Wood carving can be a very relaxing and fun hobby if you know what you’re doing. Sculpting is not an easy skill to learn, and knowing how to use your tools right can go a long way in making that learning process easier. The quality of your tools can only go so far to make things easy, you must know how to hold your tools properly as well.
In this article you’ll learn how to hold your tools in the two commonly used grip methods in wood carving. These grips ensure maximum efficiency by providing you with better control when carving.
Basic Grips On Wood Carving Tools
I use one of these two grips according to what I’m doing in a particular carving situation. I swap between these two hand positions continuously and without thinking.
One thing that you need to understand about using these grip methods is that you need to switch between them when carving. Just using one grip technique to carve a whole project will be tiresome and very difficult, if not impossible.
These grips vary in technique but stick to three fundamental principles. They are as follows:
- Both hands need to be on the tool: You will need one hand to grip the handle while the other one will be gripping the blade of the tool.
- Both hands need to work simultaneously: Both grips require synchronized usage of both hands. Unless you’re doing so and focusing on the motions of each hand at a time, you will only have partial control.
- The hand holding the blade of the tool needs to partially touch the surface: When carving something intricate you need to have proper grip control. By holding the hand partially against the carving surface allows you to have better grip control.
While I’ll cover the basic techniques, all of our hands and muscle controls are individual. You will need to play around with what you’ve got, and of course, practice until handling the tools this way becomes second nature. Use a clean, flat board of wood that is easily carved for practicing. To begin with, work across the grain; you’ll find the wood shavings simply fall off.
Learning these techniques might be easy for some while difficult for others. Don’t get discouraged if your progress is slow and keep practicing. With enough practice, the grips will become second nature to you.
If you’re a complete beginner and don’t know much more about wood carving tools and their uses on different Projects. Then you should read our article on All the Log carving tools a Professional woodcarver use in day to day life.
Low Angle Grip On Wood Carving Tools
The first grip technique that you’ll learn is the low angle grip. In this technique you control the forward movements of the running cut. This technique also allows you to control the shape of the carving. The main advantage of using low angle grip is that it allows you to make consistent lines and grooves. As a result, the quality of your carvings is greatly enhanced.
If you’re naturally ambidextrous, then you’ll have an easy time learning this technique since it involves moving both hands simultaneously left to right. If not, then you’ll have to learn how to use both hands at the same time which will require a lot of practice. When practicing this technique, keep your elbows tucked in and move your hands using the full weight of your body
1. First hold the tool firmly with one hand where the blade of the tool joins the handle, usually the part of the handle between the ferule and shoulder of a carving tool. Your little finger will point towards the cutting edge, your hand partially touching the blade while your thumb and the rest of the fingers wrap around the handle.
2. Extend your thumb along the handle to improve control over the tool.
3. Rest your forearm on the wood’s surface as it will allow for more stability when carving.
4. Use your other hand to grip the handle however you see fit. Choose the most natural and comfortable grip since this hand will be pushing the blade.
5. Now comes the nuanced part of the technique- controlling the blade and depth of the tool. The secret lies in counteracting the forward push of the arm holding the handle with the arm holding the blade. The friction caused by the push and pull effect allows you to control it’s movement and cut in a control manner safely.
Here’s a simple instruction set for practice that will allow you to understand and comprehend the principle of low angle grip easily. For this exercise, you will be using a V-tool or a narrow deep gouge.
1. Use low angle grip to hold the V-tool or gouge as instructed above.
2. Start carving a simple groove that is shallow and straight on the opposite direction of where you’re standing. Once you reach the far end and can’t extend your arms any more, lower the handle of the V-tool/gouge and exit the groove. Focus on controlling the start and stop point of the V-tool/gouge while maintaining a constant depth.
3. Run another groove a little to one side, trying to copy the first exactly. Being able to copy the line is a demonstration of tool control, which is your aim of course. Create a copy of the first groove a little to one side it.
4. Repeat this process a couple of times. Push and resist with both hands at the same time while relaxing your shoulders. Keep practicing until you can carve the grooves with minimum effort. Reaching consistency before moving to the next step is crucial.
5. Now comes the hard part. When you did the first practice run, like most people, you probably did it using your dominant right hand for the pushing. Now reverse the sides and practice pushing the tool with your non-dominant hand. This will be quite difficult to master, but the long-term payoff will be worth it.
6. Put your right hand on the blade of the V-tool/groove and carve a line from left to right. The first couple of times will feel awkward, repeat the process a few times to get familiar with the sensation.
