Not all woodcarving projects need to be large projects that take weeks and months to complete. One of the best ways to hone your skills at woodcarving – and spend your free time – is to spend time working with small pieces of wood.
Working on a smaller project allows you to focus on the finer details of a piece. It requires you to focus on all the small areas that you might easily ignore in a larger project. It also helps you work on your ability to bring out the details of a project as effectively as you can the larger image.
Small projects are also far less intimidating to beginner carvers than larger undertakings. They are more accessible, as you usually require fewer tools, and serve as a way for newcomers to get their feet wet and build their confidence before attempting to work on a headboard or a centerpiece for their table.
Regardless of if you’re a skilled woodworker looking to hone your skills or a beginner looking for a way to get started with a new skill, working with smaller pieces of wood and on smaller projects has something to offer everyone. Despite this, choosing a project can feel like a challenge. More experienced carvers may be unsure of how to get started on a smaller project, while beginners may wonder which projects are appropriate for their skill level.
To help you get started with picking a project, here is a look at some potential projects that you can try.
When you think of gnomes, you’re likely thinking of the little garden decorations that you can find in many homes. However, it is possible to replicate this creation in wood. Once completed, it can serve as an additional sentinel in your garden with its plastic compatriots, or you can use it as a home décor piece. You can even use it as a decorative paperweight!
To get started, choose a blank that is thick enough to create a three-dimensional object. Your blank does not have to be too wide, as your finished gnome will be quite thin. Draw your gnome design onto this blank. Make sure to mark the sides and the back as well as the front.
Once you’re done with this step, you can get started with whittling your gnome. You will be using your carving knife for this project. Use the design you have drawn as a map to your final creation. Start with the cap of the gnome, as this section is long enough to allow you to have extra wood to hide any mistakes that you might make. This will also help you to build your confidence before you get to the body of your gnome.
Once you’re done with the cap, use a chisel to mark out the boundary between cap and body. You can then continue carving with your knife. Use the chisel where appropriate, like for carving out the eyes and nose. You may need to refine the drawing of your gnome as you continue this project so that the lines are easy to follow. Continue carving until you are satisfied with the look of your gnome.
Materials and Tools Needed: Wood blank, chisel, carving knife
Difficulty Level: Easy. This is a good project for beginners to start with. More experienced carvers can try their hand at carving more complex gnome designs in order to hone their skills are carving small details.
Smoking pipes have been around for centuries and have remained a popular item around the world. Movies such as Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit have brought them back into fashion as an alternative to cigarette smoking.
Wooden pipes are also a popular woodcarving item. They can be created to be functional items, or, if you are not a smoker, as a way to improve your skills at woodcarving.
To get started, draw the shape of a pipe of your wood blank. Make sure the blank you choose is thick enough for the bowl of the pipe to be carved to your desired size.
Carve the bowl of your pipe and cut to shape using a Dremel, power tools, or carving knife. Once you have the bowl cut out, sand it down to ensure that it is smooth.
Once you have cut and shaped the bowl, you can cut the stem of your pipe to size. Remember, the stem of a smoking pipe is usually narrower than the bowl. Keep that in mind when cutting the stem. Once again, make sure the wood is properly sanded and cleaned down to get rid of any imperfections.
Now, you can start shaping the hollow of the bowl. Draw a circle on top of the bowl, and use your knife or Dremel to start carving. Depending on your tool preferences, you can also use another power tool for this step. Once the bowl is hollowed to your preferred depth, sand until smooth.
Now that the bowl is ready, it is time to ensure that your pipe is functional. Use a drill to drill through the center of the pipe stem. Drill until you reach the bottom of the bowl, and the drill comes through. This will create a small hole in your bowl that will serve as the airway of the pipe.
If you would like a longer stem than you had initially anticipated, you can shape and glue small blanks to your pipe in order to increase the length. Once you are satisfied with the design and length of your pipe, finish with mineral oil.
Keep in mind that if you plan on using your pipe for smoking, do not use lacquer, varnish, or wood stain as finishing agents. These are highly flammable and will burn as soon as you use your pipe for the first time.
Materials and Tools Needed: Wood blank, Dremel, rotary tool, sandpaper, carving knife, glue
Difficulty: Easy. Carving a pipe is a great beginner project for woodworkers, especially those looking to get more comfortable with their Dremel and other power tools. For more experienced woodworkers looking for a challenge when pipe carving, they can attempt to experiment with different designs on the bowl and stem of their pipe.
3. Letter Opener
While letter openers have gone out of fashion as a functional item, they can still serve as an attractive carving project. Having one handy also means that the next time you do receive a letter via snail mail, you can feel like a Victorian poet opening a love letter with a letter opener.
It is possible to buy a metal letter opener online easily enough. However, store-bought just doesn’t have the same appeal that something you have carved yourself does.
If you’re looking to carve a letter opener, start with your wood blank and a sheet of paper. Sketch out the shape of your letter opener on both sides of the paper and transfer the design to the blank. Use a knife, handsaw, or power tool to cut the wood to shape.
Once the wood has been cut to shape, you can start carving with your carving knife. Follow your drawing as a guideline on where to carve. Make sure to separate the hilt of the opener from the blade. Once you’re satisfied, sand the blade.
Now you can start on creating a narrower shape. Remove wood from the knife so that it isn’t too thick and is a functional knife. Once you have the blade as narrow as you like, sand once more.
At this point, you have created a basic letter opener. You can now start to add flourishes and designs to it to make it look more attractive or leave it as it is. These designs can be added to both the hilt and the blade of the opener.
Once you’re satisfied with the look of the blade, sand until smooth. For further ornamentation, you can use a pen, paint, or ink to draw designs onto the blade and paint the hilt. Once completed, finish the project using the finishing agent of your preference, and leave it to dry.
