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These days, there are various hobbies that you can choose from. You could try resin casting, fabric arts, or even painting. However, all of these hobbies require an array of specialized equipment that you could end up paying a pretty penny for. If you’re looking for a hobby that will allow you to be as creative as you want to be without the need for too much equipment you should consider trying out wood carving. Wood carving isn’t only one of the world’s oldest pastimes, but it’s a great way to express your creativity and practice your attention to detail. All you need is knife, some chisels and a wooden mallet. Many professionals and newcomers to the craft have claimed that wood carving can be rather therapeutic to boot, so let’s have a look at what exactly wood carving is and what some of the best wood carving ideas out there are.
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What Is Wood Carving?
Before we have a look at what some of the best wood carving ideas are, let’s have a look at what exactly wood carving is. Wood carving has been around for a really long time, and when we say really long, we mean really long. Wood carving has existed for pretty much as long as people have, and this is because ever since we discovered how malleable wood is we’ve been fashioning it into different shapes.
This being said, wood carving ideas started with something as simple as a spear, or something as gentle as a carving of a woolly mammoth for early human children to play with. Of course, they didn’t have nearly as many tools as we have available to use today, but they managed to pull off impressive feats with not much more than a sharp rock and some ingenuity.
If we move a little bit further forward in time, you can see more intricate and objectively complete examples of woodwork in Europe during the Middle Ages. German, Italian, French, and Russian cultures have shown rather impressive examples of wood carving in this area, depicting both religious iconography, children’s characters, and caricatures of friends and family.
African, Asian, and Polynesian cultures have had wood carving ideas even more intricate, well before this period. Everything from tribal figureheads to fertility statues have been crafted from wood, and they were transported, traded and even sold to traders who visited from across the seas.
By definition, wood carving is the act of shaping wood by hand, whether by use of cutting tools like a knife or by use of a chisel. This is usually seen as a branch of woodwork in general and typically takes some time and skill to develop. Wood carving is a skill that involves lots of attention to detail and it’s a highly respected skill all over the world.
It’s also highly transferable to various high-end industries, so learning wood carving can benefit you in the long run, and even if you never use it outside of carving things for yourself, it’s pretty fun. Now that you know what wood carving is, let’s have a look at some wood carving ideas you can use for a whole host of things that you can use, gift, or simply admire.
Wood Carving Ideas
Since wood carving has been such an influential part of human history, we thought we’d put together a short list of really cool wood carving ideas for you to have a look at. We’ve arranged them from easy to slightly more challenging so you can pick a project suited to your level of skill and confidence.
Beginner Wood Carving Projects
Beginner wood carving projects are usually pretty easy to do and don’t require quite as much attention to detail as others do. All you need is a little bit of imagination, some simple wood carving tools (usually just a carving knife) and you’re pretty much good to go! So without further ado let’s have a look at some easy wood carving projects you can do in your spare time as a hobby or as a small business to create some extra income.
A Wooden Spoon Set
Wood carving for beginners shouldn’t be too challenging, and what’s less challenging than a spoon? Besides, they’re pretty neat and you can use them or prop them up in a nice bowl as a cool ornate decoration. Spoons are pretty easy to make because you don’t need to try really hard to get any of the proportion’s sizes or depth of the spoon’s bowl perfectly.
Another reason that spoons are a good starting point for wood carving for beginners is that you can give them to your friends and loved ones as gifts and bathe in their (hopefully) positive feedback on your new hobby. Feel free to make these spoons in any shapes, size, length, and even color that you want, just don’t forget to seal them before they come into contact with foodstuff.
A Wooden Bowl
In terms of easy wood carving ideas, it doesn’t get a lot easier than a wooden bowl. In a way, these are even simpler than carving spoons because you don’t have to carve a handle and you can make them into pretty much any shape or size you can think of. So, what do you need to carve a wooden bowl? Well, for starters, a decently sized wooden block.
A pro tip is to use a wooden block made from a wood that is easy to cut through as you’ll be removing most of the material. Wooden bowls can be decorated with painting, wood stains, patterns, engraving, and even little trinkets. These easy wood carving ideas get you the best bang for your buck because they don’t require any special tools and you can do pretty much anything you want with them.
A Wooden Animal Set
Do you have a love for animals? Do you have little ones going through their animal obsession phase? Well, this might be the carving idea for you! Animals are a great easy beginner wood sculpture project for those of you looking to cut your teeth in sculpting forms. Animal forms are always a good way to start because they don’t need loads of detail to be instantly recognizable.
If you’re looking for some inspiration you should try sites like Esty or Pinterest. Dogs are always the go-to, but if you feel like being a bit more original you should try birds like owls, or sea critters like seals or fish (if you feel like leaving or the scales, we won’t blame you). These make awesome gifts for family and friends, or you can keep them as your personal totems! Animals are the ultimate easy beginner wood sculpture.
