Carving In The Round For Beginners

Mastering carving in the round is in every woodcarver’s dream come true. With these very realistic 3 dimensional carvings, you can get as creative as your wood carving abilities allow you to, there are no limits to how astonishing you can express yourself with carving in the round.

Just so that we are on the same page, here is the definition of carving in the round:

Carving in the round is a style of wood carving that creates a representation of a real-life scene/item in 3 dimensions. These types of carvings can be viewed from any direction which makes them by far the most realistic wood carvings. Examples of carving in the round are wooden statues, gnomes, and carved animals.

There are a lot of things that make carving in the round unique and different from other styles of wood carving that you may have tried or heard of. From the required tools to beginner projects and the first time trying it, in this article we will cover all the basics you need to know if you are new to carving in the round.

How To Carve In The Round For The First Time

Carving in the round is the most difficult way to carve. It’s definitely a good idea that you have past experience with carving before attempting carving in the round. With that said, don’t let anything stop you from trying it early out of curiosity

If you have experience with relief carving this will be quite helpful for carving in the round. Ratios and measurements are not easy to get right from the first time, so relief carvers have a slight advantage as their 3D vision trained with past projects.

To start with you need to get a solid piece of wood that will fit the dimensions of your carving. This kind of wood is not easy to come by or can be pretty expensive. If you are looking for a less pricy alternative you can glue wooden boards together, this works surprisingly well, if done right. Check out our tutorial on how to glue boards together here.

Now that you have the wood, you need to make some drawings. Don’t let that scare you if you are not the most artistic person ever, all you need is to mark the dimensions of you carving on all the 6 sides of your wooden block. To get the dimensions right you can first draw on graph paper as well as use measuring calipers or even a pointing machine if you have one.

Getting the drawings right is very important. The way that we do it is by first getting the ratios right on graph paper and then transfer the pattern onto the wood. There is no perfect way of doing it, but some ways are better than others, so be sure to try out the one which leads to the most accurate results for you.

After you have your dimensions right it’s time to get to the first stage of shaping.

1. The First Stage Of Shaping

After you drew your design on the wood and have a good understanding of the proportions for your carving, it’s time to get rid of the unnecessary wood.

Depending on the size of the carving there are a few ways that you can do it with.

The idea of the first stage of shaping is to remove all wood that is placed in between the outline of the carving and the edge of the wooden block. A universal for all sizes tool is a gouge, however, there can be easier ways to do it depending on the size of your carving.

A good mindset for this stage is to imagine you want to remove enough wood to start shaping the silhouette next, but not remove enough to be able to do any detailing as this will result in a very “squared” shape of your carving.

If your carving is of medium size (something the size of a big watermelon) and you have a bandsaw in your workshop you can use that to very efficiently cut around the profile leaving very little wood to manually remove.

For extra-large carvings, you can use an axe to chop off some of the wood before using a gouge to further shape it.

As for small carvings, a gouge will be enough straight away, but be very patient as it is easy to chop off an extra bit if the carving is small.

2. The Second Stage of Shaping

The second stage of shaping when carving in the round is the most important and requires a lot of your patience. It is very important to emphasize the fact that it takes a long time to shape it right and rushing this part is a bad idea.

What you want to do now is to complete the outline of your carving. Doing this without tools will be hard, so we recommend using measuring calipers to get a better understanding of the ratios for your carving.

If you want to use something extremely precise you can use a pointing machine. We mentioned it before in the article, it is a very good although a hard way to measure dimensions. Read more about what a pointing machine is and how to use it for your carving here.

Shaping the outline of the wood is not easy. It will come with practice, but here are a few tips for your first time. For this stage, you are still using a gouge and a mallet.

  • Start shaping the area closer to the outline, not from the middle going of the carving.
  • Make sure the wood is stable, preferably clamped to your workbench
  • When chipping off wood make sure you chip off the wood right next to the outline, preferably not chipping the outline itself.
  • Learn how to use calipers the right way, and use them as much as possible.
  • If you are carving a real-life item, have it nearby to imagine the ratios better

You will now have a pretty nice outline of the item, and most of the time others can guess what it is that you are carving. Just like the image featured on top of the article, you can clearly see it’s a lion’s head. Of course, there are a lot of details to be added but the silhouette is shaping really well.

