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What should I do to get better, faster?

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  • What should I do to get better, faster?

    Hi all.

    I know the answer to the title question is, of course, "practice", but I'd love some specific input on resources, learning techniques and so on.

    Background: I started wood carving (in the round, with gouges) earlier this year. I get in a few hours a week and have done a few tutorials (including some of the projects from Chris Pye's excellent course) as well as various little projects and test pieces. I'm getting somewhere*, but when I see even "simple" little pieces like this rabbit on YouTube I realise I'm missing a lot of important knowledge/skills... Let alone even comprehending how someone like Ian Norbury or Bill Prickett can pull off works like these or these.

    I suspect a part time course would give me the guidance I need, but unfortunately in London to my knowledge there's no such thing and I don't have the time to travel out. (Although oddly we have some good stone carving workshops... I'm guessing because of all the old buildings).

    Can someone point me in the right direction? How did you learn? What would you do differently if you know what you know now?

    Thanks as always.

    *For reference, attached is a little lego dude I've been working on every so often. His arms I started months ago so are pretty rough compared to his head which I did last weekend.
    Attached Files

  • #2
    Hi Jof , your right Practice is a must , and then more Practice . My suggestion other than Practice is Study the Piece that you are going to carve and plan on just how you are going to carve it . Set up Steps in your Mind , what to carve first , then second , and so on . What Part is located in relation to another Part . You must have a Plan in your Mind . Another suggestion is Rough out the whole Carving before finishing any Part . Looks like you have a good Idea on what you are trying to do , stay with it . Merle


    • #3
      First of all the LEGO man is looking great and something I never would have thought of so keep carving.

      One of my past hobbies was training Springer Spaniels for field trial competition. While doing that a trainer told me your going to hear a lot of advice out here you need to decide which is right for you and your dog.

      That said here are a few thoughts I have in my head about my carving. My English teacher used to say write about things you know about. So I started out carving trout, golfers, fly fishermen, and dogs.

      I like a challenge if I didn’t I’d of quit golfing years ago. When I heard guys saying they don’t carve faces because they’re to hard. I started carving busts.

      My cheat is carving from pictures or sketches if the piece is small I print them on a transparency I can hold up to the carving. On larger pieces lay a grid over the photo and transfer measurements to the wood. So the head and arm a scaled properly.

      You said you’d like to carve faster I think that comes with time as I carve more my hands seem more confident and I more see the shape in my head and the hands just do it. I think some of old whittling standards like ball in a box or the chain help your mind learn 3D relationships and in their simplicity encourages a quicker pace.

      Now go back and read the dog trainer’s advice again and keep carving!
      Last edited by Nebraska; 09-17-2019, 10:12 AM.
      Living in a pile of chips.


      • #4
        The internet examples just show off how much experience comes from practice.
        Some of those people have lots of time and do lots of carving.

        Some of that experience comes from "learning the wood" as I call it.
        What you can and can't do with cuts into a particular wood species.
        You even admit that the parts of your carving are done differently over time.

        Some of that experience comes from figuring out the sequence, the order, of which parts to carve and when.

        You won't ever see more than 4/10 of my carving starts. Normally, 3 of them die pretty quickly.
        Several have been sitting on the bench for 10 years. A few, I really like.
        Brian T


        • #5
          Your skill with tools or knowledge of wood may be improved with practice, but the thing that moves you forward is motivation. The links you gave tell us what you are aiming for. Most human achievement is described as a pinnacle or pyramid; there are very few at the top. Don't be misled by time-lapse videos of carvings completed in four minutes. Woodcarving is a slow and methodical process. As Brian T states (above), there may be many false starts.


          • #6
            Hi Jof,
            I have taught hand carving and chainsaw carving to a good number of people over the years.(27yrs. of them) Some of the biggest hang ups of the students I teach are " I'm not as fast as you " or "Mine doesn't look like yours". My first hurdle is to stop them from comparing my skills to theirs. Speed will come with time and practice. As far as copying what I'm doing, I tell them you are developing your eye of what you like. So stop putting all this pressure on yourself so you can focus on the carving. It doesn't matter how fast you get a piece done, or if someone else doesn't think it looks good. All that matters is YOU are pleased with it at that time. On the other side of the coin, if someone gives you a negative criticism, don't get upset, but ask why they don't like it. They may have a valid point that may help you correct something you don't see. I agree with all the great advice above and remember you just started your journey. With time you will figure out just what kind of style carver you will be. This forum is filled with a bunch of great people that can help.

            A few more things I think about for teaching.
            When I teach carving I give them a project that teaches How To Use The Tools. I don't really care so much on what they are making but that they learn what can be done with the tool or tools. And having the right tools can speed things up.

            Second, I try to give insight to my thinking of why I'm doing things a certain way. This is just food for thought to the student because I tell them they will develop their own process with time and experience.

            I know this is not exactly the magic words you might have been looking for, but relax and take it all in and enjoy it. Focus on carving. Just my thoughts.
            Good Luck,


            • #7
              Doug Linker, and Gene Messer are great Youtubers to watch. You can slow down, watch them over and over, or forward to the part you need help on. I find that is the best way to learn. You can always narrow the videos to the subject you want to watch.

