Saturday, October 2, 2010

Woodcarving Article - Chip Carving Part 1

Chip Carving - Part 1

Today I am talking about chip carving. This is something totally new for me as I have never chip carved in my life before starting this article. I thought it would be fun to start a new series about something I’m not as familiar with so we could learn together.

Since I am a beginner in this area I decided to look to the experts. I have a book called Chip Carver's Workbook: Teach Yourself with 7 Easy and Decorative Projects by Dennis Moor. I have been reading his book and will be relating a lot of his thoughts in this article. Dennis owns Chipping Away and is considered an expert in the field of chip carving. Also, since Dennis lives in Canada this article will have some innate international flair, don’t you know.

Chip Carving – WhatIzIt?

I’m going to take the definition straight from the book: “Chip carving is a style of woodcarving in which knives are used to remove selected “chips” of wood from the project in a single piece. Patterns can be free-form style or geometrically based with figures, such as triangles, circles, simple lines, and curves.”

You’ve probably seen this style of carving on wooden plates, bowls, and boxes. While these are very popular items to chip carve I have learned that, just like other styles of carving, you cannot assume anything. Chip carving can be applied to a limitless number of mediums. To the right you can see a chip carved cross from the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum.


Basswood seems to be the wood of choice to start out with. As we’ve discussed many times before basswood is the almost perfect carving wood. It fits chip carving very well, too. Butternut is also a universally accepted carving wood and chip carvers use it quite a bit as well.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t other woods that you might want carve. Don’t let your creativity be limited. Just make sure your wood choice works for your project. Some woods split more easily than others or may not hold details as well. Be informed about what you are doing and you’ll be ok.

He’s go a knife, or two, or three

Just like other areas of carving chip carving features a lot of knife work. Actually almost all chip carving is done with a knife. While Carving Magazine has featured an article about chip carving with gouges the traditional method still uses only knives.

Originally this was just two knives: the cutting knife and the stab knife. The use of these two knives comes from the Swiss. Using just these two tools they were able to develop an efficient chip carving method. Dennis has added a third knife to this classical set. It is a smaller version of the cutting knife and is ideal for those with smaller hands.

Other Stuff

Other items commonly used by chip carvers are drawing instruments, templates, and safety gear. The drawing instruments can be as simple as a pencil, T-square, and a bow compass. These allow the carver to lay out the project. Templates are very helpful for laying out borders. Other template items include plastic rulers (flexible), circle templates, and protractors. Any tools that help you design your project fall in this category.

Since most chip carving takes place in the lap of the carver and not on a table some type of leg protection is required. You should wear something like a leg apron or use a wooden tray to protect yourself from cuts.

As always you want to have very sharp tools. Sharp tools are safer than dull tools because they require less work to make the cut. This means you won’t be using as much force and are less likely to slip with the knife.

Another neat item that helps with chip carving is practice blocks. These are blocks of wood that come stamped with patterns. You can use these blocks to practice your cuts. You can make your own blocks as well. This will allow you to practice laying out your project and then practice making the cuts!

Grand Finale

Chip carving is an expressive art form that has unlimited applications. Chip carving can be the main focus of a piece or it can be used as an accent. It is easy to find the needed tools and is inexpensive to begin. My wife, who does not carve, said it is the first kind of carving she has thought she would enjoy. That’s a pretty good testimony if you ask me. Keep those chips flying!

This article originally appeared in Carving Magazine.


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