Making a full-time income from something that you love is never easy and wood carving isn’t entirely your conventional business venture. For carvers, juggling between having the projects pay for themselves, and earning an income from them becomes even more challenging.
To earn a full-time income from woodcarving, you’ll need to begin by identifying the carving technique you are best at. Buy the necessary carving tools and the best wood for your pieces. Then, create your figurines and reach out to potential customers through social media, friends, or family.
This article is divided into two sections, the first section is about selling you carvings starting locally and continuing globally, and the second part of the article is about teaching wood carving and giving private and group lessons. You can click here if you want to scroll down straight to the second section where we discuss growing an audience of people interested in carving.
In the first part of the article, we’ll take you through the steps of taking your wood carving venture from just a hobby or part-time gig or even a full-time source of income. You’ll learn:
- The different types of wood carving techniques
- The best wood for making your pieces
- How to select your tools of trade
- How to market and sell your creations
Choose Your Preferred Type of Wood Carving
As you start turning your wood carving interest into a business venture, you’ll need to differentiate between the different wood carving types. There are several of them, and each requires different techniques and tools.
One of the essential steps in setting up your wood carving business is identifying your niche and bettering your skillset in it. The type of wood carving technique you decide to major in will depend on your level of expertise. Some methods are more beginner-friendly, while others require you to be an advanced carver. Therefore, it’s important to understand the different types of wood carving, what they are best for, and which best suits you.
This is one of the oldest wood carving techniques, and you’ll right away differentiate it from other types. Woodcarvers who use whittling carve out products that have sharp and pointy edges. You may also recognize whittling products by their angles and complex structures.
Carvers use a whittling knife to achieve these structures. The technique involves using knife strokes to cut through the wood and achieve sharp angles. It is ideal for smaller designs and for woodcarvers who are only getting started and wouldn’t want to spend a fortune on the craft.
This wood carving technique is popular when making hanging art or carving out designs on doors. Relief carving requires that you work with a small area instead of using the whole material. As such, the technique is well-suited for carving sculptures out of wood.
Relief carving is a bit more complicated and is better suited for advanced carvers. If you’re looking to make ornamental figurines and caricatures, you’d better get practicing so you can master relief carving.
Chip carving is almost similar to relief carving. However, unlike the latter technique, chip carving requires that you use different tools to remove wood chips from the surface you’re working on. Chip carving uses a geometrical pattern and is the most popular wood carving type. To achieve the best results, you should use a chisel to make the patterned and textured decorative wood items.
Carving in the Round
Carving in the round is one of the easiest types of wood carving and is an ideal starting place for beginners. To better understand this technique, you can think of it as a combination of whittling and relief carving. It produces smooth and polished surfaces like relief carving. However, relief carving only creates flat items that you can see from the head-on position. Carving in the round will result in figurines that you can look at from whichever way.
The letter carving technique is almost similar to chip carving. It involves using a small chisel or a gouge tool to cut into the surface of a woodblock. This type is ideal for both beginner and expert woodcarvers. However, if you haven’t had too much practice, it’d be best first to use scrap wood. You can also try sketching your design on the wood surface before you start carving.
For each of the above styles of wood carving we have a much more detailed article. If you know what your strongest carving style is, head over to the related article to find more details that will help you with your income inthe future:
Get Affordable Wood Carving Tools
Every workman requires a set of tools to get their work done. When it comes to wood carving or any other craft, you may find yourself collecting too many tools. As a rule of thumb, always ensure that you only buy the tools that you need.
Whether you’ve been carving wood for quite some time or are just getting started, you have an idea of the most vital tools. Your carving studio should, at least, include a pair of safety glasses, a saw, a drill, clamps, and a sander.
As for the actual carving tools, the following are the most basic for any wood carving venture:
Most carvers will get a chip carving knife as their first tool and in good measure. For most beginners, chip carving is the most straightforward wood carving technique and works excellent on softwood like basswood and butternut. Besides, chipping knives will help you even out any bumpy surfaces on the wood and smooth out any small sliver of wood. Therefore, your tool kit should include several knives.
Almost everyone who works with wood art will have several chisels in their studio. Chisels come in different shapes and sizes, and most carvers use them together with hammers or mallets when chipping out wood. Unlike other tools such as knives and gouges, chisels are used mainly for wood chipping.
