Power Carving Vs. Hand Carving. Everything To Know About Both

Wood carving has many different types and styles, all of which can be categorized as either power carvings or hand carvings (whittling). Whether you want to learn more about the two types of carvings or choose the one that most appeals to you, below we will cover everything you need to know about both of them!

The difference between hand carving and power carving is primarily in the tools used to carve the wood. When electro powered rotary tools such as the Dremel are used, it is categorized as power carving. On the other side, when traditional, non-electric tools such as knives, chisels, gouges, and mallets are used, such carvings are considered to be hand-carved.

While both can be done simultaneously, most carvers specialize and stick to one of the two types of carvings. In this article, we will be covering the key differences, pros, cons, and all the sub-types of each art.

Pros and Cons of Power Carving vs Hand Carving

It’s hard to say that power carving is better than hand carving or vice versa as both are very different in almost everything.

With that said, both types of carving have their strong and weak sides, so here are the pros and cons of hand carving vs. power carving:

Pros of power carving

  • One of the biggest pros that power carving has is that the tools allow the carver to carve much faster and with less effort. The Dremel 3000 is probably our favorite tool of all time, tools such as that, allow carvers to carve with little physical effort and make carving after carving in fairly little time.
  • Power wood carvings have the potential to be much larger than hand-carved carvings. There are two reasons that, first of all, power carving tools such as the oscillating tool manages to cut through much larger pieces of wood for initial shaping. This process may be too hard or too time-consuming when done only with hand-carving tools.

    The second reason is the same as the first advantage of power carving that we mentioned. Power carving is simply faster, therefore while it is possible to carve a 2-meter tall carving with just hand-carving tools, the time it will take will be too long for it to be a casual everyday project. As for power carver, as long as there is enough wood, there is no limit to how large the carvings can get.
  • Multifunctional tools are another advantage of power carving. Most rotary tools have different attachments (called bits) that are put on and off the tool. This makes it both cheaper to replace broken tools and easier to work with. On the other side, hand-carvers require a whole workshop filled with tools that fit in a small case for power carvers.

Pros of hand carving

  • One of the greatest things about hand-carving is the diversification and different styles that are present in the art. For example, chip carving is very different from whittling, and relief is totally different from spoon carving. The learning curve never stops, and the potential of things to can carve is very large.

    If you would like to know all the 9 types of carving, check out our article describing each and every one of them. There are, in fact more than 9 styles of carving, however, the most significant ones that we believe you should know about are present in that article.
  • If power carvers get to carve large sculptures, the hand-carving game is all about detail. By using chisels and gouges with a mallet, a good woodcarver can create the tiniest of details and realistically represent them on the carving.

    Power carvers, even if they wanted to, can not represent such accurate and detailed carvings even if they put the time and effort into it, simply because power carving tools are less precise than whittling knives.
  • Whittling is, most of the time, less dangerous. This statement is quite accurate as, of course, when working with sharp objects, all sorts of injuries can happen; however, 90% of the injuries during hand-carving are usually because of a wrong grip and are nothing more than a cut on the finger. Still, You can decrease the chance of cutting your finger by learning the right techniques to hold and use the hand carving tools.
  • Lastly, hand carving can be done almost anywhere. You can take a whittling knife and a piece of basswood to the beach and carve a gnome under the shade.

Cons of power carving

  • One of the bigger disadvantages of power carving is that unfortunately, it is quite easy to make mistakes. Although there is often something you can do, little splits and cracks and inaccurate depth are an often and recurring problem for power carvers.

    With that said, this is mostly a difficulty for beginners. After a certain point, mistakes become less frequent when power carving
  • From a health point of view, power carving is not ideal. Very often, you will have to work in a mask to prevent inhaling little dust particles, while a good mask such as the Kischers anti-dust mask will save you from 100% of the dust particles as well as painting gas, some particles will still be inhaled if you take off your mask in the same area even long after carving.

    You can prevent that by changing clothes, having good ventilation, and always wearing a mask when carving. However, most carvers don’t do that, or stop paying so much attention to such safety after a few months of carving.
  • Power carving is much less relaxing than hand-carving. From loud noise to wearing extra equipment and of course constant concentration in order to avoid any mistakes with very strong and dangerous powered tools.

Cons of hand carving

  • Perhaps a large disadvantage of hand carving is a fairly long learning process. Unfortunately, with whittling, most carvings at the start will be rather unimpressive. It takes time before getting to a high enough level to be able to express high-quality detail in the wood.
  • Carving is physically tiring. While short carvings don’t take much effort carving in the round and taking off large blocks of wood will get you tired fairly quickly. A tip for having more endurance when carving is lowering your carving bench by a little bit. You can read more about it in the article Ideal Dimensions For A Carving Bench.
  • At last, hand carving requires a lot of patience. The work is done fairly slowly, with fewer carvings being made on average than with power tools. It is no surprise that taking off wood by hand takes longer than with a drill. However, some may say that the results also differ.

Types Of Hand Carving Projects Vs Power Carving Projects

To the left, you see a prime example of what a power tool carving may look like. These some of the larger, wooden statues that can be made with power carving tools. Of course, very often, when power carving, small projects are made, however, the typical ideal project for power carvers usually looks like in the image above, a large, proud, and strong wooden carving.

On the other side, you see a hand-carved spirit which is one of the types of hand carvings popular all around the world. Such a project has a lot of detail and technique that was employed to create this wood carving. That and many other carvings of a similar size and attention to detail is an excellent representation of common hand-carving projects.

If you would like to learn how to carve such a beautiful spirit, you can do so by reading our article on carving spirits and faces.

Final Thoughts

To conclude all of the differences between power carving and traditional hand carving, hand carving is a slower paced way of carving wood that concentrates on detail has a lot of different styles in which you can express the art. Power carving on the other side is a more modern approach that helps you carve great projects with optimal time and effort.

Thank you for reading our article, we hope you enjoyed the differences between hand carving and power carving and learned a lot of new things. Be sure to surf a little more of the website if such content interests you.

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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