How to Smooth A Wood Carving

When you’re in the process of mastering wood carving, one of the biggest factors that helps determine your skill level and progress is the surface texture finish of your wood carving. One of the core and fundamental principles of wood carving, the smoothness, and polish of the surface will determine the final look of your wood carving project.

Working on the surface of the wood enhances the look of the piece by manipulating the way light and shadows impact the appearance of your carving. This article will provide you with an in-depth breakdown of how to smooth a wood carving to achieve the best possible surface finish for your wood carving project.


To smooth a wood carving, the primary tool that you’ll be using is fine quality sandpaper. Before starting to work on smoothing the surface, make sure there aren’t any gouges, cuts, or uneven areas on your wood carving. If you skip this process, you’ll find that the imperfections that haven’t been corrected will become more pronounced.

One of the most important things to do before getting to work with the sandpaper is segmenting the working surface and the connecting points. These are not physical segmentations, but estimates of which segment you should work on next after the previous one. The most organic way to gain this skill is by practicing on animal wood carvings.

By working on a wood carving that will intuitively guide you from top to bottom, you will able to differentiate which angle and side of the carving flows naturally when performing grit. By breaking up the task in small segments you also get the chance to make adjustments if necessary. Use a pencil to outline the points to make things easier for you to follow when starting out learning smoothing.

Ways to Smooth a Wood Carving

There are primarily two ways through which you can smooth a wood carving. The first technique involves using sand paper. The second technique, on the other hand, is more difficult because it involves using a mallet and chisel. Both of these techniques will be discussed below.


If you’re going for the easy way, which involves using sandpaper, make sure the quality is at least 240 grit. If the quality is any less than that then it makes the work more difficult depending on the wood you’ve chosen to work with.

The choice matters a lot since some woods sand better than others. Certain types of wood such as basswood or tupelo tend to fuzz out if sanded while others such butternut or walnut responds very well to sanding. Wood that has a high grain count can be manipulated to highlight and create a focus on their grain patterns.   

As you progress with the sanding process from top to bottom, try to gradually add finer layers of sandpaper in the bottom half. Sanded and unsanded parts of a wood carvings surface is usually reserved for advanced designs to intentionally draw a contrast. If not done properly, it can look gaudy and awkward. So it’s usually recommended that you sand the whole piece if you decide to smooth it out.

When sanding your wood carving, take your time and work with gentle strokes, If you sand the surface of your wood carving with excessive pressure, it can leave scratches on the wood grain, ruining the look that you were working so hard to achieve.

When sanding, dust the part you’re working on repeatedly so that the wood grains don’t scar the surface in the process. If your carving utilizes deep cuts, it can be difficult to remove wood grains from the deep edges. You can remedy this problem by using a stiff oil painting brush or hard bristle toothbrush to dust those hard to reach corners. Focus on sanding the grain of the wood to prevent it from raising.

An effective way to sand those same hard to reach corners is by wrapping the paper around a narrow object such as a toothpick and use it to smooth the crevices and joints if your wood carving. This allows you to smooth the surface properly which cannot be done with your fingers only.   


This second method, known as scraping, is usually preferred by wood carvers who have sunk a significant amount of time and effort in learning the art. While sanding is a good solution for smoothing your wood carving, you don’t have enough flexibility to work on finer details on the wood grain. Scraping the surface of the wood with chisels and mallets can help you to do just that provided you train hard.

To refine the crevice and joints of the carving outline on the surface, you will find that a carved gouge produces the best results. You can use it to remove excessive wood in the shallow cuts, giving your wood curving a clean surface. You can use a bench knife to smooth out the edges if you want as well. As before, make sure to dust the surface repeatedly as you work.

Once you’re done with the smoothing process, you should expose it directly to a light source (like a lamp) and turn it around in all directions to see if there are any imperfect areas on the surface left that needs smoothing. If you have used pencils to outline the smoothing route on your wood carving, they shouldn’t be visible anymore once you’re done.

Pencil marks can be tough to hide if you’re opting not to paint the wood carving, so ensure that you work along the route you traced with the sandpaper or chisel for removing all traces and marks of graphite.

Getting into tight spots

While using sandpaper to smooth your wood carving, you might find yourself repeatedly changing position and angles. To reduce the unnecessary movement and make things easy, folding your sandpaper properly is the best option for any woodcarver, whether novice or experienced. The basic rules for folding the sandpaper using the wood carving’s contour is quite easy and universally applicable.

First, you need to fold the whole length of sandpaper over at a 90 degree angle following the contour of the wood carving. Once folded in a 90 degree angle, fold the sandpaper again so it meets the horizontal edge. Fold it up at a 45 degree angle before folding it back down for one last time around the bottom at a 90 degree angle. The advantage of folding your sandpaper this way is that it adds additional pressure.

The trick is very simple- fold a piece of sandpaper in the same contour as the

Other useful materials

Aside from sandpaper, chisels, mallets and gouges, there are also a couple of additional tools and equipment that can help out the smoothing process.

One viable alternative to sanding hard to reach corners and crevices of your wood carving are flap wheels. The only thing you need to keep in mind is that if not used properly, flap wheels can leave grooves on the surface of your wood carving.

For sanding undulations and curves on your wood carving, softback sanding sponges are a very good option. These sponges are good if you’re working on wood carving projects that have a large surface. The disadvantage of these sponges is that they clog quickly, and need to be dusted frequently when being used. You can also opt for miniature sanding discs which come in many shapes and sizes.


Smoothing your wood carving project is the best way to give it the polished look that you have in mind. The process is comparatively easy to pick up, but mastering it will require a lot of practice. So make use of what you learned in this article to make your learning

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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