Getting started with wood carving is very exciting, but you need to make sure you are working on simple wood carvings for beginners before you move to something harder. In this article, we will go over our favorite projects that are easy for beginners and very beneficial to practice some basic wood carving techniques.
Before you begin please make sure your knives are sharp, you are wearing the protective gear you need, and that your focus is good.
If you are a complete beginner, we strongly recommend getting familiar with the basics of wood carving like the types of cuts, best kinds of wood to use, sharpening techniques, and ways of finishing your wood carving. If you feel like you need to hone your knowledge on any of these topics, read our related articles provided just below:
- All 7 Cuts to Master in Wood Carving
- The Guide To Leather Sharpening Knives and Wood Carving Tools
- How Do You Sharpen A Whittling Knife With a Stone?
- A Whittler’s Guide To Wood Carving Treatment
- Top 9 Best Woods For Carving From Amateur To Pro
- Wood Carving: The Ultimate Beginners Guide (Whittling)
If you think you are familiar with all the necessary basics, you are ready to choose your next project! Let’s get into our favorite carvings for beginners and the step-by-step tutorials showing you how to carve them.
The reason that gnomes are one of the best beginner projects is that they have immense potential regarding the quality of the work. What this means is that over the month, if you carve a gnome a few times per week, you will see significant visual progress when comparing your first gnome and the one you carved four weeks later.
Seeing progress in your carvings does not occur with every kind of project. With gnomes, however, the design, depth, detail, shape, and even facial features will gradually improve making it very motivating to continue carving more and more.
Another amazing thing about carving a gnome is that you only need a carving knife and maybe a marker if you are going to plan your work ahead. So here is how you carve a gnome:
Depending on the size of your carving block you will have different measurements for the face, body, and feet of the gnome. You can also add a hat and a belt to the gnome that will also impact the length of the other areas.
So the first thing you need to do is decide where on your wood block those areas will be. Get some inspiration from already carved gnomes if you want, a pretty standard ratio of gnomes anatomy would be 60% face and body, 20% hat and 20% feet and belt. If you are not going to carve a hat just go with a 70% body and face 30% feet aproach.
With a marker or pencil, mark the different areas with a line, you will later do V-cuts in those exact areas to have a different layer for each section.
For a more visual aproach, here is the full process of carving a gnome from a wooden block. Make sure you read the video takeaways to understand the most important parts of the video to concentrate on.
Key Takeaways From The Video
- Use push cuts to narrow down the wood to the size needed. Especially important if you are carving a pointy hat like in the video
- Use the V cut (pyramid cut) to smooth out the corners around the face.
- Continue using the V-cut to create a new layer under the hat.
- Draw the face of your gnome before carving it, don’t forget the mustache!
- Try to have as much depth in the face as possible, the more the nose stands out, and the deeper the eyes, the more volume the face will have.
- Carve out the feet from either behind the beard as done in the video or separately by carving out a niche in your wood.
Overall carving gnomes is a great project for any beginner to intermediate carver as it involves a lot of different techniques as well as planning and 3D vision in wood carving.
The only downside of carving gnomes is that they take a really long time to make, and if you are not a very patient person, you may get bored carving too many gnomes, but you should still test your skills and carve at least one.
2. Spirit carving
Spirit carving is somewhat similar to carving a gnome except it is not so much a carving in the round. Instead, it focuses on mainly the facial features carved in wood.
We have a whole separate article about carving faces and spirits, Complete Guide To Wood Carving Spirits and Faces, if you are going to attempt it for yourself we suggest you have a more detailed read through it.
For a beginner spirit carving is probably a little easier than carving gnomes and also a little more fun. It does not have many drawbacks except for maybe slightly slow progress as the facial features of your spirits will take a longer time to develop.
The basic idea of spirit carving consists of five steps:
- Accenting the eyes and mouth
Just like with any carving the first thing that you will want to do is to roughly envision what you want your carving to look like. Decide if you want your spirit to have a large nose or a small one, Asian or European eyes, a large forehead, or a large chin. Once you somewhat have a plan for your carving, proceed to draw on the wood.
Step two is marking the different areas of your carving. The eyes, mouth, and nose are the most important areas that you want to mark. Make sure that everything is in the center and that you somewhat have a symmetrical structure of the spirit’s face.
Of course, the most fun and difficult part is figuring out how to carve what you just drew on the wood. The difficulty with this step is that it is very hard to explain, but you will most definitely understand it yourself after a few attempts trying. You can also take a look at the first 4 minutes of this timelapse to see how a woodcarver draws on the wood, and then carves what he just drew.
Accenting the eyes is a little bit of “secret sauce” that we are sharing with you. Every carving looks much more professionally made when you add different depths to it, and in the case of spirit carvings, you can always add deep eyes to your spirit that will give an extra layer to the carving.
Of course, the final part of your project is to add some character to it. Add nitty details, layers, depths, and anything that you think you will like on your spirit. Don’t be afraid of experimenting, even if it makes the spirit looks worse at first, over time, some of your experiments will end up successful, and that is how you will learn.
