Wood Carving

Written by Jeremy Horelick
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Nobody knows exactly when in the course of human evolution wood carving began, but art historians would likely have to travel back hundreds of thousands of years to pinpoint an origin. Given wood's natural abundance, the first carved blocks and whittled sticks probably emerged shortly after early man developed the first cutting tools. These tools would not have been sharp enough to carve stone or granite but were probably well suited to wood's tensile composition.

A short time later, the first wooden tools would have appeared and slowly grown more specialized to accommodate more labor-intensive tasks. Prior to that, any effective instrument would have been the product of mere chance--a lightning storm, a snapped bough, or anything else nature could concoct. But those earliest tools were undoubtedly the models for later designs, contrived from the blueprint Mother Earth so generously provided.

Decorative Wood Carving

It likely wasn't a major leap from functional wood carving to aesthetic or decorative wood carving. Early hominids have been portrayed time and again as highly sensitive and artistic creatures. Anthropologists have pointed to flower pedal-littered burial sites as one sign of early man's enduring empathy, a well of emotion from which great art invariably springs.

If cave paintings were within the ken of the earliest artists, there's little doubt that wood renderings were also part of their repertoire. The problem, of course, is that wood is not a lasting medium. It falls prey to fire, air, water, and termites, so dating the first relief works in wood is an impossibility.

Wood Carving Gets a Face-Lift

Nowadays, wood carving is a popular hobby enjoyed by millions of people around the world, not just pioneers in search of a better walking stick. Wood carvings appear everywhere you look, from furniture design to custom building accents and have an elegant, classic appearance. Moreover, wood carving is a relatively inexpensive hobby to undertake, unlike other fine arts and crafts that can demand hundreds of dollars in power tools and supplies.

Today you see the handiwork of amateur wood carvers and carpenters in everything from custom-made headboards to wooden pillars and other infrastructural essentials. Learning how to do this for yourself is not a difficult process; it takes a nominal capital investment, a little bit of patience, and a healthy curiosity and steady commitment.

All About Custom Wood Carving

In the pages that follow, you'll learn all about the processes of etching, shaping, and finishing wood. You'll learn what to look for when choosing a block, how to pick out the right chisels and gouges, and the basics of using a lathe. Whether you're looking to custom design your own accents or are simply curious about one of the oldest art forms on the planet, you'll find all the information you need.

By taking up wood carving, you join millions of craftsmen around the world in a therapeutic and enjoyable pastime that can be both decorative and practical at the same time. To get going, you'll want to follow a basic pattern that's ready-made for your convenience. Using a pounce pattern, for example, will let you dive right in and trace multiple patterns based on the same basic layout. As you improve, you can move into free-form carving and practice relief without the aid of a template or prefab design.


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