is the removal of chips of wood via chip knives. Chip carving requires the use of two or three knives with a curved blade, called a "moor," which varies in size. Typically, chip carving is on flat pieces of wood, such as that used for signs, boxes, tabletops and so on. This technique uses triangular-shaped cuts to create intricate designs on the wood surface.
Wood carvers use a variety of basswood for woodcarving, especially chip carving. Its lack of grain makes it easy to carve in any direction, while its softness is ideal for intricate carving. Most importantly, remember that basswood shrinks a great deal as it dries. Butternut has a straight grain, excellent for high-relief carving used for furniture and veneering, and mahogany has reddish tones and is strong and lightweight. It shaves and takes fine detail well when used for whittling and round carving.