Starting to Carve – Beginner Lesson #2

2017-05-23T16:28:18-04:00 June 29th, 2012|

This Beginner Lesson is available to FREE Members.

Full of invaluable beginner advice, this lesson covers all the basics. How to hold a gouge. How to choose a wood. How to begin a basic relief carving. How to navigate wood grain. How practice different kinds of cuts. Learn a few trade secrets such as cutting across the grain, some personal tips, and so much more!

= More Lessons at the Basic Skill Level =


  1. Joyce May 31, 2015 at 3:28 pm - Reply

    Do you have a lesson on which woods to choose? I want to carve some small flowers and glue them onto cherry, so I am looking for a white or light colored wood that would take crisp details but not be too hard for arthritic fingers to carve. I have a piece of “white maple” from the firewood dealer; he said it is not the same thing as sugar or hard maple, but it is not red maple either. It has been cut for a year, so if it carves well and easily, I thought I could bandsaw it into a flat ½” piece and dry it a little longer. I’d carve cherry, but I am afraid it may be too hard to carve.

    • Mary May May 31, 2015 at 8:07 pm - Reply

      Hi Joyce,
      I don’t have a lesson yet on recommended types of wood, but I generally recommend basswood or butternut for a beginner and then move to walnut or mahogany. I am not familiar with the difference between white maple and hard maple. I do know that hard maple can be very hard to carve. My suggestion is to get a sample piece and carve something simple – and especially test it for the ability to make clean, crisp cuts and whether it tends to rip when cutting across the grain. Test how it works with a mallet and without. Some woods are so hard that you may need to use a mallet for most of the carving. Also, keep in mind that different people prefer different woods. This may turn out to be something that really works for you – and if it is readily available locally – all the better! Let me know how it goes.

  2. Lawrence Kerr November 29, 2015 at 2:50 pm - Reply

    Hi Mary,

    Can walnut be used for springerle? I am wondering about carving difficulty and cookie taste/unmolding both.I am a beginner and have some walnut, but could by some cherry. I love your lessons!
    Thank you.

    • Mary May December 1, 2015 at 2:33 pm - Reply

      Hi Lawrence,

      I am assuming walnut can be used. I guess the real question is whether walnut wood is toxic or not? And I am not sure about that. Anybody else out there have an answer? Walnut would be good to carve the details for a Springerle cookie. My guess is woodturners would have an answer about toxicity, as they often make bowls.

      • Bob Easton December 3, 2015 at 8:06 am - Reply

        Walnut looks OK for bowls and cookie molds … as long as it is kept away from horses.

        ref: Check this article.

        • Mary May December 3, 2015 at 9:37 am - Reply

          Thanks for that!

  3. Lawrence Kerr December 7, 2015 at 9:02 pm - Reply

    Thank you both. I appreciate the guidance

  4. Lawrence Kerr December 7, 2015 at 9:37 pm - Reply

    Thank you both. I appreciate the guidance. Stimulated by your answers, I found this explanation from Ohio State

    It seems that the gardener needs to be more concerned than the woodworker.

    Juglone ( walnut is Juglans Ingram) is thought to be an active ingredient and interferes with the messaging of RNA. It is therefore being researched for cancer treatment and has been used for inflammation as well as an antibiotic.

  5. Samuel Barnett December 17, 2015 at 1:28 pm - Reply

    Mary: What angle do you recommend for a 4mm V tool? Or any width for that matter. I’ve seen 45, 55, 65 degrees. And there are others, I’m sure.



    • Mary May December 18, 2015 at 9:50 am - Reply

      Hi Samuel,
      I prefer the 60 degree angle – no matter what size v-tool. A larger angle than that gets a little awkward to use and smaller angle is very difficult to sharpen.

  6. Samuel Barnett December 21, 2015 at 4:27 pm - Reply

    Thanks, Mary

    • Mary May December 21, 2015 at 9:59 pm - Reply

      My pleasure!

  7. R Mark Petersen September 9, 2018 at 10:59 am - Reply

    I’m looking into a #1 gouge/chisel. What are the advantages of single bevel vs. double bevel, and vice versa? Thanks.

    • MaryMay September 19, 2018 at 11:49 am - Reply

      Hello Mark,
      The single bevel allows the chisel to be used as 2 different chisels – one with bevel down (thereby lifting to tool slightly higher on the wood) and one with bevel up (carving flatter to the wood). The tools acts differently whether bevel side is up or down, and give me more versatility to carving. The double bevel simply feels awkward to use. That may be because I am just used to a single bevel. Two Cherry sells single bevel flat chisels.

  8. Qristofer (Qris) Lewis January 15, 2019 at 3:32 pm - Reply

    Hello Mary,
    What are your recommendations with regards to tools for use on very dense wood species’, such as Bubinga, Zebrawood, Shedua, and Honduran Rosewood?
    Are there specific chisels to use with these species of wood, or does the technique differ in execution vs. softer woods?

    • MaryMay January 21, 2019 at 12:20 pm - Reply

      Hi Qris,
      I use the same tools for harder woods, but you may want to consider using any tools with a larger bevel angle so that the edges are stronger. The only other difference is that you will probably be using a mallet more – especially for the roughing out.

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