A gouge is a curved carving tool that carvers use to scoop out material from the surface of the wood they’re working on. There are different types of gouges, and they follow the shape of the suffix. For example, V gouges are V-shaped. Usually, gouges are characterized by the length and how it curves. Therefore, both beginners and experts have a range to choose from. However, the U gouge is the best one for beginner carvers.
These essential tools will help you get started, and you can always upgrade later. Besides, if you’re using guides for your woodworking projects, you’ll likely have a recommended set of tools that you need.
When buying your wood carving tools, go for the cheaper options. Most of them end up lasting for years, including those that didn’t cost you a fortune. If you’re working on a shoe-string budget, you can even try getting some second-hand tools. Craigslist, eBay, and other eCommerce sites are excellent places to get some affordable options.
Once you’ve learned the ropes and know the best tools for your business, you can invest in sturdier tools that’ll cost you more. After one or two projects, you’ll even discover which tools you’re better at using and which ones you don’t need at all.
Find the Best Wood at the Best Prices
The kind of wood you use for carving will determine how the figurines will look like. You can choose to either use hardwood or softwood for your carvings. However, you should be aware that not all wood is excellent for carving.
The wood you use for carving will vary in price depending on whether it is softwood or hardwood. Softwood is easier to work with and is also cheaper. However, if you’re looking to make some carvings that stand out, your best bet would be to use some hardwood. What is more, most people prefer hardwood carvings because of the beautiful finish they provide.
When you’re only getting started, you may not know the best wood to choose from. However, you’ll learn with time which are the best options and how you can carve out exquisite figurines from each kind of wood.
Once you’ve identified the wood you’re going to work with, it’d be best to get a cheap source for the raw material. Start by checking out the lumber yards and big box stores around you. You’ll need a constant supply of the wood, so it’d be best to get a reliable source that doesn’t require you to break the bank.
Here are some of the best types of wood for carving:
Basswood is one of the hardwood types that is very soft, which makes it easier to curve. It has a fine grain to it, and all you need is a whittling knife to make any carvings. Thanks to its soft texture, basswood requires minimum skill and is excellent for beginners. If you’d like to carve out intricate figurines, you can always use a chisel, gouge, or hammer.
Beginners will love basswood because it is quite inexpensive. Although it is not ideal for chip carving, you can use any other wood carving type to make some figurines.
Butternut also has a soft grain, which also makes it easy to carve using a whittling knife. Other than its dark color, butternut is quite similar to basswood. Many woodcarvers use this wood for different kinds of wood art. Its beautiful surface with visible grains makes it excellent for ornamental products.
Aspen is quite similar to pine and other woods used in construction. When compared to butternut and basswood, aspen is harder. However, it is still relatively soft, so carving isn’t such a difficult task. If you’re looking to make more functional and larger objects, aspen is a better bet than the other two. Aspen is also an ideal choice if you’re looking to make some furniture.
White pine is a common choice for both beginner and expert woodcarvers. It is a softwood with a medium grain texture that makes it ideal for whittling. The soft and grainy texture makes it difficult to use chip carving. However, many expert woodcarvers prefer white pine for carving in the round because it is easier to sculpt and shape it whichever way you want.
Black walnut is a popular hardwood among woodcarvers. Although the medium-grain makes it hard to carve, expert carvers can make beautiful products with aesthetically pleasing finishes. The dark brown color of the wood also means that you don’t require too many post-carving finishes.
Black walnut’s hardwood nature makes whittling quite a challenging task. However, with the right tool, you can use any wood carving techniques that you prefer to create a beautiful product.
Other hardwoods such as cherry, sugar maple, white oak, and mahogany make excellent wood art figurines. However, they are hard to carve and may require some expertise. If you’re only getting started on wood carving, we recommend that you save these wood types for later when your carving skills have improved.
Perfect Your Craft
Now that you have tools and wood, it’s time to begin carving items you want to sell.
If you want to earn a full-time income from your wood carving, ensure your pieces are worth whatever price tag you put on them. The only way to achieve this is by perfecting your craft and offering high-quality products.
If you’ve only been carving wood as a hobby, you’ll need to change your mindset and treat it as a business. Invest in yourself and find ways to get better. Wood carving, just like any other skill, requires practice and consistency to get better.
You can google ways to better your craft. Find other people who are doing what you love and build a wood carving community with them. You’ll be surprised at how much you can learn from others. If you wish, you can even take up some projects that challenge your skillset and even try to come up with your own. Just remember to use softwood for experimental projects since it’s easier to use and it’s cheaper.
