Getting started with wood carving – What to carve

Enough about knives, safety, and wood.  Let’s talk about what to carve.  If you’re new to wood carving, then you probably should start with simple projects so that you can get comfortable with holding the knife and using the basic cuts.  A good place to start is Gene Messer‘s 3-part series on Whittling The 5 Minute Bear.  If you don’t particularly like bears, you can try his 5 Minute Wizard.   I found both projects to be excellent for learning basic techniques.  And for refining techniques.  I’ve carved dozens of each in the last six months.

Just don’t get impatient.  It’ll probably take you an hour or more the first time you try one of these.

The first project I did when I started carving a year ago was the pinecone ornament from Little Shavers.  Arleen at carverswoodshop recently made a video series about carving and painting this ornament.  Arleen starts with a pattern that she’s cut out on the band saw rather than from a raw block of wood as described on the Little Shaver’s Web site.  That’ll save you some time paring down the block of wood, but don’t worry if you don’t have a bandsaw.  You’ll just have to work a little harder.

Another good project, although a little more difficult for a beginner, is the Santa tree ornament.  I recently discovered a YouTube video series showing how to carve this ornament.  It’s well worth the time to watch, especially if you’re a beginner.

Gene and Arleen both have many beginner projects, some that start with a raw block of wood, and others that start with a bandsaw cutout.  If you don’t have a bandsaw, you’ll probably be most interested in those that start with just a block of wood.  I suggest that you go preview the videos and find one that you like and think you’re ready to try.

Beginners Carving Corner has a lot of simple and fun projects for the beginning carver.  Try the 5 Minute Owlthe gnome, the Old World Santa, or the Civil War Soldier.

I also highly recommend that you join the Woodcarving Illustrated message board, where a lot of experienced carvers hang out and share their knowledge of knives, wood, and all things carving.  It’s free to join, the members are very willing to answer beginners’ questions, and you get to see a lot of different types of carving.  It’s likely that you’ll find something there that you will want to carve.

There are a lot of other resources for beginners, but that’ll get you started.  As you tour the message boards, blogs, and videos, you’ll learn about other sites that have beginner projects.  And it’s all free.  Ya gotta love the Internet.

It’s important to remember is that you’re just starting out.  It’s unlikely that your first 5 Minute Wizard will look as good as the one in Gene’s video.  He’s been carving for 15 years or more.  But don’t get discouraged.  Your first wizard probably will be recognizable as a wizard, and your second, third, and so on will get better.  With every project you do, you’ll build confidence and skill.  It just takes a little bit of patience.

Most important, though, is to have fun.  The worst thing that can happen is you botch a project and end up with a bit of designer firewood.  I’ve collected my share over the last 12 months.  If you do botch a project or get to where you don’t know where to go with it, you might set it aside.  You just might come back to that scrap a few months later and see where you can fix your mistake or make something completely different from the botched project.

So get your knife, sit down in front of a video, and start carving.  It’s one of the least expensive hobbies I know of, and very rewarding.