Relief carving is the perfect hobby if you’re looking to create artistic images on a flat wood panel. Though it’s an old-age technique, carving in relief is still popular today.

Mastering these carving skills can be challenging. However, carving enthusiasts can master the basic skills with self-drive and practice.

In this article, you’ll learn the various steps involved in beginner relief carving and the unique aspects involved. Read on to learn more.

What is Relief Carving?

Typically, relief carving entails creating 3D images on a flat wooden panel. From its old definition, relief- translating to visible- implies that the artwork is eminent and accentuated.

When carving relief, you present a clear picture of the image standing out from the background. You’ll need to use various woodcarving tools to achieve a spectacular illusion.

That is, the designs appear to jump off the surface of the wooden canvas. Regardless of your experience level, you can achieve fine art by presenting original design ideas.

You can also search online for relief wood carving patterns, such as those for whittling chess pieces. These patterns can be a reliable resource for beginners’ carving endeavors.

With the right wood carving tools, you can practice the basic techniques of relief carving. Besides suiting commercial purposes, this artwork makes the perfect wall decoration.

Wood Carving Tools

What are the best wood carving tools for beginners? Well, that’s a truckload of question, but here are the top seven tools you need to get started with relief carving.

Types of Relief Carving 

Relief carving is a timeworn artwork that interests both hobbyists and professionals. Any sculpture with a flat surface on one side and a decorative carving on the other is a relief.

To determine the form of relief, check the extent of the image projection from the wood surface. Here are some ways you can carve in relief;

Low Relief (Bas-Relief) Carving

In this type of relief carving, figures slightly jump off the surface of the wood background. Low relief carvings give an impression of a shallow depth carving, usually less than ½”.

You only need a skew chisel to achieve this carving, especially when working with softwoods.

High Relief Carving

Unlike low relief, high relief carvings give a visual impression of immense depth. The undercuts on a high relief carving are much greater than those of a low relief carving. The undercuts are usually between ½” and 2″ from the background.

Deep Relief Carving

It’s also called sunken relief carving. In this type, the cuts go deeper underneath the outside layer. With the deep cuts, you’ll see an optical illusion that makes the art piece appear as if it’s inside the wooden frame.

Although deep relief is similar to high relief carving, you leave the surface background intact in deep relief carving. Other types of relief carving are undercut and pierced relief techniques.

Skills You Need For Relief Carving

Design skills are crucial for a beginner relief carver. Designing the shapes enables you to experiment with creative ideas. It’s exciting since the shapes set the ground for carving.

Ensure you are familiar and comfortable working with all the relief carving tools. In addition to using each tool for the correct purpose, ensure that the devices are sharp before use.

Most importantly, prioritize your safety to protect you from severe injuries. Drawing and using patterns is a skill you should have at your fingertips. The designs and outlines are essential guides when you’re carving.

If you can’t draw your outline, consider buying a design or looking one up online. Be patient and pay attention to details. Carve through step by step to avoid mistakes that can damage the wood carving.

Read More: How to Start Wood Carving for Beginners

9 Beginner Relief Carving – Step-by-Step Guide

Experienced whittlers create beautiful carvings using a few carving knives. But to achieve impressive results as a beginner, you must follow a relief carving tutorial to keep you on track.

Create outstanding relief carving by following the steps below. These steps contain a detailed explanation of what you need for your project.

See also: How to whittle a piece of stick

Step 1: Prepare Relief Carving Tools

Gather all the carving tools you need for the whole project. The techniques you apply to store, clean, and sharpen your different tools reflect performance.

Ensure you sharpen your tools prior to commencing your project. Only sharp tools will deliver you great results. Normalize using a leather strop to sharpen the edges of the blades.

Also, use a honing strop to match the edge angles of the gouge and skew chisels.

Step 2: Search and Prepare Wood

Finding a plank of wood to carve is not a big deal. There are many options you can choose. You can opt for any wood within your vicinity. But ensure it checks all the boxes; that is, it should be plane free from warping.

Yet, avoid using hardwood because it is difficult to carve in. There are many softwoods to select from. Basswood is my favorite and best for beginners.

However, you can also use Jelutong, butternut, or white pine. Still, you can buy the prepared wood panel for your relief carvings.

Once you get the perfect wood for carving, fix it on the workbench. Hook it tight on the workbench to avoid movements when carving. You can use a bar clamp on each side to make it sturdy. (Find out the average workbench height to ensure comfortability as you work.)

Step 3: Find a Pattern to carve 

A pattern is very crucial in relief carving. As a beginner, getting one shouldn’t bother you much. You are good to go if you have a background in graphic design, especially pencil art. You can draw your own and use it.

However, you can still download a free printable relief design from the internet. Whether you draw or download it, you must copy it on a transfer paper before laying it on the wood panel.

Read also: Best paint pens for fine writing on wood.

Step 4: Transfer the Pattern onto the Wood

Before you start carving, transfer the design onto the wood panel. There are various ways to approach this. But using carbon paper is the simple and most common method of transferring a design on a wood panel.

Though there are other techniques, I recommend this for beginners. Once you have your plan on the carbon paper. Lay it out on your wooden panel and secure it with tape.

