Important Disclosure:

Wood carving and whittling may be habit forming and
could prevent you from engaging in household chores and other
unpleasant tasks.

Carving is enjoyable and you may be prone to sharing it with others; thus, causing them to experience the same distractions from less pleasant tasks as you may experience yourself.

“The century of magnificent awareness preceding the Civil War was the age of wood. Wood was not accepted simply as the material for building a new nation - it was inspiration.  Gentle to touch, exquisite to contemplate, tractable in creative hands, stronger by weight than iron, wood was, as William Penn had said, 'a substance with a soul.'  It spanned rivers for man; it built his home and heated it in the winter; man walked on wood, slept in it, sat on wooden chairs at wooden tables, drank and ate the fruits of trees from wooden cups and dishes.  From cradle of wood to coffin of wood, the life of man was encircled by it.”

Eric Sloane
A Reverence for Wood

Carve-ful (kärv ful) adj. Carve-ful-ly n. (As found in the Keller Carving Dictionary - First Edition):

1 Full of or expressing deep positive feeling about carving (profoundly emotional in a positive way); 2 Feeling, causing, or indicating joy through carving; 3 Being in good spirits while carving; 4 Cautious in the application of carving; 5 Thorough and painstaking in the execution of carving.

Helpful Hints

When working with wood that is either too hard or to soft, to achieve good detail, I apply a 50/50 mix of rubbing alcohol and water to the area. Once the mixture is absorbed into the wood, I find that it cuts much more easily. 
Wearing a carving glove when holding a piece being worked on is a good idea; such as with whittling. Place the glove on the hand holding the piece itself. It could save you from a needless injury.
I hone my tools approximately once each hour of use. Doing so keeps a fine razor edge on the tool.
I don't try to catch a dropped knife or chisel. It is easier to sharpen a dropped tool than it is to repair a finger or toe.
A small sliver can often be removed by placing a piece of tape over it and pulling it gently off.
Good carving comes from practice and experience. And a lot of that comes from bad judgment along the way.
It's never too late to start carving. Many artists have taken up carving after retirement. 
Albeit, I do not believe in sanding, careful tooling and clean cuts save you hours of sanding.
Clean cuts provide a highly finished professional look. When I use hand tools (versus mallet work) on cross grain, I use a slicing cut for much greater ease. 
I find that clamping my work so both hands are free is always worth the effort - not to mention the added safety. 

Using a Template

Using a template can offer many advantages in applying your carving project on wood. A template can be:
1 moved around on your wood ensuing a good fit
2 enlarged or reduced on a copy machine to better fit your wood
3 used over and over again in cases where you are doing multiple pieces
4 can help you identify waste wood allowing you to band saw or chisel it off prior to getting into the meat of things .
Remember to make a top and side view template that can be aligned with each other on the wood.  Use carbon paper or a pattern makers wheel to transfer your work to the wood if you cannot use a pencil around the edges of your pattern;

When doing lettering and fine line detail, I use a hooked, razor sharp knife.  Doing so helps prevent my knife from coming loose from my cut and slipping or streaking across the wood.  If you have not experienced a hooked knife, I suggest you do.  The advantages are endless.

When using palm gouges, it is easy to bang the knuckles or fingers of the pushing hand on the piece being carved.  Once you have banged yourself a few times, wrap the banged spot in vet wrap or elastic bandage material to soften future banging.  Banging yourself a few times will make it abundantly clear where to apply the vet wrap. 


©2012 Michael Keller Woodcarving. All rights reserved.