              Doug Linker is maybe the most comfortable for me to watch and his approach "resonates" with me. He started carving and has videos of his earlier learning carvings and later ones, that are more advanced (mostly). Plus he carves from a block of sawing needed.

              These are the ways I got help when I started out. Of course, I have done hundreds of carvings and get better with each spite of a lot of tripping and failed projects. Just the way I learn.

              Pick what is most comfortable for you and follow that approach, whether it be books, videos, carving clubs, whatever.

              Enjoy whatever you like and have fun...don't get too serious.
              Last edited by woodburner807; 09-17-2019, 03:04 PM.
              Living among knives and fire.



              • #8
                You got to love this site! What advice you have received, all good, The only thing I would add is keeping the desire flame burning, with it and all of the above advice, you will become pleased with your work, but never satisfied
                . . .JoeB


                • #9
                  Wow, I missed all these great replies. Thank you all. Solid and very encouraging advice.

                  Funny so many of you should mention unfinished projects; I've got piles of the things. They don't go to waste though as I usually use them to practice a particular sticking point or test tool sharpness after taking them to the strop.

                  One thing that maybe Nebraska would find interesting. For my patterns I put tracing paper on either my computer, iPhone or iPad screen and lightly trace them with a 6B pencil (lightly!). I then glue the patterns to the piece with contact adhesive. Helps a lot.


                  • #10
                    Could not agree more with Woodburner807. I did my first carving at age 76, thanks to stumbling upon a youtube tutorial by Doug Linker (he used the moniker Doug Outside at the time). Lots of good tutorials on you tube, but none as easy and interesting to follow as Doug IMHO. In the past year, I have made many carvings inspired by Doug and several other carvers (Kevin Coates is also excellent...and taught me how to make knives that I enjoy very much). If an old dog like me can pick up this hobby with my arthritic hands, I am sure you can as well. Stick with it and enjoy the ride.


                    • #11
                      You are getting great advice here, and that is what this forum is for, helping new carvers along the road to better carving. I would suggest that you try and locate a carving club in your area, they are a great source of experience and you will find that all carvers love to spread the word and lend advice on carving. Bar that, see if you can locate someone experienced in carving that could mentor you. It would be best if it was someone locally, but that would depend on who you can find who might be willing to take on the task. Some will do it for free, and some might request a modest fee, but I am sure you can find someone if you look hard enough. Best of luck and your first advice is best: practice, practice, practice.

                      Before they slip me over the standing part of the fore sheet, let them pipe: "Up Spirits" one more time.


                      • #12
                        Jof, unless you're carving for a living, speed is irrelevant! Who cares how long a carving takes? If you carve for enjoyment, that's one of the situations where the journey is more important than the destination.

                        All the above is excellent advice, to which I would add a couple more: If you get frustrated or bored with a carving just set it aside for another day, wait for the inspiration to take it up again. Many of us have several carvings going at once, moving from one to another as the spirit moves us. Next, post your carvings here as you complete them and ASK for critique and criticism: folks on the forum are too nice unless you don't need pats on the back (we all do like them, however!), you need blunt assessments of your work to improve.

                        To reiterate a couple of comments given above, practice to learn your tools and your wood...all the videos and books in the world don't take the place of putting gouge and knife to wood.


                        • #13
                          All of the post here offer some good advice. As a fellow newbie, you might want to try setting some goals on a particular carving. I've done that, and then posted it here and asked if I have achieved my goal or not. I have received lots of good feedback by asking. I work on the goal parts very diligently, and the parts I already know how to do are getting faster and better but are not quite as important.

                          I have also focused on one or two aspects to improve on with each new carving. Right now I am carving mostly busts and little guys - just the heads - with various expressions and smoking accessories. We learn something from each one and take that to the next carving. Sometimes we even learn what not to do. I have tried two carvings with legs and cut one guys foot off and one dogs leg is gone. The guy got a peg leg instead, so there is quite often a way to recover from "happy accidents".

                          I don't really draw too much except layout lines to keep everything centered that should be and off center that should be. My first projects were the 5 and 15 minute santas. I learned a ton from them, and often go back to them between other things.

                          Sometimes it's as simple as asking "can I make a scarf? Can I make a pipe? Can I make a mouth that is open and smiling? can I make ____________?" and then just trying it.

                          I echo all of the other comments. Good stuff. Good luck, and keep carving! Your lego man looks great!


                          • #14
                            Haha! I definitely empathise with the cutting things off. That Lego man has two pieces I had to repair with glue!

                            You know, I think that’s what I’m going to do. I’ll start posting here (maybe make a blog) and get feedback. That’ll keep me honest by forcing me to get stuff finished for once!


                            • #15
                              The Lego carving is really good! I have been carving for over 20 years now...all I can say is that you get better with time AND practice. I notice how my carving suffers from taking a break of just a month or so. After taking a break, I start with simpler projects to get back 'in the groove'! Good luck!