Where do I start?
Woodcarving is a fun and rewarding hobby that can be enjoyed by all. From a simple whittled figure to a world-class bird carving, you can be both challenged and rewarded in a finished product from the completion of your first carving. There are a world of products available to woodcarvers today and it can be confusing on exactly what you need to start woodcarving. This is an introduction into the most basic of materials you'll need to get started.
As the name woodcarving implies, you'll need a piece of wood. The wood of choice for most carvers is basswood. Basswood comes from the Linden tree, with the most prized wood being grown in the upper midwest of the US. It is a hardwood with a tight grain, but yet is soft and easy to carve. Many other woods can be carved with beautiful results but for a beginner, basswood will give you the best results.
Probably the first tool most woodcarvers have and will always have nearby is a carving knife. The standard length for a carving knife blade is 1-1/2". There are shorter ones and longer ones, but for starters, 1-1/2" is just right. You can do a lot with this knife and for general all-around whittling it will suit you well. And remember, they're sharp.
When carving, we highly recommend a safety glove. They are worn on the hand that holds your carving project. Safety gloves generally have some type of slash-resistant fiber woven in that provides the protection. The two most common types of these fibers are Kevlar and stainless steel. Kevlar is a little less expensive and offers slightly less slash protection, but is comfortable and still offers good protection. Stainless steel offers the better protection but is more expensive. Regardless of your pick, a safety glove is the right choice. Leather thumb guards are worn on the thumb of your knife hand to protect you when making a pull cut.
Keeping your tools sharp will ensure a more pleasurable carving experience in that it will take less effort to push the knife through the wood and the cut will be smooth and precise. Most tools we sell come sharp and ready to carve. To keep a tool sharp, the first line of defense is a strop. Basically this is leather on a wooden frame. On the leather you will need some sort of abrasive, which is a fine metallic compound that is harder than steel and is what actually hones and polishes the steel of your tool. Strops are for keeping a sharp knife sharp. Any tool that can't be made sharp with the strop will need a more coarse material and for that you would need to progress to stones.
Instruction is key for successful woodcarving and we have a wealth of knowledge in our book and DVD section. Most of the beginner publications will have simple projects to give you a feel for working with the grain of the wood and instruction in the proper way to make great cuts. Most of these books will have step-by-step projects with photos and text to guide you through to a finished carving. As your skills progress there are literally hundreds of carving books on many styles of carving that are sure to show off your new skills.