12 Beginner Wood Carving Projects Anyone Can Carve


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Beginner Wood Carving

As a woodworker, I believe woodcarving is one of the simplest forms of woodwork anyone could get involved in. If you start out with the most basic projects first, you can quickly develop the skills and the enjoyment to continue the hobby. I find I get a great sense of achievement from wood carving.

The important thing for anyone with any skill level is to start out small and develop into larger projects as you hone your skills and get more tools.

For this reason, I decided to put together this guide that would suit anyone and show you how to start with little knowledge and very few woodcarving tools. I did a heap of research and gathered what I know to put together this Beginner Wood Carving Projects guide.

Wood carving tools

Easy Wood Carving Projects

In this guide, I will show you how to get started with these beginner-friendly wood carving projects:

  1. Simple spoon 
  2. Whittled Fox
  3. Minimalist bird
  4. Whittled Dog
  5. Heart
  6. Miniture Barrel Shotglass
  7. Kuksa Cup
  8. Wizard Face
  9. Miniature Decorative Ax
  10. Minimalist Gnome House 
  11. Whittle a Wooden Flower
  12. Gnome

By the end of this guide, you’ll have learned the following:

  • Which woods are best for carving each project
  • The estimated time it should take you for each project
  • What tools are needed for carving
  • How to build an art collection as a new wood carver
  • Resources to use to improve your craft based on the kind of learner you are.

1. Woodcarving a Simple Spoon

When you start carving, you need to get momentum on your side. For this, a DIY project that is simple yet functional can be quite encouraging. And among these, there is no replacement for a carved spoon.

Many interactions of the wooden spoon exist, and there are two key ways to make your spoon different:

  • Size – The size of the spoon is not as decisive in the project’s difficulty. However, after a certain point, the smaller the spoon gets, the tougher it is to make. 
  • Details – The second variable that keeps the wooden spoon firmly in both novice and expert categories is the degree of detail that can be carved into the spoon. 

When you start your first project, your goal should be function as opposed to aesthetics. This makes the end result less daunting. Here’s how you can make your first wooden spoon.

Tools & Equipment Needed

To see the exact equipment I use and recommend, please see my section at the end of this article labeled “What tools are needed for woodcarving”. As a summary for the spoon, you will need:

  • A small block of wood big enough for the spoon you wish to carve
  • Carving tools
  • Pen or pencil
  • Sandpaper
  • Wood finish suitable for the project

You can keep revisiting the spoon to add more details as your skills get solidified. I recommend keeping your first spoon plain so you can preserve it as an unbotched first project. Otherwise, you’ll need to resort to wood burning to get rid of the embarrassment.

Video on how to carve a spoon

Shape Whittling

Once you have experienced the bare minimum wood carving practice with a wooden spoon, you’re ready to move to the next category. Remember, this post is built to preserve your effort, so everything you make is fully marketable and usable. Whittling/Straight Carving shapes into existence will help you reproduce most animals as long as you can conceptualize them as geometric figures.

Here are some of the animals you will be able to whittle after you understand shape-driven whittling:

2. Whittle a Fox

An interesting whittling task that balances challenge with education is the geometric fox. Making this fox will definitely be a step up from producing spoons, but it won’t be too challenging to finish.

Just like the spoon, you can make the whittle fox more beautiful with extra effort. However, here the advanced levels don’t entail etching detail onto the facets of the figure. When you get more practice, you will whittle at a higher resolution increasing the surface area of the figure. Then you can branch out into making different types of geometric foxes out of hardwood.

Tools & Equipment Needed

To see the exact equipment I use and recommend, please see my section at the end of this article labeled “What tools are needed for woodcarving”. As a summary for this fox, you will need:

  • A small block of wood big enough for the fox you wish to carve
  • Carving tools
  • Pen or pencil
  • Sandpaper
  • Wood finish suitable for the project
Video on how to whittle a fox

3. Craft a Bird

This is a project that often gets botched on the first attempt, so you should be mentally prepared for it. But at this stage of experience, you’re still a novice at the beginning of your craft and must learn to overcome failure.

Crafting a bird is an excellent way to see how far you have come. Even complete amateurs can try it. Here is a video of a practical novice trying his hand at whittling a bird.

Even if the whittling kit is unavailable or you don’t want to buy it, you can still get a block and etch along. Stay more geometric when you start. Later on, you’ll be able to whittle down the birds to a move curvy life-like form.

