Fundamentals of Woodcarving Class

This is a one day class for the person that is considering woodcarving as a hobby. It covers the basics of safety, tools and how to use and sharpen them, woods, finishes, sources of supply, and additional resources.

I teach this class in one day at Roundups and for Local clubs. Depending on the number of students it can last from 4 to 6 hours.

The first subject I cover is safety, then during the next hour or so we move to "hands on with the tools", learning to use the tools for safety, precision and power without actually working on a project. During this period while students are practicing using the tools on a piece of scrap wood, I am taking about the tools per my guide below. My belief is that you should not just jump into the middle of a basketball game to learn that sport. You would learn to throw "hoops", dribble, pass. etc. and then put it all together with team members in a game. I believe the same holds true for woodcarving, learn to use the tools first. It is much harder learning to use the tools at the same time you are trying to figure out where to remove wood to make this thing look like a dog or whatever. Most instructors tend to skip over this important aspect in "beginner" classes. You will enjoy carving so much more when you can make clean, precise cuts with a sharp tool instead of gnawing the wood away like a beaver.

Then we move on to a small project where we explore how the wood grain affects your tool use. Also I bring samples of several different woods frequently used by carvers (such as Basswood, Butternut, Mahogany, Oak, Pine and Cherry) for the students to try and get an appreciation for the unique qualities of each. I have many small projects and each student could select what interests them from: an old shoe, a dog, a generic bird,

Through out the time the students are doing their "hands on with tools" and working on a small project, I talk about all the subjects in my guide below and give a demonstration on manual sharpening, and if requested on power sharpening. See my Sharpening Machines - Jim's homemade and others described here

Email me at [email protected] to discuss details and schedule a class for your club.

Instruction Guide for the Fundamentals of Woodcarving Class

Instructor - Jim O'Dea Rotonda West, FL [email protected]


  • 1. Finger guards, Thumb guards or Tape - masking, or green medical
  • 2. Gloves - Kevlar, stainless steel, leather, cotton
  • 3. Aprons - Leather, particularly if you are carving in your lap or power carving
  • 4. Small cuts can be dangerous due to infections or hitting a nerve
  • 5. Put several band aids in your tool box
  • 6. Toxic wood List click here.
  • 7. Spalted wood click here.

How to use a knife: - Two hands on the tool or two hands on the wood

  • 1. Use thumb to draw blade to edge of wood
  • 2. Use thumb as balance point to accurately re cut the same spot
  • 3. Use thumb as movement control on blade
  • 4. Pivot off the thumb, makes use of leverage for less force and sensitivity of control
  • 5. Use long blade as Detail knife - hold blade between middle finger and thumb, as some people write.

Types of knives and important parameters:

  • 1. Straight blades - majority of knives made for woodcarving
  • 2. Curved blades - specialty blade or pocket knife
  • 3. Blade thickness - thinner better but weaker
  • 4. Blade width - thinner for detail work, wider for rough out
  • 5. Blade quality - amount of carbon
  • 6. Blade hardness - unit of measure Rockwell
    • Soft 56 to 58: flexible, easy to sharpen, dulls sooner, need to sharpen more often
    • Hard 61 to 64: brittle, tip breaks easier, stays sharp longer, harder to sharpen
    • Composite - has hard center layer with softer side layers, best of both worlds, Sweden
  • 7. Handles - should be comfortable in you hand. Round rolls of table, flat spots won't, thin allows you to get blade closer to the wood
  • 8. Blade guards to keep your edge sharp - plastic tubing, Styrofoam, leather sheath, corks
  • 9. If you sand your carving - uses a knife or gouge after that will dull it real quick

Gouges: - Size of carving you want to do influences size of tools

  • 1. Defined by "sweep" number (1 to 11) and width (inches or millimeters)
  • 2. Straight, bent and spoon shanks
  • 3. Palm or straight handles

