Wood carving is a form of woodworking by means of a cutting tool (knife) in one hand or a chisel by two hands or with one hand on a chisel and one hand on a mallet, resulting in a wooden figure or figurine, or in the sculptural ornamentation of a wooden object. The phrase may also refer to the finished product, from individual sculptures to hand-worked mouldings composing part of a tracery.
The making of sculpture in wood has been extremely widely practised, but doesn’t survive undamaged as well as the other main materials like stone and bronze, as it is vulnerable to decay, insect damage, and fire. It therefore forms an important hidden element in the art history of many cultures. Outdoor wood sculptures do not last long in most parts of the world, so it is still unknown how the totem pole tradition developed. Many of the most important sculptures of China and Japan, in particular, are in wood, and so are the great majority of African sculpture and that of Oceania and other regions. Wood is light and can take very fine detail so it is highly suitable for masks and other sculpture intended to be worn or carried. It is also much easier to work on than stone.
Some of the finest extant examples of early European wood carving are from the Middle Ages in Germany, Russia, Italy and France, where the typical themes of that era were Christian iconography. In England, many complete examples remain from the 16th and 17th century, where oak was the preferred medium.
The oldest wood carved sculpture, the Shigir Idol carved from larch, is around 12,000 years old.
Methods and styles
Pattern, Blocking, Detailing, Surfacing, and Smoothening
A selection of woodcarving hand tools: 3 fishtail gouges, a v-parting tool, 4 straight gouges, 3 spoon gouges, and a carvers mallet
Desay Madu Jhya (window) in Kathmandu, Nepal is a specimen of traditional Nepalese wood carving
Detail of the Last Supper from Tilman Riemenschneider’s Altar of the Holy Blood, 1501-05, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
Wood carving with a chainsaw
Carving knife used to round a corner of a piece of wood
V-Tool used to part lines and cut V-shaped channels
Basic tool set
the carving knife: a specialized knife used to pare, cut, and smooth wood.
the gouge: a tool with a curved cutting edge used in a variety of forms and sizes for carving hollows, rounds and sweeping curves.
the coping saw: a small saw that is used to cut off chunks of wood at once.
the chisel: large and small, whose straight cutting edge is used for lines and cleaning up flat surfaces.
the V-tool: used for parting, and in certain classes of flat work for emphasizing lines.
the U-Gauge: a specialized deep gouge with a U-shaped cutting edge.
sharpening equipment, such as various stones and a strop: necessary for maintaining edges.
A special screw for fixing work to the workbench, and a mallet, complete the carvers kit, though other tools, both specialized and adapted, are often used, such as a router for bringing grounds to a uniform level, bent gouges and bent chisels for cutting hollows too deep for the ordinary tool.