Tools & Equipment Needed

To see the exact equipment I use and recommend, please see my section at the end of this article labeled “What tools are needed for woodcarving”. As a summary for this bird, you will need:

  • A small block of wood big enough for the bird you wish to carve
  • Carving tools
  • Pen or pencil
  • Sandpaper
  • Wood finish suitable for the project
Video on how to carve a comfort bird

4. Whittle a Wooden Dog

Whittling a dog is one of the more time-consuming tasks but is definitely doable enough that you’ll get into the flow state when whittling. It is very geometric, and the challenge of the project is defined by its size. I recommend starting with a larger block than the one in the video below.

Because there are so many different breeds of dogs, it is actually pretty cool how many different ways you can whittle a dog. Dogs also have wide appeal, which means your products are going to be highly marketable.

Tools & Equipment Needed

To see the exact equipment I use and recommend, please see my section at the end of this article labeled “What tools are needed for woodcarving”. As a summary for the dog, you will need:

  • A small block of wood big enough for the dog
  • Carving tools
  • Pen or pencil
  • Sandpaper
  • Wood finish suitable for the project
Video on how to carve a wooden dog

5. Whittle a Heart

Once you know how to whittle shapes into existence by chiseling away in short straight motions, you will be able to make anything come to life. That’s the ideal point to transition into mastering curves. Whittling a heart presents an opportunity to exercise geometric whittling and transition to crafting curves.

Just like with dogs, this whittle project has universal appeal and can make for a great gift. When I started whittling hearts a few years ago, I made mistakes, but the result always seemed intentional.

From scarred heart to a broken heart, wherever your heart-whittling project falls apart, you can simply position it as an art piece that is a statement about heartbreak and loneliness.

Tools & Equipment Needed

To see the exact equipment I use and recommend, please see my section at the end of this article labeled “What tools are needed for woodcarving”. As a summary for this heart, you will need:

  • A small block of wood big enough for the heart
  • Carving tools
  • Pen or pencil
  • Sandpaper
  • Wood finish suitable for the project
Video on how to whittle a heart

Wooden Containers

While shape whittling will create beautiful, decorative items, you cannot confine your skillset limited to using a whittling knife. Container carving forces you to shave curves and simultaneously leaves you with a very useful item at the end.

6. Miniature Barrel Shotglass

This project marries the decorative with the functional by presenting a tiny barrel that can be used as a shot glass. You can also use this miniature barrel as a spice container or to toss dice. Before you start with this project, I would recommend going over your wooden spoon to refresh on non-linear carving.

The barrel shot glass is definitely marketable, giftable, and usable. But the time it will take to whittle might not be proportional to the reward of selling it. I would recommend pursuing this purely as a passion project.

Tools & Equipment Needed

To see the exact equipment I use and recommend, please see my section at the end of this article labeled “What tools are needed for woodcarving”. As a summary, for the shot glass, you will need:

  • A small block of wood big enough for the shot glass
  • Carving tools
  • Pen or pencil
  • Sandpaper
  • Wood finish suitable for the project
Video on how to carve a Whiskey Barrel shot glass

7. Kuksa Cup

No conversation about wooden containers would be complete without the Kuksa cup. Initially known as Guksi, the Kuksa cup is a Norwegian drinking cup carved from a single block of birch. If you want to feel like a Viking or simply want to create a functional wooden piece, you can create a Kuksa cup.

I prefer Kuksa-making because there seems to be no limit to how creative you can get with these cups the more advanced your skills get. From detail on the surface to creative cutting along the cup handle, there is plenty that you can do to make the Guksi more beautiful.

Tools & Equipment Needed

To see the exact equipment I use and recommend, please see my section at the end of this article labeled “What tools are needed for woodcarving”. In summary, for this cup, you will need:

  • A small block of wood big enough for the cup
  • Carving tools
  • Pen or pencil
  • Sandpaper
  • Wood finish suitable for the project
Video showing how to carve a Kuksa Cup

Thematic Carving

Once you have learned how to etch out straight facets and curves, you have mastery over the basics of creating shapes and defining details. This doesn’t mean you are an advanced carver, but it means you have enough proficiency to start developing a collection. The next five wood carving designs into one another thematically.

8. Wizard Face

Carving a simple wizard face is simple, yet the wood spirit carving project itself looks complicated to outsiders. This gives it the maximum show-off value. You can create a wizard face even if you have not mastered carving curves, as this is a whittling project.

The wizard below is a little detailed but once you have the basic shape, it is easy to add small features that make your wizard stand out.

