What should I carve as a beginner?

Learn the basics of wood carving, from choosing the right wood and tools to planning your first project. Get tips and advice on how to get started, what materials and wood carving tools to use, and how to make the most of your woodcarving projects. Whether you are a beginner, just starting out, or an experienced woodworker looking to try something new, this is your comprehensive guide to woodcarving.

What should I carve as a beginner? Woodcarving basics.

If I were a beginner, what would be the best carving to do? Getting started in wood carving is not that difficult.

That question I am asked myself multiple times. I am carving every day and have done it for many years. My first chisel I stole from my grandfather.

Every summer I stayed with my grandparents in a small Russian village by the Volga river. I remember when I was six years old. I snicked inside my grandfather's workshop, and I found one woodworking chisel. I didn't know what the tool it was, but I knew it had a cutting edge and I can probably cut something with that. To make a story short, it was the beginning of my journey in the world of carving. I didn't carve wood that day. I found a white brick and started to “chisel away”. I really did not have any idea what I am carving. I just enjoyed the process. at the end of t day, I could identify a human face in that brick. I don't really remember what I felt, joy or frustration, but I know now it was the starting point of my lifelong journey as a carver.

After that, I tried to work with a piece of wood and liked it a lot more than brick. I made the decision. I will carve wood and no longer


I knew nothing about types of wood or about different types of wood carving. What the difference is between chip carving and relief carving? All those fancy words made little sense to me. I did not know any wood carving basics.

I was very blessed with both sides of my family. My grandfather had a small shop and a couple of workbenches and I could spend time with him and watch how he works. For him, his shop was a “hiding place” from his wife, my grandmother. But obviously, she knew where to find him.

Other side of my family. Father's side had a history of fine woodworkers and furniture makers. One of my great-grandfathers was one of the furniture makers for a royal house in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

My Grandmother told me stories of her childhood in her's fathers woodworking shop. She remembered the songs of her father. He was singing while working with wood.

So, I got my first chisel from my grandfather, but my first whittling knife from my grandmother. Well, it was not really a whittling knife it was a pocket knife made in the USSR. Pocket knives are good for basic carving. Those two tools were my carving tools. I did not have any gouge or any power tools. Not even a real chip carving knife. A simple pocket knife to create something beautiful is enough.

Back then I didn't know that woodcarving will be one of the most important parts of my life. Now I am carving for collectors around the world and private residences. I did not know that woodcarving could be such a rewarding hobby.

What should I carve as a beginner if I what to learn wood carving?

In my introduction, I really did not answer your question

As a beginner, what should I carve?

It is a good question. We are all different and have different tastes. We even look at the world differently.

“nature itself operates through the constant interaction of opposites—earth and fire, sun and moon, male and female, dark and light.”

(Robert Greene, Mastery)

Ask Yourself first what is more appealing to you a spoon or relief carvings. Sometimes a beginner doesn't realize how big the difference is between carving a wooden spoon and carving some 3-dimensional sculpture with a gouge and a mallet. Also known as carving in the round.

Before you ask

My first carving project: what should I do?

Ask another important question. What style of carving do I like? But this is not the only question you have to ask yourself. Another question is: what tools do you have? Do you have basic wood carving tools or just a knife? Some of you have only a chainsaw :). You can do a chainsaw carving but with a chainsaw, you can't carve a spoon.

My advice would be to experiment with different styles. Again, what hand tools do you have? If you have only a chip carving knife you can't do “spoon carving“, but it does not mean you can't do something else.

Wood carving ideas for beginners

Spoon Carving

Spoon is an excellent beginner wood carving project. There is no limit on the design of what you can do on a handle of a spoon. There is a whole movement of spoon carvers. All they make — just love spoons. I love carving spoons myself and made a quite few of them. But for spoons, get at least one carving gouge. Otherwise, you can't scoop out anything from inside of a spoon head. If you love spoons I would recommend buying specialty tools for spoon carving. Try it, you like it is innate in you. You can proudly call yourself: ” I am a Carver of Spoons!!!” It is the easiest wood carving style – one of the simplest!

Old European Knife Carving

If you have only a knife or if you did not decide what tools to buy, get a knife. It will be a good introduction to woodcarving hobby.