Spirit carving is also popular with power tools, about this and much more you can read as we once again recommend you our article on face and spirit carving.
3. Chip Carving Patterns
You can find chip carving patterns all over the internet! The main reason it is a good idea to try out chip carving if you are a beginner is that it teaches you how to hold your tools correctly, get’s you to be more comfortable and confident with the carving knife, and lets you practice some safety routines without exposing you to much risk of injury.
Chip carving is not a popular type of carving in the modern age. At least not among beginner carvers. If you never heard about what chip carving is, it is more or less carving out designs and ornaments on wood by chipping the wood with a technique similar to the v-cut.
This type of wood carving is very beautiful and is quite easy for someone who has never held a carving knife before. Most of the time you will be following a pattern or just freestyling on a flat piece of wood coming up with beautiful ornaments.
Unlike carving in the round which is the traditional kind of wood carving such as carving gnomes, chip carving only has 3 types of cuts that are:
- 3 corner chip
- Straight line cut
- Curvy line cut
It is important to master all the types of chips before getting into complicated designs.
A few tips when it comes to chip carving; it is a good idea to use 2 knives and trace the patterns before carving them. If you want more tips on chip carving head over to 7 chip carving tips every beginner should know.
Chip carving projects are excellent for you if you want to have a rather easy time and not having to try your best to figure out the secrets of the art of wood carving. With that said, if you want more challenging projects take a closer look at the others featured on this list
Carving something useful like a spoon, fork or knife is practical, to say the least. We will only concentrate on spoon carving as it is a very popular item to carve and probably one that will serve most use to you.
Spoon carving is very different from a lot of other types of wood carving. This is one of the reasons it is so useful for beginners. By trying new styles of carvings and following unusual instructions you get a very diverse experience about wood carving which will help you both with your understanding of how carving wood works and chose your favorite type of wood carving.
It is quite important to use a wood such as birch, basswood, or apple, and to make sure the wood is green, and not dry. This is because not every kind of wood is good for spoon carving, mostly fruit woods and some other hardwoods are used to carve spoons.
Green wood is also commonly preferred by spoon carvers because it is much more easily whittled. Most of the kind of wood used for spoons are hardwoods and therefore very dense, so carving them dry in addition to that is extremely difficult.
For a full list of the different kinds of wood, you can use to carve spoons and a more in-depth guide on the methodology of carving spoons visit our article: Complete Guide on Spoon Carving for Beginners.
Without further ado let’s dive into the tutorial of how a wooden spoon can be carved.
The first thing you will need is a unique tool to hollow out the bowl of your spoon. The sweep gouge such as the Beevercraft hook knife that you can find on Amazon, will help you in projects such as bowl carving and spoon carving to remove the wood much easier than doing so with a simple knife.
Once you have your tools, you have chosen the wood you can start drawing your spoon on the wooden block you will be using. Make sure the wood is deep enough for the bowl to be carved out.
The process of carving a spoon is not so challenging from a technical point of view, instead, it is physically tiring. Carve out the drawing you have made and define the bowl of the spoon with the hook knife.
After you finished carving out your spoon there are not many details you can add, but you can smooth out the edges and make it look as presentable as possible before applying the finish.
It is very important that you apply a food-safe wood finish to complete your spoon carving. Toxic finishes may be harmful to you should you ever choose to use this spoon for the consumption of food.
Whistles are fun and easy to carve. Such projects are very important for beginners because they get you interested in carving wood. Being able to carve something that you can use is very exciting to most people.
From a technical point of view, a whistle is not going to give you as much progress and experience as carving a gnome or a spoon, but it is still a must-try project for every woodcarver.
Here is a visual tutorial of how you can carve a whistle, it takes under an hour even if it’s your first ever time:
Now you know how to carve a fully functional whittled whistle. Next time you’re going fishing with your friends or family, don’t forget your carving knife to demonstrate and maybe even teach this fun project to them.
6. Wooden Heart
Carving projects that are slightly unusual is very important for beginners. Wooden hearts do no follow the standard 7 cuts used in wood carving, instead, you work with a chisel and a knife in the way that you feel works best and this understanding of how wood acts is good for someone who is just starting to carve.
Take a look at this short 3-minute video showing you one of the ways you can make a very cute heart with a knife and chisel.
When working on carvings that are not very “standard,” we want to encourage you to add some creativity and some of your own character into these carvings. When carving a wooden spirit, you need to follow instructions but carving out a wooden heart is the perfect sandbox for experiments.
Of course, you will most likely be carving this heart for someone, so consider making it a little more custom and engraving it with some letters. If you want to get even more creative paint the letters in red or maybe his/her favorite color.
This for sure is another project for you to enjoy your time carving. Although it will not push your carving skills to the limit, you will still progress and most importantly enjoy such a sweet project.
7. Small Animals
Carving small figures on a piece of wood such as animals is exactly what you need to do to train your wood carving skills. They are challenging to carve and hard to detail, but they are the perfect exercise to push your wood carving skills to the next level.
