How to Build a Wood Sculpture

Things You'll Need

  • Wood
  • Chip carving knife
  • Carpenter's chisels
  • U gouges
  • V gouges
  • Bent gouges
  • Spoon gouges
  • Skewed chisels
  • Mallets
  • Flexible shaft tool
  • Band saw
  • Belt sander
  • Chain saw
  • Drill press
  • Planer and joiner

How to Build a Wood Sculpture. Artists use many mediums to create their work. Wood may be one of the earliest materials used for sculpting.

Choose the Appropriate Wood

Select a log or stick that has moderate moisture. If the wood is too wet, your work will be difficult. If it is too dry, it may crack during the carving process.

Purchase wood that has been cut into boards and kiln-dried. These boards can be glued together if you need a large board. Unlike wood from logs, they can also be used to form unusual shapes.

Use soft wood for hand-held projects. Soft wood, like basswood or butternut, is easy to carve and is safer to use for hand-held projects. However, this kind of wood is difficult to stain so items made from soft wood are usually painted.

Choose butternut, cherry, mahogany or walnut if you want wood with a natural finish. There is little finishing work to be done with sculpture made out of these woods because of their attractive colors and grain patterns.

Purchase Your Carving Tools

Buy your hand carving tools. For manual carving, you will need a chip carving knife, carpenter's chisels, U gouges, V gouges, bent gouges, spoon gouges, skewed chisels and mallets. These tools, except the mallets, can also be purchased in smaller sizes as palm tools.

Speed your work with hand-held power carving tools. One such equipment is the flexible shaft tool. This tool is small enough to reach into tight spaces, cuts down on the time used to carve and sand wood and can be used for any type of wood regardless of grain.

Purchase woodworking machinery. These include a band saw, belt sander, chain saw, drill press and a planer and joiner.

Carve the Wood

Use the dark lines on the wood to determine the direction of the grain. You will need to follow the grain as you build your sculpture to avoid tearing the wood.

Carve downward, into the wood grain, diagonally, across the grain or parallel to the grain. Avoid carving up against the grain to prevent the wood from tearing.

Use a knife when carving a small sculpture. Hold the wood in one hand and the knife in the other. When making a cut, place the thumb of the hand holding the wood against the back of the blade. This helps to control the cut.

Begin to build a big sculpture by removing as much unneeded wood as possible. You will need to use a chain saw or a band saw for this.

Carve in the details after defining the shape of your sculpture. The U gouges and V gouges help to create small lines and shapes.

Sand and finish your sculpture. You will use progressively fine sandpaper, from coarse to extra fine, to smoothen the surface of your work. You may finish your sculpture in several ways, including applying a stain, polish or paint.

Read "How to Carve Wood: A Book of Projects and Techniques" by Richard Butz to learn more about how to build a wood sculpture (see Resources below).


  • When you build wood sculptures, protect yourself with a pair of safety glasses and a dust mask.

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