A Wooden Chess Set
Chess, like wood carving, is one of the world’s oldest pastimes and hand-crafted chess sets carry with them a sense of sentimentality and character that you just don’t get with the store-bought variety. They’re great small wood carving ideas and they’ll allow you to practice your attention to detail if you’re just getting started with the craft.
If you’re worried about the pieces being distinguishable you don’t have to make each piece completely different. Simply making the head of each piece noticeably different is enough to make a full chess set, and of course, for pieces like the king and queen, it does help to make them a bit taller to give them a sense of authority.
A Chip Carving
Other great small wood carving ideas are chip carving pieces. Chip carving is the practice of carving out indents and patterns on the surface of a wooden board. This style of wood carving originated in Germany, and all you need to get started is a chip carving knife (or any carving tool that allows you to chip away at wood incrementally).
The best part about chip carving is that you aren’t carving in three dimensions, think of it as drawing or pyrography without the need for a pyrography pen. You can make pretty much anything you can imagine, from a Dahlia to animals, and if you’re really skilled you can even carve portraits into wood. These make for awesome conversation pieces and great gifts for friends and loved ones.
A Wooden Heart
The heart has been a symbol for many things throughout time but in our day and age. It primarily symbolizes love. Sure, you could make a heart out of epoxy resin, but ones made out of wood have a nice personal touch. Whether this is because of wood’s texture or warmth is up for debate, but it’s pretty safe to say that they’re neat.
They also make great beginner wood carving projects. These are pretty simple to make, and the best part is they don’t take a load of material to make. All you need is a moderately sized piece of wood and a carving knife to get started, plus you can decorate them with symbols, inscriptions, shapes, and dates, and even add a bit of color to them with paint or wood stain.
A Spiral Tree
If you’re looking to take your carving skills beyond simple forms and want to explore things like depth and perspective, we think that you’d do well to try out a spiral tree. These look really cool and they’re actually a lot simpler to make than they might first appear. All you need to do is focus and plan accordingly, and before you know it, you’ll have a full spiral tree to show off to your friends and family.
If you’re feeling unconfident from the offset there are loads of little tutorials to show you how to mark your workpiece and carve in a step-by-step process, which cuts the learning curve in half in our opinion. Not only are these really cool to look at but they’re awesome conversation pieces and gifts for your friends and family too.
Intermediate Wood Carving Projects
Intermediate wood carving projects are for those who have had some time to develop their skills but need something a bit more interesting or challenging compared to beginner wood carving ones. These tend to be a bit more intricate in design and their required execution, but not so frustrating that they’ll have you scratching your head in frustration. This being said, let’s have a look at a few that you can try on your own.
A Wooden Flower
Wooden flowers are simple wood carvings that will allow you to expand on your attention to detail. Usually, the goal of these carvings is to get them as close to the real thing in terms of detail as possible, so you’ll be spending your time carving out little veins and getting the positioning of the petals just right.
Although they can take some time to perfect, these simple wood carvings are well worth the end result. These can be used as beautiful centerpieces or as great gifts for pretty much any occasion. Whether you’re carving out a delicate lily, or a prim and proper rose we’re fairly certain that you’ll end up surprising yourself with how stunning these wood flowers can turn out.
A Wooden Coaster Set
A wooden coaster is a good place for you to develop your wood carving basics. Carving the initial shape of coasters is pretty easy but getting the proportions and girth of the coaster can be a bit challenging so be sure to look out for this. Coasters are also cool because they can be made out of basically any wood type.
Coasters are a great way to develop both your attention to detail and to practice consistency. This is because coasters are usually found in sets and even if their markings/decorations are different. Decorating your coasters can be loads of fun, they can be engraved, painted, stained, or you can transfer photos of your friends, family, and even pets onto them!
A Wooden Ornament Set
If you had fun making wood animal carvings, then you can take your carving game to the next level by trying your hand at some wooden ornaments. These are awesome, especially around the Christmas and Halloween seasons when hanging decorations are the most popular, or you could make some cool decorations for your home year-round!
Wooden ornaments are essentially more detail-oriented versions of wooden animals, and you can even make them animal-shaped if you’d like. You might need a few more wood carving tools besides a carving knife to pull this off though so be sure to check out a few tutorials before you begin your ornament carving journey.
A Relief Carving
Relief carvings are a lot like chip carving except instead of the negative space creating the impression of forms the positive space does. Think of it as a three-dimensional shape pressed onto a flat surface. A good relief can give the impression of a complete solid form despite being no more than a few inches thick. Reliefs are actually one of the oldest forms of wood carving.
