Carving Folds In Wood Carving In 3 Steps

Carving wood to look like fabric, loose clothes on a person, in movement figures, wrinkles, cloth folds, or soft falling objects are all the different ways you can make your carving look more realistic or even hyper-realistic.

To carve folds on your carving or make it look like fabric you need to practice your relief abilities and use a realistic model to refer to when carving. As you get better at carving folds you can try carving without the model however this is a step that you should make long after you are comfortable at carving folds.

When you are trying to replicate folds of any kind you must understand its anatomy and study it carefully. The better you can envision a folding on your wood the better you can replicate it in real life. In this article, we will cover the basics of carving folds and how you can get better at them.

Basics of Carving Folds

The first rule of carving folds that you have to follow to get better at it is to pay attention to the material that you are replicating. If you are carving a cloth out of your wood it will be different from carving clothes or curtains.

Play around with the material, see how it acts when you stretch it, does it become thinner? Does the color become lighter? Then make some “raised folds” (Wavy folds like the ones you see on curtains when they are not closing the window) and play around with those.

The purpose of this is to understand the material you are working with. No matter how good you are at replicating models if you don’t know the material that you are working with you are in trouble.

Another thing to keep in mind is whether you are “adding folds” or “carving folds”. There is a significant difference between the two and you must make a clear distinction before following any kind of a tutorial (including ours).

Adding folds to a carving is when you are carving a wooden figure and to add realism to the wood piece you give some extra detail to how some items are in real life. For example, making folds on the clothes of a wooden figure. In this case, you should remember to always add folds after you finish the rest of the carving and not during the shaping stage. We will cover wrinkles and folds on clothing later on in the article

Carving folds is different. When you are carving folds you are taking an abstract or a real-life item and replicating it with all of its waves and details. In this case, you absolutely must pay attention to folds and curves from the very beginning and plan all of them ahead. Above you can see the work of a famous woodcarver Tom Eckert.

Step 1: Find a Model

This may be the most important step that a lot of people miss making everything else ten times harder.

Carving realistic folds requires you to either have a lot of experience in carving folds or replicating a realistic model that will help the folds on your carving follow the laws of physics and not be random.

If you are carving folds (not adding folds to the carving, read above to see what the difference is) then finding a model is most likely pretty easy. You can take a real-life item, such as a blanket and replicate, place it in a position where it will not move (close the doors!) and proceed to step 2.

If using fabric you don’t need as a model, spray it with lacquer to keep it still until you draw the design onto your wood (step 2). Make sure to be safe and wear protective equipment when using lacquer.


This also works if you are carving abstract folds. Abstract folds are a carving that does not necessarily represent a cloth/blanket but still has the curves and folds that fabric would have, therefore these rea life items can be used as a model for abstract work.

As for carvings where you will be adding folds, such as wrinkles clothes or falling objects, things become a little more complicated.

Unless you can have someone pose and not move for hours in the same clothes that your carving is wearing, You must create a clay model. It is important you do not skip this step and try to freestyle because while you may achieve an “okish” look on your carving, creating a clay model is not as hard as it sounds and it will make your carving 10 times more realistic!

So, to create a clay model you must first accurately measure the size of your carving and stick to the same measurements (or ratios) when creating the clay model.

Just like you are adding wrinkles to your carving after you carved the main body, you should add clothing to your clay model after you carved its anatomic structure. Add a thin layer of clay on top of what you built, form it to look like clothes on your carving, and only then start cutting out the wrinkles.

When creating a clay model you must always keep in mind the anatomy of the figure. Instead of focusing on adding more details, you should focus on bringing realism to your folds. Sometimes after you finish the clay model you may find a lot of great details but overall the model looks slightly off… This means that the folds are not realistic enough, and you should work out figuring out a way to change it and fix them.

Step 2: Plan Your Work

Now that you have a model and you have a rough idea of what you will be doing, you need to very carefully plan your work. This can be done in two ways:

  • Method 1: Using a pen/marker
  • Method 2: Mentally planning your work

The first method is much more effective as you will have to use less dimensional imagination when carving. However it is not always possible, therefore if method one doesn’t work, method two will do the job, except half as good.

When planning your work with a marker (method 1) most carver sketch the higher areas of the wood and carve out everything in between. If you are working with smaller bends then you may choose to do the opposite.

As for methods two, you should probably just take a few minutes and imagine exactly how you want things to look on the carving. Have a pencil nearby to mark some measurements or lines if you find a few suitable spots to help you carve.

To conclude it’s just important to highlight the effect that planning has on your work. Of course, you can jump straight into carving without anything but if you are going for the best result you should imagine every single detail in your head before you put it on the wood. This will be the difference between a good and a great carving.

Step 3: Carve & Sand

Finally, with all the preparation behind we start carving out the beautiful bends and folds of our carving.

If you are whittling make sure to use some protective gloves and if you are power carving don’t forget your respirator.

The first thing to keep in mind is to be careful when taking off large portions of wood. You can always take off more later, but you can’t stick wood back on.

Although you have sketched out the carving don’t forget to use your clay or real life model if it is still possible! Sketches are there to help you as much as possible, but nothing will match carving from a real life model.

There is no wrong way of carving out the wood, but we would recommend you do it in two stages, first carve out the easy bits and then smooth out and add little details which are harder.

When you think you finished carving out the wood, do a similar examination as you did in step one, and look if there is anything “off”. If there is try to make that area more realistic if possible, potentially deepen the folds and make some thin/thick contrasts of the wood in the fold.

Afterward comes the part finishing stage. Depending on your carving there are many different ways you can finish. Usually sanding and covering the carving with lacquer or oil does the job, unless you have a lot of small details in which case you probably know how to finish the carving yourself.

Examples Of Folds In Wood Carving

Next, we have some examples of start to finish works that serve as great learning material. You can see carvings being made from start to finish by different carvers, visually seeing the work may help you get more confident and understand the process a little better.

The video below is an example of a very nice carving with a background voiceover to follow you up with what is happening. This project could have been improved if step 1 was not skipped and the pattern was taken from real sand somewhere from the beach. If you look at the end result, although it looks great, it lacks a little realism, a model would have definitely helped with that. Otherwise, a very good carving and a very helpful video.

This very entertaining and fun video below is the perfect example of carving with a model, as you can in the first few seconds of the video, this carver sprayed a cloth with lacquer to keep it still as he transfers the pattern onto wood!

Below is an example of a very beautiful abstract carving, this is a very advanced project but it is very inspiring if you are looking to create something complicated with the use of a lot of power tools.

Wrinkles and Folds In Clothing

Smaller folds that you add to the carving are a little different from the videos you have seen above, however, the idea of carving folds is still similar, and the only thing that changes is the scale and the fact that folds are no longer the main theme of the carving, instead, they are only a decoration and extra attention to detail.

The video below will show you a full start-to-finish carving. An important thing to keep in mind that carving such realistic details as wrinkles on a wooden figure is not easy, and takes a while to master. Therefore it’s absolutely normal that your first few times and in most cases your first few months of carving wrinkles will not look as good as you may want them to.

With that said, any details are learnable so within a year you will master it will become easy as you slowly understand the ratios, dimensions, and required realism that the carving is getting.

We hope you found this article and the examples included in it useful. Be sure to surf some more around our website for some interesting articles to learn something new from!

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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