We have a massive article giving you a tutorial on how to carve 9 different small animals, if you will be attempting this you have to check it out: 9 Easy Animals To Carve Out Of Wood (tutorial).
There is a lot of realism and life that needs to be added to animals when you carve them.
This is another great reason to try it as it is not only an exercise to improve your technique, but also to make you a better woodcarver as a whole.
Apart from carving animals, you, of course, will either paint them or apply another one of the 5 ways to finish a wood carving. This is what makes carving animals such a useful project for carvers of any level. It grasps all the different aspects of wood carving and teaches how to combine it all together in a fairly easy and possible to be done way.
8. Chess pawn
Carving a chess set is not a project for a beginner to complete, but carving a simple pawn is very much possible. This is a great project to help you master carving something with multiple depths.
In general, the more layers or depths a carving has, the better it looks, and this is exactly so when it comes to carving a pawn, the smoother it is, and the fewer layers of depths it has, the simpler it looks. So your goal is to add as many depths as possible to make it look professional.
Carving a pawn will also help you carve a rather rare and difficult element in wood carving, a round object that is not round all the way through. This is done with push cuts and stop cuts so you will also get the chance to enhance those as well.
Finally, a pawn has another very important training element that you may learn, which is consistency. If you are carving 8 black and 8 white pawns, you will want them to look the same. While with most carvings, there is nothing bad about them looking different, carving the exact same pawn 16 times is a task, not every professional woodcarver would perfectly manage.
So how do you carve a pawn? The best way is to show you this 10 minute video that goes into every detail that you need to consider when it comes to carving a pawn, so take a look:
You only need a carving knife for this project, although, chisels could be used if you want to add some ornament or a weird design to your pawn. In most cases, however, one knife is just enough.
9. Wooden Chopsticks
This is a very unusual project for woodcarvers but it is a great and useful exercise carving for beginner woodcarvers. Especially if you are a fan of Chinese takeaway, you will want your own custom-made chopsticks.
It is very important you apply a food-friendly finish to your chopsticks. Anything toxic should not be applied to carvings that you may decide to eat food with.
If you don’t know which finish is food-friendly, you can buy the Bayes Food Grade Mineral Oil Wood from amazon. It is Leaping Bunny certified, eco-responsible and non-toxic & biodegradable. It works as an affordable and durable finish.
Carving chopsticks are not only a fun project but they will also help you carve even(flat) surfaces. That is a skill you will need throughout your whole carving career.
To make a chopstick you will first want to pick a hardwood, similar to what we recommend for spoon carving. Something from the fruit-trees family such as apple, cherry, or walnut.
You also need to decide if you want to make your chopsticks flat on four sides, or circle around themselves and have no edges.
The first stage of this carving is drawing and cutting out two thin, long sticks of wood that will later turn into two symmetrical chopsticks.
For the second stage of the process, Take a look at this short 2 and a half minute video showing you how professionals carve chopsticks using something that’s called a “chopstick master tool”. You should most definitely whittle your chopstick without it, but by viewing how it is done with the help of this tool, you will have some more understanding of the process.
Key takeaways from the video:
- The base edge of the chopsticks must be thinner than the base
- You can use a chisel and a clamp instead of the chopstick master tool.
- Make the edge of your chopsticks round
The third and final stage is to apply a good finish to your chopsticks. We already left a recommendation at the start of this section, so if you end up using Bayes mineral oil, apply it to the chopsticks with a clean cloth, let it sit for 3 minutes, and then simply wipe it off with another clean cloth.
10. Bowls and Plates
Bowls are a classic representation of what a beginner project should be like. Plates are a slight variation on traditional bowl carving, but in the opinion of many carvers, just as suitable for beginners as bowls are.
Carving a bowl or a plate will teach you how to use gouges and chisels. Although it is nothing that is too difficult, you still need some experience to master other tools used in wood carving apart from the whittling knife.
It’s also common for you to carve bowls with power tools, it is significantly easier and takes a third of the time compared to when you are whittling your bowl. With that said, being able to carve a bowl or a plate, will greatly improve your skills as a woodcarver.
The process of carving a bowl is difficult, be sure to take a look at this quick 3 minute video showing you the start to end tutorial on carving a wooden bowl:
Key takeaways from the video:
- There are 5 stages of carving a bowl, sketching, hollowing out the bowl, carving, sanding, and finishing. Don’t skip any of the stages otherwise, you will not be satisfied with the result.
- Use very abrasive sandpaper to smooth out the outside and inside of the bowl, follow our beginner’s sandpaper guide if you want to fully understand what you’re doing.
- You can use other tools such as a saw to help you get rid of wood you won’t be using.
- The young carver recommends limewood. Nothing wrong with that recommendation, but do also consider using basswood and European lime.
Carving a plate is exactly the same as carving a bowl, except you make the walls around the hollow section at a lower angle.
We hope you enjoyed the article and that you picked a few projects that you will carve next. We recommended a lot of helpful articles throughout the content of the guide, if you found any of them interesting be sure to have a look through them as all of them will be very helpful to anyone getting into wood carving.
Thank you for reading this article.