Traditional Wood Carving

Written by Jeremy Horelick
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Traditional wood carving is one of the oldest skills known to humankind. It's safe to assume that with the appearance of the most rudimentary tools came the first hand-carved sticks and bowls. Since trees grow on just about every continent, the craft undoubtedly developed in a "parallel" fashion across many different countries and cultures.

Some scholars date traditional wood carving as a formal body of study to the ancient Greeks and Egyptians, who already possessed crude versions of the tools that are in common use today. Obviously these ancient societies had no drill presses, band saws, and turning lathes to work with, but that only makes the ornate detail and gild work they produced even more astonishing. The problem with documenting these artistic contributions more definitively is that wood splinters, rots, and decays far more readily than do other media, so there is no preserved body of work to study as there is with stone and metal.

The Basics of Traditional Wood Carving

Modern wood carving makes use of several key tools, among these the bench knife, gouge, and chisel. Bench knives, also referred to as "short blades," are the mainstay of any whittler and are most often used to remove slivers and other excess material. A master wood carver uses the bench knife to make incisions in the wood, then focus on detail work on that plain.

Carvers then use rounded gouges, which include straight and "U" varieties, to remove vast amounts of wood. This is known as "rough carving," for it helps create a rough picture of the final work. From there, a smattering of tools including dog-leg skews, fishtails, and backbend gouges are all used to help flesh out the work. This is also known as "microcarving."


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