3. Adding Details To Your Carving

As you may imagine, your carving is a little edgy from you chopping off parts of it with a gouge and mallet earlier. So before you can add details to your carving you need to prepare it a little more.

To get the carving nice and round and ready the detailing you can use surform tools to get rid of the sharp edges that you have on your carving. This will make adding details much easier and they will look a little more hyper-realistic.

Using a surform tool you need to make sure you know exactly how to use it. First of all, it will be a catastrophe if you will take too much material off, so make sure you only take off the top layer. A surform tool is not a saw, so the motion is different, instead of cutting down on one spot, you should try a replicate a motion of a violinist changing strings and “rounding” your carving in such a way.

This is not a mandatory step to make before adding details, but it will significantly improve the quality of your wood carving.

Now that it comes to details, try to bring as many details as possible to the carving. When carving in the round you must always aim towards making your project as realistic as possible, and adding a lot of details is key to that.

4. Finish For Carving In The Round

Hardwood does not look best when it is carved without a finish. So the final step of your wood carving is, as usual, applying a finish.

Simply sanding the wood will most of the time be enough for a sufficient finish. Of course, you don’t want to carve away the details you added so see for yourself if it is suitable. You can also burnish the carving instead.

When sanding, it’s always best to sand in the direction of the grain as it will make the carving look the best and is also slightly easier.

Adding varnish is optional, but we like to add an extra coat of protection so the carving has a longer lifespan. Deft spray is actually a pretty easy and nice way to finish any carving.

Required Tools For Carving In The Round

Carving in the round is a long process that requires a lot of tools to make. In this section of the article, we will give you some of our recommendations for the tools we think you should use when carving in the round.

Carving In The Round Gouge

You most likely already have your favorite gouge and maybe even gouges. However, in case you are looking to expand your collection take a look at the gouge below

This Crown 231W 1.25-Inch Roughing Out Gouge is very pleasant to use for carving in the round. It does require a few extra sharpenings than some other gouges, but apart from that, it is perfect to use for carvers of any level of expertise.

Carving in the round mallet

If you need a nice heavy mallet you then we have something for you right here.

Best Surform Tools

Carving in the round uses surform tools that now all carvers have in their workshop.

So here is a list of the our favorite ones that you can get:

What you see below is a surform tool that is best for 3-dimensional carvings. It is very comfortable to use due to its shape making off angles much easier

This tool is usually a little more expansive than the regular surform tool however a lot of woodcarvers prefer it for its ability to work on very specific areas and be much easier to use. Earlier in the article, we described the motion that needs to be used for this tool, following that advice with this shape is also much more convenient.

Regular surform tool

This is a basic tool that you can use to round off edges for your wood carving. The Stanley 21-296 Surform Plane, Regular Cut Blade comes at a very affordable price and is a nice tool to upgrade your workshop collection.

In The Round Beginner Projects

For your first project, you have quite a few options. You want it to be simple and probably not too big in scale.

With that said, if the item you wanted to carve is not in the below list, don’t let that stop you. It will still be good practice and you can always carve it again in a year or so when you get more familiar with carving in the round.

So, here is the list of the best beginner carving in the round projects:

  • Santa
  • Gnome
  • Fish
  • Penguin
  • Bear
  • Apple/pear
  • Snowmen

For more ideas with tutorials you can look into the following book.

This book has 7 projects that increase in complexity. It is also very good for someone who wants to learn key concepts of carving in the round in more detail than discussed in this article. Highly recommended, well written and easy to read.

Carving In The Round Ideas and Inspiration

You may want to find some inspiration of already great carving in the round project out there.

Finding something cool such as the video below is actually a great way to motivate yourself to get better at this very complicated but very beautiful style of wood carving.

Take a look at this short 4-minute video of a howling wolf being carved, it is very inspiring and well made. On this note, we would like to also thank you for reading this article and wish you the best of luck in carving in the round.

Martin Swizz

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

Recent Posts