How to Carve a Face in Wood

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Carving a face in wood can be amazing and rewarding for both a novice and expert carver. It is also very challenging and will take a great deal of time and patience. If you wish to try carving a face in wood, make sure you have the proper safety equipment, tools, and wood. Read over the steps carefully before starting your project.

Step By Step Guide on How to Carve a Face in Wood

 1. Choosing and Preparing Wood

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This step is more important than one might think. The wood you choose makes the difference between a good carving and a great one. Choosing the right one is even more important if you’re a beginner.

There are two categories of wood to choose from: softwoods and hardwoods. Softwoods are, well, soft and can be easily cut and shaped. Hardwoods, on the other hand, are denser and will be much more difficult to work with. Popular softwoods used for carving a face in wood are basswood (limewood) and butternut. Popular hardwoods include oak and maple.

For beginners, it is recommended to use softwoods, you may move to harder woods after becoming more experienced in the craft.

Now you can buy wood that has already been turned into a block; these are called pre-fabricated blanks or “pre-blanks.” They are a great place to start because they will already have an acceptable shape and size, saving you the time and effort to prepare your wood.

If you wish you may purchase a block of raw wood, though you will have to shape your wood by removing areas that are not suitable for the carving. To begin, make sure to keep the wood in place using a clamp, then remove the bark with a drawknife if your wood, also makes sure the carving tools you’re using aren’t close to your body. Remove the bark by running the drawknife away from the wood, along with the bark.

Finally, cut away the softer sapwood beneath the bark with an ax. You may identify sapwood by its lighter color. Sapwood is a ring of wood that surrounds the core; darker heartwood extends almost to the edge. look at the cut end, and you may be able to see an open ring around the center. Sapwood is weaker than heartwood and should be removed as part of your preparation process. Lay the ax blade flat against it and stroke it toward the other end to remove it.

In the end, you will have a block of wood to carve with the shape you choose.

Also Read: Best Wood for Carving

2. Ready the Materials

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  • Pencil or marker: to mark where you will be carving your face in the wood
  • A piece of paper: to map out your design
  • V-gouge carving tool: a chisel for making most details of the design
  • U-gouge carving tool: a chisel for more delicate and specific details
  • Bench knife or pen knife: for cutting intricate facial features and scraping off excess wood
  • Wood stain or lacquer: to color the wood and protect it from water damage

Also Read: Best Carpenter Pencil

3. Designing Face Features

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Since each piece of wood is different, you should take the time to check it over. Take this time to research what characteristics are important to you and how you will utilize them in your work. Holes, knots, and bumps are all features that appear more natural and distinct when incorporated into carvings.

Now sketch out a map of what you intend to carve onto your wood. First on paper and then on the wood. This step is an important stage in the process, especially if you’re a beginner. A carver will often spend as much effort planning their design as they do carving it. To transfer your design onto your wood, start by drawing lines to show the face’s center and hairline. Using the center of the piece of wood as a guide, use a marker to mark a line from the hairline to the chin. Make dotted lines from one side to the other to define the nose and hairline. Don’t be concerned, these lines will eventually be removed as you go.

Use the “Rule of Thirds” when setting out the layout of a face. The face is divided into three sections, and each section is treated equally according to this rule. Decide on the length of the nose from the bottom of the nose to the brow. Use the last measurement to determine the other two dimensions: the bottom of the chin and the hairline point, the top of the head should be a little higher. The nose’s width is the same as that of the eyes, and the lips position falls halfway between the bottom of the nose and the bottom of the chin.

4. Defining the Face’s Features

Carving Faces Workbook: Learn to Carve Facial Expressions with the Legendary Harold Enlow (Fox Chapel Publishing) Detailed Lips, Eyes, Noses, and Hair to Add Expressive Life to Your Woodcarvings

It is important to keep the block of wood as stable as possible, so don’t let it move while you are carving. How you’ll crave, the tools you need, and the steps to follow depend on what your project is, are you working with a large piece of wood making a bigger-sized human face or a small piece of wood making a tiny individual face or wood spirit.

Below is a general idea of how most either large or small faces are carved out:

  • Start with cutting the bridge of the nose and bottom of the nose
  • Then cut straight down along the sides of the nose, curve in outwards a bit at the ends to define the cheek
  • After that make a deep 45 degree cut to carve out the eyes
  • Then cut down again but with an angle now carving out the wood a bit, defining and pushing out the cheeks and nose
  • Shave the nose, smoothing it out; cut corners at each side of the nose and give some shape to the nostrils
  • Now shave the area below the nose a bit shaping up the denture curve
  • Time to work on the lips, make sure to carve them closer to the nose than the chin, or else it will look weird. Now cut a deep smile, almost straight, not too curved, and then crave that smile out from the bottom up to the top. Next place your craving tool below the lower lip and roll out the wood underneath
  • To finalize it from this point add a bit of detail to everything that needs a bit more definition such as lips, eyes, and cheeks. You may also add wrinkles, furrows in the forehead, and crow’s feet around the eyes.

Carve out shapes using a chisel tool, and remove the excess wood, removing the marker lines in the process. Start with larger details and then move to the more detailed ones.

Depth is a key component in a carving, it helps to give it a 3D realistic effect. So make sure to keep checking the profile front and side to make sure everything is even.

Take your time and don’t rush, make small strokes until you have a good-sized shape. Making large strokes can cause you to carve into the wood too much or take off more material than you need, a mistake that is difficult to fix.

5. Finish

Some people prefer the rustic appearance of an unfinished carving. However, if you want a smoother, more defined wood carving, finish the carving by removing any rough edges and sharp points. To do this, use sandpaper, to carefully smooth out those areas.

For a smoother and more flawless look, use wood stain or lacquer. A wood stain helps bring out the natural characteristics of the wood and adds a pop of color, while lacquer protects the wood from damage and adds a clear coat. When you are finished, let the wood completely dry.

Also Read: Best Finish for a Workbench


Wood carving is an interesting art that requires patience and skill, it is by no means easy and it takes a lot of hard work to actually carve down something beautiful. The learning process is tedious but once you finally get the look that you wanted to achieve, it’ll feel like it was all worth it in the end!

All you need is to follow these instructions, practice, learn from your mistakes, and most importantly use your imagination as well as take inspiration from everything around you; keep going and never give up!

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