Getting Started with Hand Carving Letters

Getting Started with Hand Carving Letters

While there are some really great router-based letter carving systems on the market,
carving letters by hand has several advantages. The shape and style of the lettering
is virtually unlimited. It can be done in a small space and it is a quiet, even
contemplative task.

There are a few things to keep in mind if you are just starting out with letter
carving. Good quality tools are the way to go; cheap tools will only lead to
frustration. And keeping them sharp is very important. Start out by carving sample
letters on scrap lumber until you get the feel for what a proper cutting angle is and
how deep you need to carve.

When you are ready to move on, take advantage of your computer and print out what you
wish to carve in whatever fancy fonts you choose. The word processing program will
give you the proper spacing between the letters. When you are carving, find a way to
secure the piece of wood you are working with, but if you can find a system that lets
you spin the piece around while you are carving, that would be ideal.

1. Use proper carving tools: knives, gouges, etc.

2. Keep your tools sharp: hone them constantly as you carve.

3. Use a proper cutting angle.

4. Don’t carve too deep.

5. Use a word processor to print out your words or phrases.

6. Enlarge your printout on a copier, to keep the letter spacing correct.

7. Use a species of wood that is easy to carve: basswood, butternut, alder, close-
grained softwoods.

8. Don’t lose the big picture: strive for consistency in depth of cut and cutting
angle on each successive letter.

Figure 1: Use spray adhesive to attach your pre-printed letters to the wood. Carve pulling towards you.
Figure 1: Use spray adhesive to attach your pre-printed letters to the wood. Carve pulling towards you.

letter-carving-2

Figure 3: Remove the paper and sand the surface smooth. If you're painting the carved area, leave the paper on.
Figure 3: Remove the paper and sand the surface smooth. If you’re painting the carved area, leave the paper on.
Figure 4 and 5: Knife angle is the key to achieving uniform carved letters. About 65° is where you should start. Near perpendicular is most effective as you look at the side of the knife.
Figure 4 and 5: Knife angle is the key to achieving uniform carved letters. About 65° is where you should start. Near perpendicular is most effective as you look at the side of the knife.
Figure 6: Securing your stock is an important task. You also need to be able to spin the stock around; it allows you to easily pull the cut towards you.
Figure 6: Securing your stock is an important task. You also need to be able to spin the stock around; it allows you to easily pull the cut towards you.

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