Wizard faces can be positioned as Santa faces on Christmas, giving the items extra marketability during the holiday seasons. In this project, you will experience, for the first time, dedicating attention and whittling out individual features. This is good practice for high-resolution work you will pursue as an expert later on.

Wizard faces go well with the magical fairy tale theme. Advanced wooden fairy houses can be carved from stumps and trunks once you have enough experience. These wizards have become crowd favorites as they can engage children’s imagination and can stand as action figures for the wise old man trope in various movies.

Tools & Equipment Needed

To see the exact equipment I use and recommend, please see my section at the end of this article labeled “What tools are needed for woodcarving”. As a summary, for the wizard, you will need:

  • A small block of wood big enough for the wizard you wish to carve
  • Carving tools
  • Pen or pencil
  • Sandpaper
  • Wood finish suitable for the project
Video on how to carve a wizard face

9. Minature Decorative Ax

This project doesn’t sit as rigidly within the magical wonderland and fairytale theme that wizard faces are often associated with. But if you carve a miniature wooden ax and add it to your fairy forest-themed collection, no one would consider it out of place.

Mastering the minimalist ax gives you an opportunity to create a cool gift for your adult friends and to make an item that is equally appealing to kids. This project will test the limits of the skills you have acquired and will come out okay-looking a few times. Only after you find yourself carving without consciously thinking about it will you produce awe-inspiring miniature tools.

You can make keychains, decorative stamp handles, letter openers, and action figure accessories out of these miniature axes. Alternatively, you can position them as Objet d’Art and maintain that their visual beauty is their end goal.

Tools & Equipment Needed

To see the exact equipment I use and recommend, please see my section at the end of this article labeled “What tools are needed for woodcarving”. As a summary for the ax, you will need:

  • A small block of wood big enough for the ax you wish to carve
  • Carving tools
  • Pen or pencil
  • Sandpaper
  • Wood finish suitable for the project
Video showing how to carve a miniature ax

10. Minimalist Gnome House

If you are serious about not building a collection and getting taken seriously as a carver, adding a gnome house next to the wizard face will instantly boost your profile. Instead of being seen as the guy who knows how to make one cool thing, you’ll be viewed as a carver who makes magic out of wood.

It also makes sense to build a collection if you want to sell your pieces. The person buying a wizard face is also likely to be interested in a gnome house. The house carving project also gives you the skillset to build little huts and sheds. As you acquire more skills, you can create multiple variations of the gnome house.

If you go past carving from a little block, you can use four gnome houses and appropriately cut flat sheets to build a fort, where each of the houses serves as the equivalent of a little watch tower. The possibilities are endless, but in my experience, it is best to enjoy the beauty of the minimalism of this project.

Tools & Equipment Needed

To see the exact equipment I use and recommend, please see my section at the end of this article labeled “What tools are needed for woodcarving”. As a summary, for the gnome house, you will need:

  • A small block of wood big enough for the gnome house
  • Carving tools
  • Pen or pencil
  • Sandpaper
  • Wood finish suitable for the project
Video on how to carve a wood gnome house

11. Whittle A Wooden Flower

When building a thematic collection, you want to include items that stand well on their own. While little Wizard faces and gnome houses can sell as single pieces, nothing in a fairy forest collection has as much universal appeal as a flower.

In fact, you can build an entire collection, specialty, and career, out of carving little flowers with hand tools. The whittled flower is a staple in a beginning wood carver’s project file. There are many different ways to go about it, but the more three-dimensional a flower is, the more of an expert you need to be to pull it off.

The level of detail also makes wood-carving more difficult. So when you carve a flower with more pronounced petals, you need to have a higher degree of skill. When you start as a novice, you’ll notice that you will be making figurative flowers that are more symbolic than they are life-like. The beauty of this project is that you never catch yourself transitioning from carving icons of flowers to carving realistic flowers.

Tools & Equipment Needed

To see the exact equipment I use and recommend, please see my section at the end of this article labeled “What tools are needed for woodcarving”. As a summary, for the flower, you will need:

  • A small block of wood big enough for the flower
  • Carving tools
  • Pen or pencil
  • Sandpaper
  • Wood finish suitable for the project
Video on how to carve a wooden flower

12. Carve a Gnome

In my experience, the true cross-over figure that is doable enough for a novice to start but is possible only for an expert to finish is the wooden gnome. I can’t count on my hands the number of times I had to throw away botched semi-gnomes because I jumped to this idea with my tools before I gained mastery over other projects.