You will need a bit more wood carving tools besides your trusty carving knife as the attention to detail needed to make reliefs can be a bit intense. Relief art typically depicts a scene from the past to commemorate the event or to pass commentary on it, so it should come as no surprise that some of the earliest examples of relief art depict religious scenes and cultural ceremonies.
A Wooden Bird
Carving a wooden bird can be done both simplistically and with higher attention to detail. Normally what separates the two is the expanding of the bird’s wings which can be a bit tricky to pull off as you need to ensure that the bird is both anatomically and proportionally correct. You can pull this off with a simple carving knife but if you intend on carving feathers into the wingspan you might need other tools.
Birds are an awesome wood carving project that can be done as a hobby or sold to make some extra cash. These can be fashioned into anything from ornaments to baby mobiles so don’t limit yourself to one pose or posture for your carvings. If you’re going to be putting loads of attention to detail into these, you can take things a step further and paint the carvings to resemble their real-life counterparts.
A Wood Spirit Carving
Wooden carvings have been used for thousands of years to represent spirits that were important to native people. These were often carried with hunters and gatherers to protect them from the elements and bring them good luck. Others were revered in shrines and prayed to in hopes of bringing a good harvest season.
No matter what spiritual practice you subscribe to (if one at all) these are really interesting pieces to carve out as they often carry with them a sense of importance while bringing a space together. They require a bit of skill to pull off in some instances so be careful not to bite off more than you can chew when it comes to the moderately sized ones as they can look deceptively simple.
A Lamp Base
Table lamps provide the opportunity to bring a variety of forms, shapes and materials into your home. Some can be minimal. while others can be highly ornate. A wooden hand carved lamp base is pretty much guaranteed to transform a functional object into an artwork. Add one of those modern light bulbs that was designed to look like a vintage one to complete the look.
The trick with these is to make sure that the wiring is absolutely correct, or your new masterpiece could burn down the house. Fortunately, you can now buy entire lighting kits that are designed for safety and are extremely easy to use.
A Wooden Jewelry Piece
While resin jewelry seems to be all of the rage right now, wooden jewelry simply cannot be beat. Accessorizing with wooden jewelry has the ability to give any outfit a level of depth that simply isn’t there with resin or conventional jewelry. This being said you can integrate pretty much any design into wood carving accessories, including shapes, animals, symbols, letters, numbers, and even religious symbols.
There are loads of examples of this on social media if you’re looking for inspiration, and you can diversify your carvings by making different pieces of jewelry. You can make pretty much anything you put your mind to, from bracelets, to necklaces, to wooden chokers, and even wooden rings if you feel up to it.
Difficult Wood Carving Projects
These wood carving projects are intended for those who have mastered the use of their tools, depth, perspective, and proportions, and are looking for a new challenge. While these won’t have you pulling at your hair with frustration, they can be a bit tricky to pull off so be sure to check your markings and not to bite off more than you can chew with some of these. With enough practice you may even one day accumulate enough skill to attempt a full-scale wood carving in the manner of the great woodcarving masters.
A Wooden Wind Instrument
Wind instruments have been at the cornerstone of high-end wood carving for thousands of years, well before wood carving even became a recognized trade. This makes sense considering that people have liked music for pretty much as long as we could hear the world around us, so why not try your hand at making a whistle, flute or even an ocarina?
This does take some skill and at least a little bit of understanding regarding how a flute should sound note for note so be sure to check sources online for an example of two. This is a really cool wood carving project, plus it could lead you into an entirely new hobby! Be sure to finish your instrument with the appropriate treatment, and pick the right wood for the job.
A Wooden Car
Are we suggesting you make a life-size wooden car with working parts? No. Would it be extremely impressive if you did? Yes. Although, based on the amount of wood you’d need we’re going to assume that you’re making a model of one, which is far easier and would take far fewer man-hours to accomplish than the aforementioned.
If you’re happy with your wood carving basics and feel that you have a good eye for swooping lines, then this is the wood carving project for you. Whether you’re carving out classics or modern automobiles they’re sure to look stunning, plus, if you’re looking to make some extra money there is a huge market for these!
A Wooden Bust
Busts are usually made out of marble, but they can be made out of pretty much any material malleable enough to be carved and retain detail. Wooden busts are less common and a little bit more impressive considering that wood can be a bit more challenging to work with, not to mention the level of craftsmanship required to pull this off.
Wooden busts and reliefs fall into more or less the same vein as far as the art form is concerned as they’ve both been done for thousands of years by cultures all over the world. You will need to learn how to accurately depict facial expressions, wrinkles, muscle tension, accurately depict the proportions of facial features, and even things like hair when attempting a bust.
