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How to get started in woodcarving

This article will explain how to get started in wood carving (figure carving or whittling) it’s also sometimes referred to as carving in the round. I’ve been carving for 4 years and this is what I’ve found helpful to me. I’m a new enough carver to know what new carvers want, but experienced enough to speak to what’s available. A big thanks to my teacher Dale who has been carving for over 40 years.

Recommended tools

First you’ll need a carving knife. There are many brands to choose from. When I first started I used a recommendation by Gene Messer. He has many youtube videos and in one, he said all you need to get started is a knife with a 1.25″ – 1.5″ blade. The Scout is what I started with and I still think it’s a good knife. Don’t worry about what additional sizes to purchase at first. After you do a bit of carving you’ll know what you want to get next to suit your style of carving. The top knife has a 1.5″ blade and the bottom a 1.25″ blade. Either will work as a starter knife.

Higher quality carving knives
OCC Tools
Helvie Knives
Drake Knives
Deep Woods Ventures knives
Pfeil Swiss made

Lower priced knives
Flexcut Knives
Beavercraft knives

Specialty knives for flat plane figure carving
Pinewood Forge knives

Knives I don’t recommend
Sets like these (a single carving knife will serve you better)
Morakniv (From this Reddit post:  Morakniv aren’t really designed for figure carving. They’re Slöjd knives – for green woodworking (in the Scandinavian tradition). They excel at this purpose. Moras are good for spoons, kuksa, that kind of thing.)

Carving gloves

Next I recommend carving gloves. There are many brands out there to choose from. You’ll want to search for cut resistant gloves or woodcarving gloves. My only recommendation is that the fit is not too tight. I have a pair that’s too tight and it causes my hand to fatigue while holding the wood.

Some people use a glove on both hands like my instructor. I prefer to make a custom thumb guard with cut resistant tape. This wrap is called finger tape, it’s gauze coated with latex rubber. I wrapped this around my finger and created a form, it took several wraps to make this thumb protector. Once enough layers are built up it will keep it’s shape, and can be taken off and reused. Make sure it’s long enough to go below the main crease on the inside of your thumb.


This is what I use to sharpen, a 8″ leather strop attached to a piece of wood. The leather is coated with honing compound. That’s the green bar. It contains abrasives, (chromium oxide and aluminum oxide). You can also use aluminum oxide powder and sprinkle it on the strop. The bar is easier and less messy than the powder since the abrasives are bound in a waxy matrix. I just rub it over the leather like a crayon. Only a light coating is needed.

No, you don’t need to buy a sharpening stone

I’ve been carving for years and have not had to sharpen my knives on a stone. You don’t need to buy a stone at first. Sharpening on a stone is a precise skill and without a good deal of practice you’ll probably dull or create and uneven edge. That’s not a say it can’t be learned, but you can probably carve for a few years or more without ever needing to sharpen on a stone. Harely Refsal has said that in some cases he’s never sharpened some knives on a stone, only stropping.

Sharpening: How to strop a knife

Here is a good video by Harley Refasl that shows how to strop. Notice when he rolls the knife to the each side he rolls it over the heel, the back side of the knife, not the cutting edge. Here is a post that describes how to set the angle and pressure when stropping.


The wood most carvers use for figure carving is Basswood, in Europe it’s called Linden. This is because it’s softer than many other woods, but is hard enough to hold a great deal of detail.

Roughing out

Roughing out is the process of carving a block of wood down to the general shape of what you want to make. After the rough out smaller cuts are made to refine the shape and then smaller details are added. A block of wood can be roughed out using a knife which can be hard if you have to remove a lot of wood. The easiest way is with a bandsaw. If you don’t have a bandsaw you can use a coping saw. Below is a photo of a coping saw.

When I first started I used a coping saw, but found out quickly it doesn’t work well unless you can clamp the wood to something while you saw it. So consider the need to also clamp your wood to a firm surface when using this or any saw. A bench clamp or a couple ratcheting bar clamps would work if you have a sturdy table to clamp it to.

How to tell if your knife is sharp

The best way to tell if your knife is sharp is to cut end grain and see if your knife leaves a smooth clean cut. I believe this is better than testing on your nail, or shaving hair. My teacher tells me you’re not carving hair or nails.

Here is a video of carving end grain with a sharp knife. You can see that I get a clean and smooth cut.

Videos that teach how to carve

To start carving you’ll want to master the four basic cuts. Here is a video by Sharon My Art that explains how to make these cuts. I’d also recommend checking out her other videos. Here is a three part video by Grandpa’s Hands that I’ve referred to many times, he makes a person from start to finish.


I’ve written a series of articles of my woodcarving journey.

How to set the angle and pressure when stropping a knife

This post will show you in a visual way at what angle to hold the knife and how much pressure to use when stropping. Big thanks to TwinDog at bladeforums for this post.