Even as you experiment, learn, and polish your skills, remember that wood isn’t paper where you can erase any mistakes you make. Therefore, drawing your designs first on the wood before carving it out could help you save time and avoid making mistakes that mess up the entire piece.
Get on the Socials
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade, you know how crucial social media platforms are to any kind of business. Today, both brick and mortar and eCommerce businesses rely on the popular social media platforms for a huge chunk of their business.
If you have the wood carving studio in your garage, chances are that it’s only your neighbors who’ll notice. Getting a more extensive market audience will require that you take some bold steps, one of them being getting accounts for your business on some of the popular platforms. You can get on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, or YouTube. Begin with one or two and add on to your list as you grow.
Having a social media account for your business helps you reach wider audiences. Research shows that more than half of the world uses social media, and you can gain access to these potential customers by having social media accounts for your wood carving business.
Being on social media platforms will help you market your figurines. You can also learn how to use paid advertising and expand your reach to more potential clients in a short period of time.
Additionally, a social media account for your business gives it a human touch. If you already have a website for the company, you probably use a more professional approach for the site. Having different social media accounts for your business helps you interact with potential and existing customers in a more laid-back setting.
Create a Business Website
You’re not just carving wood for fun anymore. You’ve turned it into a business, and nothing spells that better than a professional-looking website.
Although creating a business website isn’t mandatory, we’d recommend that you have one. You can even hold off doing so until the business picks up, and you can meet the site’s cost using the cash you’ll have earned.
Having a business website is crucial to the brand you’re trying to build. You want consumers to identify and relate to your products, so why not use a website to get the word out there? When combined with the right marketing tactics, your website will serve as one of your most significant selling points.
You can use your website for advertising your products both locally and to a broader market. You don’t have to invest so much money, and if you’re only getting started, you can check out some free site options, including WordPress and Wix.
Sell Your Products
Once you’ve carved several figurines, it’s time to start selling.
With a website and social media accounts, it becomes easier to start marketing your products. Another more straightforward way to get your products out there is by getting into a contract with an interior decorator and supplying them with your carvings for their decor projects.
If you’d like to focus on selling your creations on eCommerce stores, one of the best places to get started is Etsy. This platform is home to thousands of people looking to sell their handmade products. Buyers who are looking for unique products often use the platform to search for something worth buying.
If you choose to sell your items on Etsy, invest in good pictures of your carvings. Etsy is a visual platform, and the quality of your photos can either close the sale or make you miss out entirely. A good phone camera can do the trick, so you don’t have to break the bank going for expensive professional photographers when you’re just beginning.
You can also try selling your products on other platforms that attract people looking for decorative items for their homes and other spaces. Handmade Amazon, for example, is quite similar to Etsy, and the best part is that it has way more traffic. The platform also uses SEO tactics, which can help rank your products and ensure your customers see your listings for a particular keyword through a quick search.
Other useful platforms for getting your products out there are Houzz and eBay.
As your business gets traction, you’ll realize that another significant selling point is good old word of mouth. Share your figurines with family and friends and even ask them to commission some pieces from you. This way, they can always put in a good word for you with other people who may want some products carved for them.
The following are a few other places where you can sell your products:
If you’re looking for a market that doesn’t present many entry barriers, you should try flea markets. There are several flea markets you can choose to showcase your wood crafts.
However, there are a few challenges you might face when trying to sell your creations in flea markets. First, most people who go to flea markets may not be interested in art, and you may end up not making a lot of sales unless your pieces are exquisite. You may also have to water down your prices and, therefore, not make as much as you would through a different channel.
Arts and Craft Shows
These shows are where you would ideally find your customers. People coming to arts and crafts shows appreciate the artistic nature of wood carving, among other crafts. There will likely be other woodcarvers here; therefore, for you to sell your creations and make significant earnings from them, ensure you stand out from the crowd with unique products.
Wood Carving Shows
Before you jump into wood carving shows, you must ensure you have excellent products. Unlike in art shows where you could get potters and other artists, wood carving shows attract people interested specifically in wood art.
Almost all the stands in these shows will be showcasing wood art; therefore, being unique and standing out should be among your top concerns. Wood carving shows also bring wood collectors who would pay a fortune for pieces they love. So, if you’re going to enter into such a show, be sure to only bring your A-game.