7. Swap the tool to your right hand again and carve a line right to left. Make five grooves like this before switching to your left hand. Keep repeating until you can carve the grooves effortlessly.
8. Once you’ve mastered the basic cut, try your hand at creating short, delta-like grooves. The main principle is using a 60 degree V-tool to create shallow cuts that gradually become deeper as it gets to the end. The carving motion should be smooth with the pressure increasing gradually as you raise the hand. To stop, resist with the hand holding the blade.9. The wood wedges that curl up as you cut the wooden surface needs to be cleaned out properly using a skew chisel or knife. Cut them off at the same 60 degree angle like the tool for a smooth finished look.
10. Once you have mastered straight lines, it’s time to master curved lines. To practice using the low angle grip for this purpose, use the V-tool/gouge to run a curving line in a clockwise fashion across the surface. Keep repeating until you can make a perfect circle.
11. Now try doing the same thing counter-clockwise to make cuts in the opposite direction. This is where practicing pushing the handle with both hands will come in handy. Without arm control, you will have to move around the carving surface in an awkward manner.
12. Keep practicing these techniques until all the range of motions feels natural to you. Once you’ve mastered the low angle grip, time to learn the high angle grip.
High Angle Grip On Wood Carving Tools
While the low angle grip focuses on how to hold your tool properly horizontally, the high angle grip focuses on how to hold your tool properly vertically. This grip technique serves the same purpose of giving you control over the depth of the cut.
The grip can be a bit difficult to learn at first since the hand positions aren’t natural unlike the low angle grip. But on the upside, you won’t need to swap the tool between hands for ease of control.
1. Hold a gouge firmly with your non-dominant hand on the handle and position it perpendicular to the carving surface
2. To connect the tool and the carving surface, tuck the middle finger of your dominant hand on the bevel of the gouging tool with the tip of the finger touching the surface. Use the ring and little fingers to support the middle finger and place the heel of your hand on the wooden surface.
3.Use the thumb and remaining free finger of the dominant hand to grip the blade to maximize control.
1. Force the cutting edge into the wood pushing down the hand holding the handle with the weight of your shoulders. The resulting effect is known as the sweep of the gouge.
2. Once you have made the first cut, pull back a bit and advance the cutting edge a bit along the cut before making the second stab. To ensure that you don’t plough the wood you need to lift the leading corner of the cutting edge from the groove.
3. If you try to make the cutting edge of the blade make a complete circle, you need to adjust your fingers. The arm holding the blade needs to be flipped as you carve, which will change the support from the middle finger to the back of the finger in the groove. Using both hands, use this angle to rotate the tool. This traditional technique is very common across the globe.
4. Keep practicing making circles clockwise and clockwise in the same way you did for the low angle grip. Once the hand and finger motions become familiar, you’ll find that controlling the tool will become much easier. Using this grip angle, you will be able to make cuts greater than 60°. To make full use of this grip angle, you need to ensure that you have well developed gripping muscles. The gripping muscle of your hand rests between your index finger and thumb. This allows you to hold the tool in the dagger grip for extended periods of time. The power of the push in this technique comes from your shoulder as opposed the full body in the low angle grip.
To improve your gripping power, try to hold the tool like a compass, with the handle angled out and the point centered on your work. Use your thumb to push the blade while the other hand rotates the angle. You’ll notice that most wood carvers have well-developed gripping muscles from years of practice.
5. When practicing the high angle grip, use the corners of the gouge to clean the bottom of the cut in one scooping motion. A fishtail gouge is the best for this purpose, but regular gouges do the job perfectly fine as well.
Putting the Grips Together
Try mastering the use of both these grips by doing some light ornamental carving on wooden surfaces like flowers, starts, petals and other simple patterns. Create the baseline by creating the stems or outlines with the v-tools and add smaller details as your carving skills get better. Try to get all the lines to flow smoothly and make the cuts clean so the details stand out. Doing so will allow you to master both these techniques quickly and efficiently in a matter of weeks instead of months.
Use the Right Holding Accessories
Achieving total manual control can take a lot of time and practice. Until you reach that point, it’s best that you use holding accessories that allows the carving surface to be stable. Using clamps and vises are very commonly among both new and seasoned woodcarvers, and having the right carving bench can go a long way in helping you learn the techniques faster. You can start taking off the training wheels once you have enough confidence in your skill.
Final Thoughts Now that you have learned the theoretical nuances of how to hold your wood carving tools, it’s time to apply them in practice. Here are our 10 wood carving projects that you can try as a beginner. As mentioned before don’t get discouraged if your progress is slow and instead focus on enjoying the process.