A lot of people have noticed that stropping can make an edge duller as well as sharper. Some say you need a lot of pressure, some say you need no more than the weight of the knife. Actually, you need to get the right combination of angle and pressure.
I tried to capture this relationship visually:

The black string represents the surface of the leather strop. The wood represents the edge. It is cut to a 30-degree inclusive angle, a popular edge angle for knives with good steel. Ideally, you want the string parallel with the edge bevel.

First: Proper angle and very little pressure on the strop. With very little pressure, the leather is not depressed significantly and dragging the edge over the strop at the sharpened angle sharpens the entire edge bevel without rounding the edge. People who say you need little pressure are using the correct sharpening angle. Notice the string is parallel with the edge bevel.

Second: This shows the angle of the knife held too high on the strop, rounding the edge. This is wrong no matter what the pressure.

Third: This shows the edge held at too shallow an angle, with little pressure applied. This combination of angle and pressure rounds the shoulders of the edge bevel without affecting the edge.

Fourth: This shows the angle held too shallow, but with a lot of pressure. The pressure compensates for the incorrect angle and the edge is sharpened. Notice the string is parallel with the edge bevel. This combination will sharpen well. People who use a lot of pressure, are using a shallow stropping angle.

Finally: This shows the correct sharpening angle, but with a lot of pressure. The extra pressure causes the stopping leather’s surface to drag around the edge, dulling it.

Solo: A Star Wars Story movie review


I’m a fan of the Star Wars movies, and I remember my parents taking me the see the original movies in the 1970’s. I had a VCR tape of Return of the Jedi, that I’d watch after school. To this day it’s still burned into my memory what the Ewoks said and where exactly the cut scenes are. (spoiler warning, this post will describe scenes in the movie)

On my flight back from CA I was able to watch the Solo movie on the plane. Before the movie started there was a message about the movie being edited for time and content. It was hard to hear on the plane, but I did watch the entire movie wondering what was cut. When I got back home I watched an uncut version hoping to see the meaningful scenes that had been cut. However, I don’t think anything was, this is just a meaningless movie.

My thoughts about the acting

From start to finish this movie is action, barely taking a moment to breath. It was exhausting to watch. Alden Ehrenreich the actor that played Solo was a one dimensional character. He mainly emoted confidence and a smile. A smile that just didn’t fit for many of the scenes it showed up in. I remember Harrison Ford playing Solo and he had a wide range of emotional reactions. He was clearly deflated, (even whining a bit) while showing off he went to activate hyperspace and the ship malfunctioned. Embarrassed when he triggered the alarm on the detention level, had an awkward conversation and ended up shooting the com. Jealous when he thought Leah liked Luke more than him. Gruff and indignant when he thought the search teams didn’t do enough to find Luke on Hoth. Loving and appreciative when Leah had a concealed blaster and saved their lives. Worried when on the ship with the stolen code in route to the death star with Luke “Keep your distance, but don’t look like you’re keeping your distance… fly casual”. He wasn’t over confident when he was begging Jaba to make a deal after coming out of carbonite.

Alden didn’t show this kind of depth and breadth of emotion. Even in dire situations mostly he showed over confidence. The speeder chase was boring. When the speeder got stuck sideways there was no break for a human reaction to the situation. He just took the dice and ran. This may have been a directorial issue, but it was a lost opportunity to show the emotional result of Solo’s miscalculation and ultimate failure. There was passion between him and Emilia Clarke, but even in times of struggle the interaction didn’t show any range of emotion. The best part of his performance was the interaction and growing relationship between him and Chewy. It showed a genuine development of a relationship.

Casting character choice

Although they are good actors, I didn’t like seeing Woody Harrelson, and Emillia Clarke in the movie. I want the experience of watching a Star Wars movie to take me away. Seeing Emilia I could only think of Daenerys Stormborn. It even felt like her when watching this movie. Woody is in many other movies and shows and this just flashes back at me when watching him, regardless of how good his performance was. Thandie Newton’s performance was good, but again all I saw was Maeve from West World. Maybe this is normal, but I remember seeing the movie Capote played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and I felt like I was watching a completely different person.

A few things I disliked (hated)

Enough with the dice, I get it, and handing dice to Solo while he was in cuffs was just stupid. It was as if the dice were more important than good character development. It seemed out of character for Solo to say “we’re gonna win” in the elevator. That just made me think of the present day. The gambling scenes; I felt like Solo should have had more push-back before even getting a seat to the table. He was accepted too easily into that situation. That scene introduction also felt stark and forced. Generally all of the non stop action was exhausting to watch.

A few things I liked

Paul Bettany’s performance was great, he seemed like chaos, rage, and unpredictability rolled into one. The building of the relationship between Chewy and Solo. L3-37’s character and the voice acting by Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Jon Favreau voice acting for the character Rio. Donald Glover’s performance as Lando.

Overall impression

This movie has no soul. It was devoid of the character development that connects me with the story and characters. This is sad for me as a fan of the Star Wars universe. I wasn’t expecting it to live up to characters from the original movies like Yoda, Solo, or Obi-Wan. I expected something emotionally meaningful, even if the movie didn’t inherently have the deeper meanings of the original movies.