The Significant Six Techniques

These techniques are the Foundation Skills for carving. If you start out with good techniques they will provide a solid foundation upon which your carving skills can be built. Let’s first clarify some terms. When referring to the ‘shank’ of a caving tool, I am referring to the entire length of steel blade between the handle and the cutting edge. The ‘cutting edge’ is the razor sharp edge that used to cut the timber.
Finally the ‘profile’ is the shape of the cutting edge, which can vary from flat to a full semi circle,
from a V shape to a U.

The first two techniques cover how to hold the carving tool correctly

The Pinch Position

Pinch the blade between your finger and thumb. Don’t worry if you are left or right handed, simply hold the tool in whichever hand feels comfortable.

This position is used for fine work or for ‘setting in’ a cut. ‘Setting in’ is where the shank of the carving tool is held at around 90 degrees to  surface of the work.

The pinch position should also be used for gripping the tool when removing small amounts of wood. This makes it particularly suitable for fine work.

The Fist Position

Make a fist around the shank of the carving tool making sure that the cutting edge is next to your little finger. You should have around 25 to 30mm of blade exposed. Holding the tool in this way will simply give you a firm grip. Once again, don’t worry if you are left or right handed. Just hold the tool in whichever hand feels most comfortable.


It is absolutely essential that the hand holding the carving tool, or the arm of the hand holding the carving tool is always firmly anchored to the work or workbench.
This will ensure that you have control of the blade at all times which will prevent you from slipping.
Note in the pictures for the pinch and fist positions how the hand that is holding the tool is firmly fixed to the work.

The Tapping Technique

The tapping technique involves the combination of both the ‘Fist Position’ and ‘Anchoring’.
When motivating the chisel forward it is essential that we only ever use controlled arm-weight. We should never apply bodyweight behind the carving tool as this may lead to a loss of control.
When using the tapping technique, hold the carving tool in the fist position. Establish a fixed position with your anchoring hand and tap the handle of the tool with your mallet. Practice first without removing any timber. Can you see that after each tap the cutting edge returns back to its original position?
When using this technique to remove timber, you can apply an increased force and maintain control at all times. Practice this technique to remove fine shavings of timber and then larger pieces with heavier blows.

The Sliding Technique

if you were cutting a loaf of fresh bread, and you ‘only’ applied a downward force on the knife, then regardless of the knifes sharpness, the resulting cut would be very ragged and torn.
The cut becomes effective as soon as you slide the cutting edge, and this principal applies exactly the same to a carving tool.
As you motivate the carving tool forward, try to include a sliding motion too.
Note how the entire length of the cutting edge is being used in the 3 images below, and how the handle is being rotated with the cut.

Becoming Ambidextrous

Once you have mastered those ‘foundation five’ techniques, there is just one more to remember. This one really makes life interesting, and is why it doesn’t matter if you are left or right handed.
When carving to the left hand side of the bench you should hold the carving tool in your left hand, and vice versa for the right.
This will definitely feel awkward at first, but do persevere, and just like riding a bike it will soon become second nature.
The most important aspect of this technique is that it prevents you from having to contort yourself into compromising positions, or from having to constantly move your work.