7 Chip Carving Tips For Beginners

If you are just starting to chip carve, there are a lot of new things that you will discover the more you do it. To make your learning curve quicker and improve we have come up with 7 tips that everyone doing chip carving must know.

1. Use 2 knives

To start with it’s important for you to know that when chip carving, you must use a chip carving knife instead of your usual whittling knife.

Your standard chip carving knife can be enough to complete most designs, however, if you would like to be a little extra creative a set of knives that can add variety to your design

In the recommended set above, you will find a set of three knives. A regular carving knife which is the most basic tool, a mini-carving knife which is convenient to have, and a skew knife that you will use to create a pattern on your workpiece that a regular knife is too large to create consistently.

To use the chip stab knife (skew knife) correctly, for cutting triangles, you should focus on making a plunging motion instead of the regular carving motion. Press the tip of the chip stab knife against the wood and push down to leave a mark. Depending on how large you want the mark to be, you can also tip the handle of the knife towards yourself exposing more of the blade on the wood leaving a longer cut.

The best designs for a chip stab knife are done when you want to compliment your main pattern with smaller v cut/triangle details or you need to include a small element in your work. such details can be as small as the seeds of wheat or the anther of a flower in your pattern.

The skew knife is not as commonly used as the main chip carving knife with the most noticeable work still done with it. A chip stab knife only adds some nice detail to the design.

2. Keep Your Blades Sharp

A sharp knife is a knife that is easy and safe to work with. The biggest issue with a knife that is not sharp is that instead of focusing on your technique you will have to focus on putting much more force into each cut which is unnecessary and even a little dangerous.

To maintain the blade of your knife sharp, you should use a sharpening stone, you can also use two sharpening stones with a different grit, for example, a 600 grit and an 1800 grit for a better result.

Use a strop to keep blades sharp. Use stones when the strop does not produce a keen edge

Sharpening MUST be done at the correct angle for the tool, this is determined by the angle the bevel is set at.

Make sure you run your knife an equal amount of times on both sides, if possible, inspect the tip of your blade with a magnifying glass. The very end of your blade is the most important part of the knife, if it is somehow broken or not sharp enough, keep sharpening your blade until it looks good.

Sharpening is a very important process when wood carving. In a nutshell, we explained the idea behind sharpening above, however, if you are not very familiar with sharpening knives you should take a look at our guide on the 6 ways to sharpen a wood carivng knife as sharpening a knife is a very important process of carving.

3. Hold your knife correctly

Keeping your knife in a correct position is very important as it determines how clean the quality of your cut will be.

Keep your thumb on the knife or on the workpiece. If it is loose and not touching anything you can cut yourself by accident.


While there is no one correct hand position when chip carving, there are a few common ones that you will come across as you chip carve. The most common one is called the “basic position”

The basic position is what you most probably are going to start with. Here you place your knife in the curve of your index finger with the rest of your hand resting on the handle. You then chip carve by applying the force on just the handle and not the blade.

Check out this video on how to hold a knife in the basic position while chip carving. The explanation is very helpful from 0:36-1:30

The position for curved lines is slightly different. As curved lines are very common in chip carving, it is important to cover the hand position you would need.

It is important to say that you must feel comfortable with the way that you hold your knife. If something else feels more natural you can try it out, just be careful as you don’t want to risk learning the technique wrong or make it dangerous for yourself, with that said, variations on how you hold your knife are allowed!

4. If Your Piece Is Small, Try Working On Your Lap

This is an alternative technique that you may or may not find easier, however, some woodcarvers recommend that you work from your lap if you don’t find it comfortable to work on the table with the piece securely held.

If you can hold your piece comfortably and safely on your lap instead of the table you may find it easier to work.

That is of course if your workpiece is small enough that you can comfortably rotate it as you cut through the wood, otherwise should stick to working on a table.

The main benefit of working with your workpiece on your lap, is that you can turn the board as you cut curved lines.

The more complicated your chip carving designs get, the more common you will have to carve curved lines. But while it is worth trying working from your lap we strongly recommend that most times you work securing material to a cutting board. This can be secured to the work surface of your choice.

5. Draw Your Design With a Pencil Before You Start

This one does not need a lot of elaboration. Instead of freestyling as you go, it’s always a good idea to come up with a design to follow before you put your knife through the wood.

There are plenty of places online that you can find great designs to inspire you for your own chip carving design.

If you are not feeling as artistic you can always just “copy paste” an already created design and trace the pattern onto your workpiece, which leads us to our next tip.

6. Trace Patterns For a More Interesting Design

We have an article on how you can trace patterns to wood which goes into detail and gives a great understanding of how you should do it. If you are interested, it’s very recommended you read it by clicking here

Below, you can also check out our summary of what the process is, for a more general understanding.

Tracing pattern on to the wood is a nice shortcut to create very artistic wood carvings without having a perfectly percised 3D vision.

There are multiple ways you can do it, most of which involve some sort of tracing paper or heating the paper with ink for it to transfer it to the wood.

Tracing is very recommended especially if you are a beginner, here are some reasons why:

  • More complex designs earlier
  • You can pick shapes that include all 3 cuts in order to improve your skills
  • More concentration on technique and less on visualizing the final product

Overall it is just a good idea, just like with drawing your designs with a pencil we would like to encourage you not to use the exact copy of the drawing you found on the internet, and add some of your own interpretation to it.

7. Use All 3 Cuts In Your Design

The main shapes that you will be chip carving are:

  • 3 Corner Chips
  • Straight lines
  • Curvy lines

This means that the more you practice all of these cuts the faster you can progress to more complicated designs.

The best way to do it is by either choosing designs that already have all 3 of these cuts or getting a little creative and adding these cuts to the design of your work piece. Practice these cuts to get perfect at them as they are crucial in chip carving.

The most essential part of chip carving is selecting the right wood piece for your models. This will help you to craft your art more smoothly.

While there are other types of cuts that exist in chip carving, mastering these first will make everything else be much easier.

Enjoy Your Chip Carving!

This was our top 7 tips to improve your chip carving abilities. We hope you found this article useful and wish you a great time mastering the art of chip carving.

Martin Swizz

Hi! This is Martin, I like to research, experiment, and learn new things related to wood carving and other kinds of woodworking.

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