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Wood Sculpting

Wood Sculpting: An ancient & versatile medium

Wood has been used by humans to create art for thousands of years. Both as a tool, and a medium itself. The abundance of wood, it's ease of use and the desirable qualities of hardiness and versatility have meant that wood sculpting has flourished throughout history. It can be worked in a number of way using wood working tools, such as wood turning and carving the wood. A range of techniques have evolved to produce a wide range of effects, and combined with the large variation in the properties of each different type of wood, the possibilities are almost endless. Besides these inherent properties which make wood a desirable medium to work with, it is easy to combine with other mediums and alongside a variety of stains and finishes can be used to complement any environment.

Wood sculpting has been going on for thousands of years, and many ancient examples still exist. When taken care of properly, wooden sculpture can last almost indefinitely. However, if not cared for then some wood can be susceptible to rot or decay. Most modern artists who practice wood sculpting utilised waxes, oils, paints or finishes to protect their work and these artificial means can be used alongside long-lasting hardwoods and natural materials to prolong the lifetime of any wooden pieces. The natural colour, pattern, grain and warmth of various types of wood and the availability of the material mean that there is a wooden sculpture out there to suit everybodies taste and budget. They can be displayed indoor or outdoor, and can range from small, simple carvings to large monumental pieces.

Over time, there have been a number of key wooden sculpting techniques that have become commonplace. They create different effects, and are suited to different types of woodwork and sculpture. Whilst this list is by no means exhaustive, it is a good starting point for understanding the basics of some of the process that goes into the creating of wooden sculptures.

Wood Carving

Carving is by far the most common technique used in wooden sculpting, and traditionally sees wood being worked by hand tools. In the modern time, this has evolved into the use of powertools and even chainsaws to carve wood of all shapes and sizes. There are a variety ofmethods that a wood sculptor can use, wuch as whittling, chip carving, relief, flat-plane, caricature and carpentry. This technique can be used to produce a huge variety of effects and designs, and could be argued to be the simplest of techniques- being possible with nothing more than a sharp stone and a lump of wood.


This process involves using a lathe or other means to rotate a piece of wood at high speed, and then using a stationary tool to cut or shape the wood. It is often associated with things such as bowl making, as it allows the easy creation of well rounded and smooth pieces. However, it is not limited to this and can be used to produce all manner of intricate designs and patterns in wood. This method is not unique to woodworking, and can be used to work many different types of material.

Wood Working

In terms of art, wood working is the name given to a method of creating wood sculpture that has been constructed using nails, tacks, screws or other fixtures. Generally, the pieces that go into a construction made using this method may be worked with the above two techniques and then composed into a larger piece using various carpentry techniques. When making sculpture it is one of the more common methods when making a maquette of the work or a model for initial ideas. This method is commonly used in wood sculpting when using 'found' materials, such as driftwood- as it relies on the composition of existing pieces of wood being arranged into a sculptural form.

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