An Eco Friendly Hobby: Wood Carving

If you’re looking for an eco friendly hobby, consider wood carving.

This article will walk you through the basics so you can see if this hobby might be right for you.

What is wood carving?

Wood carving is the process of cutting or carving wood into an ornamental object or art piece with a sharp metal tool. Wood carving has origins to ancient times; it first gathered interested in the middle ages because wood was easy to manipulate. Artists were able to add detail and definition to sculptures through wood carving. 
Wood carving set tool and other tools evolved throughout the years

Photo Credit: WideWalls 

Through time, the art of wood carving evolved to include decoration and design. The 18th century is commonly referred to as wood carving’s classical era. Wood carving became ever-present in a home’s design through wood adorned hearths, door panels, and doorways. 

As a beginner, you’re probably not looking to carve the next great museum piece (if you are, great! Send us a picture) but this is a great guide to get you started on the basics behind wood working. 

For a beginner’s introduction to wood carving see: What is wood carving?

Here are a few styles of wood carving 

Chip Carving

Chip carving is just how it sounds. A wood carver removes small chips out of the wood. To try out chip carving, you will make tiny triangular shaped cuts with chip carving knives to create movement and design in the wood. 

Relief carving 

Relief carving is a three-dimensional technique used by wood carvers to make it appear as if a design is protruding from the wood. Wood carvers use chisels, gouges, and a mallet to give the sculpture a three-dimensional look. 

Scandinavian flat plane

You are probably very familiar with this wood carving technique, even if you don’t know it yet. The Scandinavian flat plane is more of a style than a technique. To truly create a flat plane style, only a carving knife is used, and the figure is carved from one block of wood.  If you want to take a look at an example, Harley Refsel specializes in Scandinavian flat plane wood carving.  The picture below is an example of Mr. Refsel’s work. A group of toy figurines

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Photo Credit: Craft in America 


A wood carver is considered a Treen style carver when they carve household items out of wood. No, that doesn’t mean wood furniture. A treen carver creates bowls, plates, forks, spoons and the like. If you’re thinking about carving an entire cutlery set, then you’d be a treen carver!  


Whittling is probably one of the most widely known forms of wood carving. I’m sure you’re picturing somebody’s grandpa sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch, cig dangling out of his mouth, with a knife in one hand and a block of wood in the other. While the characterization of whittlers isn’t that accurate, the art of whittling is in fact carving a design or utility item from a block of wood with a knife. 

Chainsaw carving

You’ll need a lot of room for this one, preferably a backyard. Basically, what we’re saying is this style is not apartment friendly. This style is exactly what the name says – using a chainsaw to carve large blocks of wood. It is a relatively new style that started in the 1950s. 

How is wood carving eco friendly?

Most forms of wood carving are eco friendly because they have a very small footprint.

  • Input materials are low impact. If you source your wood from scraps that would have otherwise gone to the dump or driftwood that you find naturally, your impact is very low.
  • Process is low impact. Almost all wood carving styles rely on only your energy input to chip and carve away the wood. Even sharpening the tools is done by hand. Unlike a hobby like motorbike riding, wood carving requires no energy-intensive inputs.
  • Output is low impact. The result of a wood carver’s work is mostly natural. There are no chemicals or other harmful parts of a wood carver’s final product. If you plan to paint your work, however, take the type of paint you use into consideration.

What makes a good wood carver? 

Wood carving is great for someone who likes to: 

  • Work with their hands 
  • Is methodical 
  • Patient 
  • Willing to practice over and over again 

These are just some of the hallmarks of what makes a good wood carver. Wood carving is extremely time consuming and often times difficult, but wood carving is also extremely rewarding. As you work at it, you will get better and better. Additionally, you’ll have visual markers as you improve; you can look back on your first projects to see how far you’ve come. Even if you don’t feel like you have these characteristics, wood carving is worth a try! 

Woodcarving terminology

Wood carving has its own language, as a beginner it may be difficult to understand what a professional or experienced wood carver is talking about. Here are a few of the most popular wood carver terms to help you through your next conversation. Don’t worry, you’ll pick it up in no time! 

  • Full-size tools: Tools that are between 10” and 11”. These tools require two hands and a mallet. 
  • Palm tools: These are tools that are 5” or smaller, they are usually used for detail or small carvings. 
  • Applied carving: The background of a piece is worked on separately and applied after it is completed.
  • Face: Face describes the wider side of piece of wood or the side of the block that will be on display to the public.
  • Fishtail wood tools: The blade looks like a tail of a fish. These tools are used for wood finishing, lettering, skimming and modeling. 

These are just a few of the terms you’ll run into in your wood carving career. If you’re curious about the types of tools and what they do, check out this blog post on great tools for beginners



I am a minimalist, environmentalist, and conscious consumer with a background in environmental studies, conservation, and tech. I founded prch to help others be more sustainable and realize an alternative to consumerism.