The carving process is a little different if you are using only a knife but it will open a world of possibilities. You can make beautiful projects with a knife and get a lot of “dopamine explosions” in your brain.

“Dopamine works like transmission fluid: if there’s not enough, as is the case in people with ADHD, attention can’t easily be shifted or can only be shifted all the way into high gear.”

(John J. Ratey and Eric Hagerman, Spark)

I have really good wood carving ideas for beginners in my school. Some projects are done with only one knife. with a knife, you can learn woodcarving basics. But. A big BUT if you are in England, and you will carve with a knife don't tell anyone. Knife-carvers are not real carvers in the mindset of English woodcarvers. I don't really know why. A knife is a great wood carving tool.

Relief Carving

May relief carving is more appealing to you. Relief carving is done by an absolutely different approach. Also, don't forget, there are multiple relief styles of wood carving. It all depends on your use. If it is for furniture, then it is a low relief I have a course about low-relief carving for furniture. It is a Walnut panel. If it is a wall decoration, it could be High relief. But again, the question is: What tools do you have? For relief carving, you will need gouges and chisels. You really can't be done with a carving knife. Relief is three-dimensional and you need to learn wood carving techniques specifically for relief. you will need different carving skills. I have a few projects online and everything you need to know is there. I cover carving methods applicable just to relief carving. For example, one of the projects is an 18th-century furniture panel. It is a low-relief carving and you can use the same type of carving to embellish your furniture. In this course or better to call carving tutorial, you will find out my approach from design to execution. you will learn the basics of carving for furniture.

Just in case you don't know what is Relief carving, relief carvings have a flat background, and carvings have a flat back. The image is carved on flat wood. Personally, I like this type of carving all you need flat piece of wood and you’ll also need good sharp tools.

Low relief Carving for Furniture

Wood spirit

Wood spirit carving is not my thing. I don't even want to carve anything like that. But again it is me and as I said we are not the same and maybe it is what you like. Just be careful, wood spirit carving could lead you to idol carving :). Usually, that type of carving takes only a small wood block and a couple of tools.

Carving in the round

Carving in the round is my favorite. It is fully three-dimensional and carved from all sides. I don't think it is not considered wood carving for beginners but on another hand, if you can start your carving journey with something difficult as carving in the round You will learn so much and you’ll be able to carve anything. You can proudly call yourself: ” I am Wood Carver “. This type of carving covers the basics of wood carving techniques to very advanced ones. On some of the big projects, you can even try to use power tools and see if you like it or not. In some cases, you can remove wood much quicker. But on another hand, if you know how to sharpen your tools and if you have Big Gouge you can remove wood also very quickly and without producing any dust and also you don't have to sand it. Shaping wood with just hand tools is pure joy and you don't need sanding tools.

By the way, the carving is one of the woodworking trades you can get by without wood dust and sanding. Like I said above if you will get yourself in carving in the round and finish it rather forms of carving will be a piece of cake for you. Keep in mind, three-dimensional carving usually takes much longer to complete and if you have patience, you will get so much from only one project. The skills you get will last a lifetime.

Bird and Fish Carving

A carving of a bird or a fish is also carving in the round, but there is a whole movement of bird/fish carvers. Remember the main question of this article is. I'm a beginner. What should I carve? Is a Bird or Fish carving good for the beginner? I think so. Usually, you don't need a huge chunk of wood. You can get a small piece of basswood and start with rough cuts. Why basswood? It is not hardwood and common types of wood used by the majority of woodcarvers. 99% of wood carving in Europe is done in basswood. I should call it limewood or Lindenwood or tilia. For birds and fish, it is ideal wood. It is softwood and easy to carve and it holds details very well. And there are a lot of details on birds, like wings and feathers. Or scales on a fish. I like to bird carving because of those details and textures. Rather than a smooth finish, you can cover the wood surface with the tiniest feather details.

In Conclusion

Woodcarving is a popular hobby. Even if some people think it is a dying art, I don't agree. To answer your question:

I am a beginner at carving. What should I do?

  1. Choose out of a variety of carving style that is most appealing to you.
  2. Ask yourself, what tools do I have? and what should I buy?
  3. Remember, carving requires some practice, so start with a basic project like a spoon.
  4. Join the woodcarving course and you will get a lot wood carving tips for beginners.

Nov 2022

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