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Beginner Essential Guide (BEG) for woodcarving : Chapter 2 : holding your tools and workpiece

securing a workpiece

This is one area where there are many solutions to the same problem. Depending on the size and shape of your workpiece several options are available to hold it steady while you work:

  • using clamps to secure it to a table or workbench
  • use a bench vise (or any other type of vise)
  • glue the workpiece to a larger board and clamp that onto a table or workbench
  • screw or clamp some small blocks around your workpiece either into the workbench or a larger board.

For relief carving and most carvings that have a flat underside I prefer the last option. Screw a block around the piece on each side so it can’t move when you’re carving. You can still lift it straight up and turn it around if you need to.

Carving techniques

There are a few basic practices you might want to get into from the get go. The first one is carving left and right handed. If you’re a beginner, you haven’t learned to carve with either hand so they both start from scratch. This is the ideal time to start practicing carving with your left and right hand. This will come in handy when you’re working on details or in an area you can only get to with one hand or the other. This also helps when the material has funky grain going in all sorts of directions. Instead of moving the piece or turning around the piece, you can simply switch hands.

The second is tool control with and without a mallet. In the beginning you might think that working with your hands will give you more control then using a mallet. However in many cases it is easier to apply a consistent amount of force on the tool with a mallet. There are use cases for both, in time it will become second nature and you’ll switch between using a mallet or using both hands regularly.

holding your tools

holding a gouge or V tool

While you will typically hold a chisel by the handle, this doesn’t give you the best control for fine details. It is far better to hold a gouge or V tool by the metal end, closed to the blade. this allows you to use your wrist in a firmer grip, while still having a full range of motion.

This is how you would work with a mallet and gouge.

Compare that to holding a bench chisel, you grab that by the handle. It requires less fine grained control but on average more power.

Using a mallet will give you full control over the force you put on to the cutting edge. It will take a bit of practice to get used to working with a mallet in your non-dominant hand, but trust me it’s worth it in the end.

For very fine details and work in softer woods you can just use your second hand to provide the force needed to cut. On harder wood species or species with a lot of knots, this is not ideal. This is because the softer parts will cut fine and then your cutting edge hits a harder part. It very easy to put too much for on the chisel at that time to make it slip or cut too deep.

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