V-tools: - Size of carving you want to do influences size of tools

  • 1. Defined by angle of the V (45, 60, 70, 90 degrees) and width (inches or millimeters)
  • 2. Straight or bent shanks
  • 3. Palm or straight handles

Wood Selection: Free wood - my favorite

  • 1. Basswood - soft, little grain, keeps an edge, good if you want to paint project
  • 2. Pine - soft, heavy grain, carves nice put not good keeping an edge, splits easy
  • 3. Tupelo - bird carvers like it, works well with power tools and burners
  • 4. White Cedar - soft, tight grain
  • 5. Butternut - soft, heavy grain, brown, coloring, good for projects left natural
  • 6. Jelutong from The Hardwood Connection in Sycamore Illinois. They do mail order, phone number is 815-895-8733.
  • 7. Kiln dried versus air dried (slowing the drying process with plastic bags)

Finishing Your carving

  • 1. Painting with acrylics - thin paints to a few drops of paint to a tablespoon of water. Wash carving with dish soap and water and a stiff hand brush, let dry or force with a hair dryer. Paint white color and all of eyes. Coat with min-ax natural stain and a little burnt umber oil stain mixed together. Wipe excess off and continue painting with other acrylic colors. A few days later spray with Deft or clear Kyrlon mat finish.
  • 2. Non- Paint: Danish Oil, Tung Oil, Boiled linseed Oil, Wax, Deft or clear Kyrlon lacquer finish.

Woodcarving Organizations and Publications:

  • 1. National Wood Carvers Association - publishes Chip/Chats magazine 6 times a years-what's€™s going on in woodcarving vice how to carve. Web site This magazine deals with local club shows, classes etc. It's a good way to get to know the carvers & their style of carving. In the back of each issue you'll find several pages of upcoming classes (when, where, who is teaching them) as well as upcoming shows (dates, location, contact person). It's complete and informative. National Wood Carvers Association, P.O. Box 43218, Cincinnati, OH 45243
  • 2. Carving Magazine how to carve - published 4 times a year $20. They do an excellent job with carving projects and articles for all levels of carving skill. You can find all information on their web site. Browse through back issues, projects, etc...even have a forum.
  • 3. Woodcarving Illustrated - how to carve- published 4 times a year @ $20.. They offer carving projects and a slate of show events as well. 800-457-9112 For their web site click here
  • 3. Woodcarving Illustrated - how to carve- published 4 times a year @ $20.. They offer carving projects and a slate of show events as well. 800-457-9112
  • 4. Woodcarvers Companion - home of the Woodcarver Online Magazine, World Wide Woodcarver Exchange, and Woodcarver Resource Files 800-943-6877 . For their web site click here.

On line resources:

  • Woodcarver on-line Magazine - click here
  • Free newsletter and e-books by Chris Pye in the UK click here
  • Free on line carving basics and tutorials - click here
  • Woodcarvers Email lists- Matt Kelly's list click here. Knotholes list - click here

    Tool and Supply Sources:

    • 1. Vendors at woodcarving shows - to see Florida Woodcarving shows click here.
    • 2. Mail order catalogs - lots, look on internet and in the March/ April issue of Chip/Chats
    • 3. Retail Stores: Woodcraft 26250 US Hwy 19 N, Clearwater, FL 33761 727-723-0575, plus they have stores in Sarasota and Ft Meyers

    Woodcarvers Roundups- Instruction at reasonable costs

  • Florida Woodcarvers Roundup (near Tampa, FL in March)

  • Michigan Woodcarvers Roundup (Evart, MI in June)

  • NorthEast Woodcarvers Roundup, Honesdale, PA in July

  • Indiana Woodcarvers Summer Camp Berman,IN in August

  • the Gathering of Woodcarvers - GOW (Somonauk),IL in Sept.)

    Other Woodcarving Related Sites

  • Southtowns Woodcarvers, Western NY State

  • Creative Woodwork's & Crafts Magazine

    To return to Jim O'Dea's web site click here.

    To return to the Florida Woodcarvers Roundup web site click here.