5 Beginner Woodwork Project Ideas
5 Beginner Woodwork Project Ideas

This one is to be treated as a gradation item. If you finish carving a gnome that remotely resembles the finished work often posted on social media, you can call yourself an expert. No specific cut in this project is too difficult. However, carving at this degree of resolution requires a lot of patience, which you cannot summon without finishing at least six other items listed in this post.

Tools & Equipment Needed

To see the exact equipment I use and recommend, please see my section at the end of this article labeled “What tools are needed for woodcarving”. As a summary, for the gnome, you will need:

  • A small block of wood big enough for the gnome
  • Carving tools
  • Pen or pencil
  • Sandpaper
  • Wood finish suitable for the project
Video on how to carve a gnome from wood

The little gnome stands out very well on its own and also sits within the fairy forest collection. You can position these gnomes as smurfs or Santa’s helpers for extra marketability. But once you can make these gnomes, you don’t really need to retcon these characters because you’ll be advanced enough to make almost any popular cartoon figure.

What Should I Carve as a Beginner?

As a novice, you should carve a wooden heart because the chances of failing a heart project are low. Botched attempts look like broken hearts or scarred ones, and that can seem intentional. Moreover, hearts have gifting appeal, making your efforts easier to monetize.

The wooden heart gets its recognizable form in the beginning steps with broad cuts. After the heart-shaped block is cut with sharp tools, the facet-whittling is just the icing on top.

You might dislike heart-whittling items because it is hard to gift such them to platonic friends. But still, it is a good project to finish and call your own even if you are not an advanced carver.

What Is the Easiest Thing to Carve in Wood?

The easiest thing to carve in wood is a coaster, and even if you don’t make the perfect version, whatever you make remains usable. Carving a coasted requires adding mild depth to a flat block by carving out the equivalent of a cup’s rim. 

If you make a Kuksa cup alongside the coaster, you can match the lower base of the cup with the curve in the coaster to produce a set that you can gift to friends. Kuksa cups are not known for coming with coasters, so the idea itself is unique.

The cup and the coaster can be used separately, and the items can remain only decorative wherever there is a floating shelf. Finally, the wooden coaster can be positioned as a display platform and be paired with a barrel shot glass to make the combination look like an expert project. Each of these items is within a beginner’s grasp, and the instructions on making them are linked in the respective sections above.

What is Relief Wood Carving?

Relief wood carving is using a flat piece of wood and carving out the face to create a design. Some of the wood can be left untouched as seen in the Twitter image below from Fine Woodworking.

Is Relief Wood Carving Hard?

Relief carving can sometimes be simpler due to the carving only happening on one surface or plane of the wood. Whereas traditional carving requires 3D thinking to achieve the same outcome.

What Is the Easiest Wood to Carve Into?

Basswood is the easiest wood to carve into, making it the first block material you should use initially. For every new design you start working on, you should get the specifics down while working with Basswood, then move on to tougher material.

The best way to approach new tasks initially is to make the material a non-challenge and focus only on the design. For this, you must use wood that you’re used to working with. This post is designed to turn you into an expert by using achievable milestones.

When you carve the initial products listed here, you’ll master specific cuts within basswood. And when you need to make the same exact cuts later on for more complex items, doing so on basswood will be easier. Once you can churn out multiple pieces that look exactly like you want, you can move on to tougher wood.

By jumping directly to sturdier wood, you might set yourself up for two challenges at once. You’ll be burdened with following the design steps and with cutting into a tougher block. This isn’t encouraging or momentum-generating for new craftsmen.

How Do You Start Wood Carving for Beginners?

To start wood carving, you need to get the easiest wood to cut into (basswood) and practice the key cuts, including the V cut, sweeping cut, Stop cut, and pyramid cut. Then you should start working on items that use these cuts only.

The greatest obstacle to your success, in the beginning, is the paralysis that comes from milestones that are too tough. Anything that hinders your momentum has the potential to nerf your progress and make you give up carving entirely.

Easy beginner wood carving projects like carving wooden spoons can be encouraging to work on earlier in your woodcarving journey because building something usable within a short period can motivate you to keep going.

For the first year of carving wood, you should not work with material other than the following:

  • Apple
  • Basswood
  • Paper Birch
  • Black Walnut
  • Maple
  • Cherry
  • Poplar

Can I Teach Myself Wood Carving?

You can teach yourself woodworking without a personal instructor by watching youtube videos if you’re a visual learner and practicing cuts if you are an experiential learner. It will take a few weeks before you can start presenting your carved products to the world.