A Wooden Bird House
Previously we covered loads of little wood carving ideas that have a practical application, so why not have a look at some big ones too? Birdhouses are pretty cool, giving birds a safe place to eat and even bathe if you’re generous with your design. These are easy to make if you’re designing them in pieces and putting them together, but they can be a bit more challenging when you’re carving them as one complete piece.
Carving a birdhouse can be challenging and time-consuming so don’t think that you can knock this one out on a Sunday afternoon. You will need to plan adequately and have the correct tools for the job, but it’s well worth it considering the end result. Before you know it you’ll have a brand new birdhouse for you and your little feathery friends to enjoy.
A Wooden Water Feature
This is more of a wooden construction than a carving project, but keeping with the theme of wood carving ideas that you can use, why not add a water feature to the same space you’ll be using your birdhouse in? These can range from quite simple, to highly complex. In addition to some engineering, you will also need an external water pump and you’ll pretty much be good to go! These water pumps can be purchased at most hardware and pet stores too.
Water features have a way of adding a sense of tranquility to your home or garden, after all the sound of running water is one of the most calming sounds out there. These can be made as small, big, or complex as you like too, so don’t be afraid to test your skill if you’re going to give one of these a shot, you might be pleasantly surprised.
A Wooden Whirligig
These are another example of traditional garden wooden sculpture that has been handed down through generations. Whirligigs are awesome, they are essentially little windmills that use the wind to automate a wooden figure, and have been a traditional feature of American gardens for years. The variety of whirligig designs are endless as is the potential to introduce a sense of fun, movement, and artistry into your garden.
Whirligigs can be made in any shape or size too which means that you don’t need to limit yourself to making loads of little ones. In fact, you can make one really big one that plays musical notes too! These can take a bit of planning to execute correctly, but the end result is well worth the patience and effort in our opinion.
A Wooden Table
If you’re looking for a long-term wood carving project, then why not consider a wooden table? These are always a good addition to any modern home, and you have the benefit of making one exactly the way you want it instead of buying one from a retailer. Wooden tables can take some time to make but they’re well worth the patience and elbow grease.
If you want to save yourself some time you can use power tools to cut the rough shape of the table and mark the finer details before you dig in with a Dremel and carving knife. The cool thing about these is that the possibilities are pretty much endless. Your table can be any shape and size, and you get to choose the finish and inlays if you’re so inclined
A Wooden Tricycle
Do you have kids? Do you know someone that has kids? Do you like spreading joy? Well, if you answered yes to any of these questions, we have the perfect wood carving project for you! Making a wooden tricycle can be a bit tricky but you’ll likely find that it is actually a lot easier than you think it might be. These are awesome and they’re sure to give whoever they’re gifted some great childhood memories.
All you need is a couple of wood boards and some basic wood carving tools and you’ll pretty much be good to go. To spruce things up feel free to add things like paint and stickers to your tricycle for the little ones to get excited over. These can take a bit of time to plan out, but the execution often goes quicker than expected.
A Fairy Tree House
Now this one is pretty ambitious but it’s well worth the effort. If you’re interested in making a home for all of the little sprites in your garden and you feel like you have the patience and tools for it, why not give it a go? Fairy tree houses are awesome, they add an air of magic to any home garden, and they make a cozy home for woodland critters!
This is an ideal project if you have an old stump laying around and you’re trying to figure out what to do with it. This can take some exceptionally intricate planning and use of paint but in the end, there’s nothing quite like them. They’re really fun to make too, so if you have little ones why not rope them into this awesome little project and plant the idea of wood carving in their little minds at a young age?
Now that you know what wood carving is, how long it’s been around, and have some ideas for beginner, intermediate and difficult wood carving ideas it’s time for you to get out there and put your newfound knowledge to the test. Remember to always consider how long your project will take and to always ensure that you have the right tools for the job before you get started.
View our Wood Carving Ideas For Beginners web story here.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Wood Carving Difficult?
Is wood carving difficult? The difficulty is relative, but pretty much anyone can learn how to carve wood as long as you’re willing to dedicate time to your craft. Patience is a big part of wood carving, and through experience, you’ll be able to see your skill level increase over time.
How Long Does It Take to Make a Wood Carving?
Wondering how long it takes to make a wood carving? This does depend on your level of skill, but a beginner typically takes around two or three hours to make a simple wood carving. This does depend on their level of skill and the intricacy of the carving though.
Is Wood Carving a Good Skill?
Wood carving has been around for thousands of years, and it has come a really long way, intermingling with other crafts and professions. Wood carving is an extremely valuable skill, especially if you’re proficient at it, so it’s definitely a good skill to have.
I was born in 1984 and have been into woodworking since 2005 and woodturning since 2011. Because of my love for wood and woodworking, I started woodhappen.com to teach other enthusiasts about how to finish and seal wood, the best woodworking tools, the different types of wood, and everything else related to wood! See my full profile