Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Tips On Chip Carving

During the one day I spent in Jögge Sundqvist's class at Country Workshops, I started carving a small bowl using an axe, adze, knife, and gouges.

I finished the shape in my home workshop and decided to add a little chip carving for decoration. Jögge carves decorative elements into most of his work and he cautioned us in class to resist the urge to add too much. "Don't overdo it" he said.

So, I'm just chip carving the top edge of my bowl.

Like everything in woodworking, chip carving is a learning experience. One thing I've found to be beneficial is to do a practice run with a new design, especially one that has tricky parts (photo 1). Much like making a prototype before building a piece of furniture, carving a practice piece allows you to work out the trouble spots.

Second thing I learned—the hard way—is to start a new cut facing away from the nearest cut (photo 2). If you plunge your knife into a new cut facing a previously chip carved element, you might accidentally lift out a chip that was meant to remain.

Tight curves can be tough. You need to change your attack angle so that just the tip of the blade enters the workpiece (photo 3). This enables you to make tighter turns.

A few more things: make thin pencil lines and try to carve them away so you don't need to remove them after you're finished; work under a raking light so you can see hard shadows; turn your workpiece often to view it from different angles; strop your knife a lot!; don't try to flick/dig/pry loose a chip with your knife—you're liable to break the tip. You have to carve out the chip; try not to stop mid-cut. A smoother line is achieved if you carve in a continuous motion; thick and thin lines are more interesting than parallel ones; and smooth cuts are more important than symmetrical ones.


Adrian Baird Ba Than said...

Like most things in life,keeping it simple seems to be the key..
Very nice little detail,hows about a shot of the whole thing?

Jonathan said...

Kari -
I want to give chip carving a try. Are there any books or videos out there that you would recommend?

The bowl looks beautiful by the way.


Vic Hubbard said...

Wow! You ARE one talented lady!

Jack Plane said...

Nicely done Kari.

In situations like this, I remind myself of something Antoine-Marie-Roger de Saint-Exupery said; "La perfection est atteinte non quand il ne reste rien à ajouter, mais quand il ne reste rien à enlever."
(Which translates as "You know you've achieved perfection in design, not when you have nothing more to add, but when you have nothing more to take away".)

Mitchell said...

I must be the world's biggest woose.

I would like to learn to chip carve as well. I haven't bought the knives yet, but I have picked up a roll of finger tape. I just can't figure out if you put it on before you start to carve to protect your fingers and thumb, or after, to help close the wound.

Images 1, 2 and 4 are fine, but that number 3 scares the bejebbers out of me. After I read your suggestion of stropping the blade often, your thumb in that photo got huge.

Kidding aside, is it possible to get some direction on blades; what shape of blade is used for what, which shape do you use the most, that kind of thing? It would really be helpful.

Thumb aside (no pun intended), great stuff.

Kari Hultman said...

Black, I'm going to chip carve the entire edge, all around the top, so I will definitely post a full shot once it's all finished.

Jonathan, I learned chip carving from Wayne Barton. He is the master. I bought both of his books, both knives, and both ceramic stones from him. He also have a video which I have not seen:

Thanks, Vic. :o)

Nice one, Jack! So true. Also reminds me of Mies van der Rohe's quote: Less is More.

Mitchell, I think I'll do a short video soon so you can see how easy this is. The man who taught me has been chip carving for 50 years and has never cut himself. I've been chip carving only for a short while, but I have also never cut myself. I have been cut by a screwdriver, however. haha

Anonymous said...

So how long did it take you to carve that first design?

Kari Hultman said...

Dan, just guessing—I'd say it took about 15 minutes. But it would go more quickly with practice. Chip carving is pretty fast.

Dyami Plotke said...

Another wonderful post, Kari. Thanks for the tips.

How do you get these great photos of both hands working?

Gye Greene said...

That looks rather Scandinavian. But maybe it's just the pale wood, combined with the orange-y light. ;)


Kari Hultman said...

Dyami, I invested in a tripod a long time ago. It made shots like that MUCH easier.

Gye, I'll take that as a compliment!

Randy said...

What great work you do, I wish I could carve like that. Thanks,Randy!!

Handi said...


You are doing Great work. I've always wanted to list Carving under my Belt as another Craft or Skill along with my Very, Very, beginning woodworking, Scroll Sawing and begining Woodturning lol.

You are making this more Easier and Inspirational for me to try and buy some tools and start in.


Kari Hultman said...

Randy, give it a try—you can do it!

Handi, chip carving is the easiest of all the carving techniques and is a good place to start if you want to get into carving.

Handi said...


From doing some research lastnight and checked out one of the Free Books I found along with some other Historicial Books on the Topic that's what I came to!

It was easier cause it's the same design basically just layed out differently to give you a different appearance.

Thanks for having a Small demo on the subject to get me more interested in the subject! I'll play around with some Designs maybe tonight and I'll take a Picture of it and write about it on my Blog if you are interested in seeing my Progress!

As funds are scarce, there may not be alot on it at this time, I've got a few pieces of Pine 2x4's I might Rip them into 1/2" Planks or something and practice on them and do some post on them.