Teaching Wood Carving:
A Guide On Growing Your Audience And Finding Students
You don’t have to be a guru in wood carving to teach it, as long as you’re confident in what you’re doing you will be just fine finding a suitable audience to give lessons to. If our first recommendation in selling your carvings was to specialize in a single wood carving style, here the approach will be the complete opposite.
As a rule of thumb, the more variety you can offer to your future students the more interested and engaged they will be in wood carving. This will also allow them to find the right style for themselves, this will also strengthen their interest in wood carving.
So the first thing you want to do is make a list of styles you can already offer and maybe consider learning new ones to expand your potential auditory. The list we discussed at the start of the article is very limited to “Best-sellers” carving styles. For example, you can try out spoon carving which is not great selling but is perfect for finding people interested to carve spoons. You can also read our article All 9 styles of wood carving for more ideas.
Now let’s get into the first topic about how much of an expert you have to be in wood carving in order to teach it.
If you are a professional woodcarver and have done it for 10+ years you have nothing to worry about in terms of your expertise, so if this is your case be sure to skip this section and go to the next subheading. However, if you are somewhat intermediate there are a few things to consider when looking for students to teach.
First of all, safety. You have to decide for yourself how confident are you at wood carving yourself, because if you’re not exactly sure about things when carving yourself then it’s definitely worth waiting a little longer before giving lessons.
The bottom line is that as long as you are confident that you can carve yourself you can pass that knowledge on. With that said, if a student asks you to carve something in the future that you don’t feel too great about, it’s best you try carving it first before teaching others how to do it.
The last aspect of expertise that is important to consider is how comfortable do you feel with taking more responsibility and teaching kids (anyone under 14 years) to carve. Safety is the main concern here, so it’s best that you have some other experience with kids (such as having your own) if you want to teach the kids of other parents wood carving.
There are a dozen ways that you can find students locally, and most of them are free. Of course, they will vary depending on the area that you live in, however, the best way to promote your lessons is none other than the powerful word of mouth.
This works a little like rolling a snowball down a mountain, at first you will not get any new students from people recommending you, and later down the line, 95% of all of your new students will be recommendations. This is great and should be very relieving that all you have to do is start the mechanism.
Now stands the big question, how to get your first, 1, and then 5, eventually 10 students. Here you will have to do a fair bit of promotion.
Your largest audience will most likely be teens/kids and the elderly. Therefore you should keep it in the back of your mind when advertising. A good place to start from will be local schools.
If you talk to the principal of some local schools about teaching a group of kids in an afternoon class to wood carve, you may get a positive answer, but even if they are not interested the school may leave your visit card at the reception or simply spread the word for someone interested to hear.
If you don’t want to go to school for any reason, you can simply send them an email explaining who you are, why is wood carving helpful for kids, and what safety measures will you take to avoid any risks involving sharp blades (e.g. only 3 students per group).
Another good way of advertising is through online marketing, don’t let the term scare you, it’s a hundred times simpler than you think. In fact, if you have a son or daughter who is around 14 they will happily assist you in advertising through Instagram or Facebook ads. It costs very little and you can reach out to thousands of local people.
Important things to remember when advertising on instagram:
- Advertise locally, make sure you get this right as there is no point in people in another city viewing your ad
- The price for 1000 people to see your advertising on Instagram is usually under 7$
- Advertise less for a longer period (1-3 months) with a smaller daily budget than a shorter period of time but with a large daily budget
- If you don’t know a lot about Instagram ads, get one of the youngsters to run it. It’s about 3 hours of learning how to do it well and another 30 minutes to run the campaign
Now that we targeted a younger generation, let’s target the other half of our potential audience and try to get an ad or an article about wood carving lessons in a local newspaper. This is also much simpler than you think, reach out to them by sending an email, they will most likely be happy to mention you for free or print an add for a small price. If not, it’s still worth the shot.
Local wood carving stores if you have any should be the first place you go to. Ask the owner to leave your visit-card on the counter and maybe offer a commission for any students that visit you after his/her store.
If there is a chance to participate in fares and events this too will bring a lot of attention to what you are doing.
An important conclusion is that you may not get a lot of students from one single of these ways, but if you participate in different areas and people start hearing of you, some will certainly be curious about what wood carving is. Unfortunately, wood carving is different from piano lessons, people don’t actively seek to learn it, but if shown and invited many will gladly learn.