Materials and Tools Needed: Wood blank, carving knife, paper, finishing agent, handsaw
Difficulty: Easy. This is one of the simplest projects that a beginner can attempt. More experienced carvers can experiment with making the hilt and blade decorations more ornate and attractive.
4. Wooden Spoon
Spoons are among the most common projects for beginner woodcarvers. Not only is your final product something that you can make use of, it is also a project that you can make more complex as you gain carving experience.
Spoons can be carved using either hand carving tools or power carving tools, depending on your preference. To get started, choose the wood that you will be using. While there are several considerations that go into choosing a wood for carving a spoon, a good rule of thumb if you’re looking to carve a functional spoon is to use a hardwood. Hardwoods are both easy to carve and hold up to use in the kitchen well.
Once you’ve chosen your blank, draw on the shape of your spoon and cut the piece of wood to shape. Carve out the bowl of your spoon using a gouge, Hook Knife, crook knife, or Dremel. If you don’t know how to use a Hook knife for spoon Carving. Then you should read our descriptive article on how to use a Hook knife.
Remember, the type of spoon you are carving will determine how deep the bowl should be – for example, a soup spoon should be deeper than a stirring spoon.
Once you have defined the inside of the bowl, start working on the back of the bowl and the handle. Work on carving the handle. If you are looking to make your project more complex than a simple spoon, you can work on adding more detail and intricacy to your handle.
Once you’re satisfied with the final look of your spoon, sand it down. The final step is to finish the spoon with a finishing oil, wax, or other finishing material. Keep in mind that your finishing substance should be food-grade if you plan on using your spoon in the kitchen. For example, if you are using a finishing oil, opt for linseed or walnut oil. Once this has been applied, allow your spoon to cure before using.
Materials and Tools Needed: Wood blank, carving knife, gouge, Dremel, sandpaper, finishing material
Difficulty: Easy. This is one of the most common beginner projects that carvers work on when starting off. However, you can add to the complexity of your project if you want by changing the basic design of the spoon or adding more decorations to the carving.
5. Chess Pieces (Pawn)
If you’re a big chess lover, one of the best feelings in the world is investing in a custom chess set. It’s always fun to play with pieces that are unique, hand-carved, or both.
Instead of spending money on a high-quality, hand-carved chess set, it is also possible for you to carve your own set. You can choose to design your pieces according to your preference – they can be unique, personalized pieces or more traditionally shaped.
Before you can start working on unique pieces, it is always a good idea to learn how to carve the traditional shapes. To start, choose a cylindrical piece of wood.
You can experiment with a variety of woods when it comes to carving chess pieces. One way to choose your woods is to look at the color – for example, the light-colored maple is a good choice for white pieces, while the darker-colored ebony is ideal for black pieces.
Once you have chosen your piece of wood, remove any excess wood on your blank until it is smooth all around. Draw a line with a pencil slightly under the tip of the wood – this line represents your stop cut. Take your knife and carve a thin indent in the wood on this line. Once you have the indent carved, you can work on carving the top section of the pawn by making the wood more curved and rounded.
Place another stop cut about 5mm under the first. This will serve as a guide for shaping the body of the pawn. The body is a more flared and fluted shape, and you can now start working on carving it, remembering not to go above the stop cut. Once this is done, you can saw through the bottom of the wood to give your chess piece a base. Now you can work on refining the details of the piece. Depending on whether or not you like the rough look, you can finish by sanding and oiling the piece and starting to work on the rest of the set.
Materials Needed: Wood blank, knife, saw, sandpaper
Difficulty: Medium. The challenge of this project comes from the fact that it requires a cylindrical piece of wood to work on. You will need to apply the same amount of pressure throughout the project and ensure that all sides of the piece look even. This can often prove challenging for beginners. Once you have carving a basic piece mastered, you can add more flourishes or choose to work on a more personalized chess piece design.
6. Wood Spirit
If you’re someone who likes to use green and foraged wood in projects, carving wood spirits is a great option to experiment with. While you can use blanks for this project, using a piece of green wood often offers the best results.
Make sure the wood is thick enough so that you can get definition on the face of your spirit. Strip away some of the bark on the wood so that you have an area that you can carve on.
Once this is done, you will first need to make a brow line on the face. Next, draw a center line that can help guide the rest of your carving. Carve out the nose in the center of the face, using pencil lines as a guide. Next, separate the eyebrows from the brow line.
Mark out the shape of the eyes and carve those out. Carve or drill holes for the eyeballs. Now, you can start working on the mouth and mustache. Draw and carve out the mustache, making it large and elaborate. You can now use this section as a guide to carving the mouth, as well as a stylized beard. You can now work on cleaning and detailing each section, as well as adding flourishes to the top and bottom of the wood spirit’s face.
Once you have completed the carving, you can finish with finishing oil if you like, or leave it as it is. To display, drill a hole on the back and hang it on a hook.
Materials Needed: Green wood or wood blank, chisel, knife, drill
Difficulty: Medium. While this is an easily achievable project for expert woodworkers, the details of the face do pose some challenges for novices. A carver will have to judge the depth to which he wants to carve the face and make sure the depth is even across the carving, which may be somewhat difficult for inexperienced carvers.
While it might be tempting to dispose of small blanks, scrap pieces of wood, and smaller pieces of scavenged wood, the size of the material available to you should not prevent you from experimenting with woodcarving. With the host of projects available to you, it is just as easy to work with a small piece as a larger one.
One advantage of projects that only require a small piece of wood is that it is easy to work with them while you are on-the-go, regardless of whether that’s a holiday away from your workshop or simply out on a camping trip. No matter where you are, you’ll be able to get some carving practice in – all you need is an easily portable piece of wood, your carving knife, and perhaps a few other basic tools, depending on the project you’re experimenting with.