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Carving Characters

A DIYer shows how she carves figures out of wood.

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carving figures out of wood
  • Time

    Several Months

  • Price Range

    $100 - $250

  • Difficulty



Step 1: Make a Wood Block

Sande starts working on her creative figures by making a wood block out of 3 pieces of basswood glued together. Using the 3 pieces formed into a block rather than starting with a solid block of wood decreases the likelihood of the wood warping or splitting.

Step 2: Sketch a Character

On the wood block, she sketches the general shape of the figure on the front and back sides of the block. Then she cuts away excess material using a band saw.

sketch general shape of figure on wood block

Step 3: Cut Out the Character

She then puts the rough figure into a vise and uses a grinder to cut away more material. She says most woodcarvers use a chisel and mallet hammer for this step, but she prefers the grinder because it removes the material more quickly.
Once the piece has been roughed out, Sande uses a variety of hand carving tools to finish the shape of the sculpture. A palm scoop is a tool that has a curved end. The tool is held in the palm of the hand and pushed into the material. The palm scoop is used to get into corners and to remove material from flat surfaces.
A carving knife is a tool that removes material on curved surfaces. You pull this tool towards you as you cut, so you may want to wear gloves or thumb guards when using this kind of tool.

Step 4: Add Details

She uses a detail blade to make fine cuts on the figure. Sande uses this very sharp tool to create the intricate facial features of her figures. A Santa figure like this one takes Sande an entire day to complete. She uses horseshoe nails for the teeth on this figure. At one time she used wood to make the teeth, but says the nails are stronger and don’t break as often.

Step 5: Paint the Character

Sande says painting the figures takes just as long as carving them. She does shadowing and uses contrasting colors to put the finishing touches on her figures.

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