Private lessons vs. Group lessons
When you get your first few students it is very helpful to create a routine that you follow during every first lesson with a student. We also recommend that you establish that your first lesson is free to remove the hesitation of trying it out for new students, but this is up to you.
There are pros and cons of private and group lessons, either way, you are most likely going to have both tutoring format but the ratio of Private:Group lesson will depend on what you see of the below factors.
Pros of Private Carving Lessons
Private carving lessons are a great way to start teaching wood carving, the main pros of private lessons are:
- The student gets the best possible use of their time as all of your attention is on him/her
- The best way of establishing interest in wood carving to an individual is through 1 on 1 lessons
- Face to face lessons have a greater chance of your students recommending you to other potential students
- Gives you a more flexible timetable of lessons
Cons Of Private Carving Lessons
Working with individual students also has a lot of downsides that are bearable, but it is important to expect them in advance to know how to adapt and react to them when they occur
- Students can cancel lesson last minute and there is almost nothing that you can do to recover the lost income
- The cost per/hour of private lessons will be significantly higher than in group lessons, therefore, some students may not afford it
- Students may often ask to reschedule their lessons due to a change in their timetable, this creates a lot of work when organizing your schedule for the week
Pros Of Group Carving Lessons
Group carving lessons are great when you have too many students than you are willing or have time to teach one on one. Joining a few students together is for the following reasons:
- Higher income per one hour of your time as you charge 1/3 of your hourly rate to 4-8 students per time
- Much more predictable time table as the lesson will still happen if one student cancels last moment
Cons Of Group Carving Lessons
Moving away from the tête-à-tête format there are a few light issues that arise, such as the following:
- Students will receive less of your attention and therefore will progress slower in their wood carving abilities
- Students of different levels in a single group session will be very common and will require extra preparation to satisfy both level groups
Most likely you will start your tutoring career with private lessons and after you have enough people move to a couple of group lessons per week, however, if you will be seeing more success perhaps you will switch to only group lessons a little further on in the future.
5 Tips for the Best Wood Carvings
If you’re looking to make money from your wood carving passion, you must have the patience, the right tools, and the dedication. Wood carving can quickly become your full-time income source, but you’ll need to be smart about how you do things. It doesn’t hurt to have some tips and tricks. So, here are five things you should have in mind so your business kicks off well.
Choose Your Wood Carving Type, Wood, and Tools First
As a beginner, you’ll probably get confused about the best items, to begin with. Instead of choosing your working material at random, identify your best, and get started. Then, work your way towards using other materials. As you advance your career, you’ll be able to practice with different carving types on different wood. However, it’s best to start with what comes naturally and practice that first.
Before getting started on any carving project, you should take all the necessary safety measures. Always have your safety gloves and glasses on when working. You should also ensure you have a dust mask on and that your knives are sharp, so they are safer.
Sketch Your Design First
You can’t quickly correct a mistake without distorting the intended design. Therefore, before carving out any figurines, you’re better off sketching your design on the surface of the woodblock. The sketch acts as your guideline and gives you the precision you need for a professional-looking product. As you expand your business, you can buy more advanced sketching tools so you can make it easier to draw on the surface of the wood.
Cut Along the Grain
The long dark streaks that run through the wood are the grains. Many inexperienced carvers will choose any path to follow and end up with wood that rips at the end. The best way to cut the wood is by following the grain, especially if you’re cutting hardwood like oak and mahogany. With softwoods like butternut, you can easily use a different route other than the grain and manage to carve out a fantastic design.
Practice Wood Carving Frequently
The only way you can improve your skills is by practicing daily. If you’re looking to turn the hobby into a business, you must ensure your skills improve as you handle more projects. This way, you’re better placed to work on different commissioned pieces. Unlike other skills, you can’t quite rush wood carving, but you can ensure you’re getting better by practicing every day.
Wood carving is an excellent business venture that you can start from your garage. Whether you’ve only been doing it as a hobby or are just getting interested, you can quickly turn this hobby into a money-making venture. By implementing the above tips, you can start making money from your passion.
Here’s a recap of the steps we’ve discussed in the post:
- Pick a niche, i.e., your preferred carving technique
- Buy the essential tools first
- Get wood at an affordable price
- Practice wood carving frequently to perfect your skills
- Market your pieces on social media and your business website
- Other places you can sell your wood art are: flea markets, art & craft shows, and wood carving shows