Remember that not everyone learns the same way. Here are the different types of learners among carving beginners and how they can teach themselves wood carving techniques:

  • Visual Learners – These are learners who can watch someone do something and replicate it after getting familiar with the process. They can learn woodworking by watching youtube videos of real-time wood carving.
  • Auditory learners – These individuals retain information better when they listen and remember little in silence. Watching instructional youtube videos can help them learn woodworking because, in addition to working with wood, the tutorial presenter also gives verbal instructions.
  • Kinesthetic learners – If you are a kinesthetic learner, you cannot learn wood carving unless you have a block of it in your hand and are following along with a video or real-life demonstration of whittling.
  • Reading/Writing learners – These are the individuals who do the best in school because modern education is centered around taking notes and reading textbooks. To learn wood-crafting, you need to read long-form resources like this one.

How Difficult Is Wood Carving?

Wood carving is easy enough to get started within one week. But it can take decades to master the precision that produces life-like sculptures at a high resolution. To make minimalist wood sculptures, you can expect to invest three months’ worth of your time in wood carving.

Knowing that it takes that long can adjust your expectations and give you the patience needed to become an excellent carver. To get time on your side, you should focus on manageable tasks and keep making marketable and giftable products as you keep exercising your woodcrafting skills.

According to Malcolm Gladwell’s account of multiple perceived geniuses like Bill Gates, the common thread seems to be 10,000 hours of practice. If you can find easy enough projects that you enjoy carving and can dedicate enough time to them, you’ll become an expert without even realizing it.

What Wood Should I Start Carving Into?

You should start carving into basswood as it is considered the easiest to handle for new craftsmen. Moreover, novice-friendly projects don’t require materials of different textures or hardness, so the finished project is at its desirable peak.

Which basic wood carving tools should beginners start with?

People with little to no experience should start with the following tools:

  • Spoon knife – This knife is a tool used to scoop out wood chips. It is ideal for smoothening the interior of curved areas within a project.
  • Whittling knife – This is the most useful tool for someone with little experience working on minimalist whittling projects.
  • Wood carving knife – An all-rounder in the carving space, a carving knife is an essential tool for every carver.
  • Carving blocks – Guided carving blocks will help you create projects without the burden of outlining them.
  • Finger tape – This is to protect your fingers while you carve with sharp tools.

Step by Step Wood Carving Patterns for Beginners

Here are a few wood carving patterns that you can replicate step by step. As you will notice, most entail tracing a two-dimensional outline, cutting it out, and whittling the edges. Patterns like these are a good guide to wood carving.

Find More Simple Wood Carving Projects and Patterns Here

Here is a list of the most valuable resources that I have used which helped me tremendously with wood carving. I’m definitely no expert in carving but I could not have gotten to where I am without these resources. Hopefully, you find them just as helpful.

  1. Wood carving Faces book
  2. Carving techniques and projects DVD
  3. Wood carving Basics book

 

What Tools Are Needed For Beginner Wood Carving?

Whenever I recommend tools for anyone, I will always show what has worked for me and is the best tool given the money spent. It is important first to develop skills through practice before spending thousands of dollars on tools you may not use.

Below is a list of tools you will need for these woodcarving projects. I recommend using the following tools which I got at Amazon. I find them to be of good quality and easy to use:

  1. Pen or pencil
  2. Sharp carving tools (this beginner set is fine)
  3. Whittling Knife
  4. 120, 220, and 400 grit sandpaper
  5. Food-safe wood finish like this Mineral Oil
  6. Other wood finishes like this Danish Oil or Linseed Oil
  7. Protective woodcarving gloves
  8. Sharpening stone to keep tools sharp

If you were to buy all of the above tools, you can get started for as little as $200! Not bad for a small hobby.

You may choose to start off, by getting this good quality set of carving tools if you are looking to do more carving.

Safety Tips For a Beginner Carving Wood

I have said this many times and it applies to all woodworking, keep your tools razor sharp. The reason – it is safer with sharp tools as you need to apply less force to cut the wood.

On the flip side of this is sharp tools can lead to bad cuts. While wood carving, always have complete control of the carving tools and carve away from your body and other hand as much as you can.

As mentioned above, protective gloves and a thumb protector are worthwhile investments until you get better at controlling your tools. Be safe!

Derek

I'm the guy behind Woodwork Hubby! I have been doing woodwork and cabinetmaking for over 30 years so I decided to start this site to help educate others on what I have learned.

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