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Wood Carving & Sculpture

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Wood Carving & Sculpture a Craft From Before the Dawn of History

Wood Carving of The Last Supper Church Carving Bavaria
Figures of Christ and his disciples in the wood carving scene of the Last Supper, central to Tilman Riemenschneider’s Altarpiece of the Holy Blood (1499-1505, above) in the St Jakobskirche in the town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany


The oldest known stone carvings date back more than 25,000 years. Although no examples of prehistoric wood sculpture remain (wood decomposes much faster than stone, usually in a few generations), it is reasonable to suppose that early man began to wood carving at least as early as he began to carve stone, considering the relative hardness of the two materials.

The oldest extant wood carving sculpture comes from Egypt, where the hot, arid climate has helped to preserve it. A small statue discovered in 1860 in Karnak, on the Nile River, is at least 4,500 years old. Wood sculpture is thought to have been produced in many of the great ancient civilizations. For example, great classical Greek statues were carved of wood, painted, and overlaid with ivory and gold.

Wood Carving Decline

As with many art forms, wood carving sculpture went into a decline in the Middle Ages but then arose in splendor during the Renaissance, especially in Spain and Italy. Such sculptors as Michelangelo and Donatello, known primarily for their work in other mediums, also sculpted wood. Sculptors in Europe as well as in North Africa and the Far East frequently worked in close conjunction with architects for secular and religious purposes.


Wood carving sculpture became part of the popular American culture in the 19th century. Some examples of fine wood sculpture (which are frequently overlooked as fine art) are figureheads from sailing ships and cigar store Indians.

Although the use of new mediums has contributed to the decline of wood carving sculpture in modern times, it remains a vital art form. The tools and techniques have changed little since its beginning, so the art of wood sculpture gives the sculptor an artistic link with his prehistoric ancestors.


The Tools for Carving and Sculpting



Most wood carving is accomplished with tools called gouges, which are chisels with curved cutting edges. Gouges come in scores of shapes: there is variation in the size of the cutting edge (from about 1/8 inch to 3 ½ inches); the arc of the cutting edge (shallow, medium, or deep); the shape of the shank (straight, long bent, or short bent); and the shape of the cutting edge (there are special shapes, such as the spoon gouge, the V-gouge, and the fishtail gouge).


Start Slowly

It is best to start with a few basic gouges, for example a wide, flat gouge, a medium gouge (about 3/4 inch), a spoon gouge, a V-gouge, and a flat chisel. As you gain experience, your work will dictate which of the more exotic gouges you will need. Also buy around wooden mallet for striking the handles of the gouges.

Buy high-quality tools, as they will save you the trouble of having to sharpen the cutting edges every few minutes, as happens with cheaper tools.

Finish The Surface

Abraders are used to finish the surface of the sculpture. They include wood files and rasps (buy them separately or in the form of a combination rasp, which has several different faces)and rifflers—smaller finishing tools with finer teeth than rasps. Gouges, chisels, mallets, and rifflers are available at crafts supply stores.

Buy a sharpening stone (oilstone) with both a coarse and a fine face. A wire brush or file card is used to clean the wood from the teeth of files, rasps, and rifflers.


Clamps Are Needed

Clamps are needed for laminating wood blocks and for holding the sculpture stationary during carving (a woodworking vise is good for this, but not necessary). The size and shape of your work will determine the size and shape of the clamps.

A crosscut saw is used to make the first cuts into a block of wood, and sandpaper is used during finishing.

Here Is A Selection Of Wood Carving Tools To Choose From


Reference: Readers Digest Crafts & Hobbies – A Step-by-Step guide to Creative Skills.
& Wiki Commons, Cigar shop Indian-Daniel Iggers, carved duck-Mary-Irene Lang.


4 Responses

  1. Taylor G

    I am an art student here in brisbane, I need to know where may I purchase lumber for carving.
    please tell me if anybody knows, thanks a lot!

  2. Janek

    That stain will stay, what you can do is try to match it with a stain and try to get an even all over color.

  3. Janek

    Sorry but the article is specifically about wood carving, if we do a plastic sculpting post then we can let you know.

  4. Nathan B

    Like i mean how do we create a scupltured dog from plastic plus different stuff like cardboard. I dont like to employ metal or lumber. Like are you able to explain how to create the shape utilizing stuff like bottle plus plastic jars you see at house?

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