The carbon paper technique is suitable for this task because it leaves clear marks on the wooden board.

Step 5: Remove Excess Material Around the Panel

Carry out cuts around the design tracing through the guidelines on the wood. Your mallet and chisel come in handy when outlining your carving model.

Remove all the materials around the design to make it jump off the wood surface. Removing excess wood materials eases the carving of critical details. Besides, it makes the design stand out.

Step 6: Add Depth to the Wood Panel

Your relief will have various heights as you proceed to carve. Be creative in defining how deep the cuts should go into the wood panel. Chisels again come in handy here.

Creativity and planning ahead assure you significant progress in the project. To add depth, you should consider dividing the design into different sections. Divide according to the heights required.

Now indicate points on needed relief areas to make it easier to carve. Avoid undercutting carves, instead; use V-tool to cut straight and down.

Step 7: Carve in Shadows and Details

Now you’ve noticed that each figure requires a specific depth to carve. Keep redrawing the carved relief to help you define critical details. You can achieve the correct shape by blocking the features you might cut away in the process.

Use a V-tool and a gouge to carve the relief features’ crucial details. Carry out chip carving because it helps you achieve perfect features. Chip carving involves removing small woodchips from the wood surface with chisels.

Step 8: Smoothen the Carving

Smoothing a relief carving is the making of the wooden background even. There are various tools and methods to make the carvings smooth.

Use a sander to even the details, outlines, and background. I recommend sanding with a sander because it works perfectly for curved details.

Step 9: Finish Your Relief Carving

Your relief carving is ready, but you need to enhance it. All that remains is a final touch to make it more presentable. Begin the finishing stage by cleaning the carved relief with a wet cloth.

Then apply the finishing ingredient and the wood stain. Beeswax is the most common finish ingredient. Thanks to its ease of application and capacity to protect the wood.

There are also quality finishing ingredients like tung oil and paints. Even so, keep in mind that some finishes change the color of the wood.

Choosing a Relief Carving Pattern 

As a beginner woodcarver, you might feel confused when selecting the best pattern to use. I advise you to ‘go simple’ if you’re looking for a suitable relief carving pattern. A simple design reflects your level of skill.

Choosing a complex design may reduce your morale in wood carving. Try using patterns like Celtic knots or those by fox chapel publishing due to their simple design. From the web’s search results, download simple designs for your project.

Ensure you choose a pattern design that fits your wood panel. You want to avoid overlapping guidelines. You can opt to either purchase or download a printable relief carving pattern from fox chapel publishing.

Nevertheless, using a free picture stencil maker, you can convert an actual photo into a stencil. Now print the transformed image for the project.

Top Relief Carving Tips for a Beginner

Carving a relief can be a hassle for some beginners; you don’t have to go in that direction. I will give you some tips to make your carving easier and smoother. The tips highlighted here will ensure you meet the best results you can.

First, I recommend you begin your relief sculpting journey with a low relief carving. You can choose any of the outlines in Fox chapel publishing.

That’s because the carving becomes more complicated as it becomes more profound. Clearing the background becomes more difficult when the height graduates to deeper levels.

Be careful when transferring your design to your wood board. Always ensure the contours are visible and well situated for carving.

You want to avoid destroying your pattern, so use a V-shaped gouge to outline your project. After that, remove background materials to make your design stand out.

When creating the outline, perform a stop cut. For the straight lines, use a chisel when carrying out stop cuts. And for the edge that curves, use a gouge.

Gouges do a fantastic job when it comes to outlining the curves. Stop cuts are crucial since they prevent accidental destruction of the design outline.

Visualize the carved relief as a 3D image. Add shadows and details to the features to make it look natural. Since mistakes are bound to occur, especially for a beginner, you needn’t fret.

Lucky for you, relief carving, leaves enough room to correct our errors. If you interfere with the outline, you can redraw the affected area and adjust your design.

Have a dedicated space where you do your woodwork. Having a serene workplace will let you focus and expand your creativity.

As a beginning carver, use wood fibers that are easy to work with. I recommend basswood and butternut because they are easier to carve than other woods.

Do you know that you can also loosen wood fibers while carving? To correct that, use sandpaper or a stiff brush to remove such wood threads.

Be creative when choosing areas to put lighting and shadows. Improperly placed shadows make a relief carving not look natural. With the correct lighting and shades, the object’s shapes stand out.

Perform a diagonal cut with the V-Tool. You need to use a V-Tool because it prevents you from destroying the wanted parts of the design. For diagonal carving, one side of the V-tool cuts with the grain and the other against the grain.

Also, try out power tools like a Dremel to increase your efficiency and carving speed. Power tools become handy when looking for convenience, precision, and accuracy.

Also, find out whether using a Dremel to cut metal is a suitable option for your specific needs.

Read also: Wood carving faces for beginners.


Where do I Get Relief Wood Carving Patterns for Beginners?

Drawing a carving pattern for beginners may be a daunting task. As a beginner wood carver, download free printable designs. But you can make and use your design if you have a solid background in pencil art. Try carving diverse letters and patterns that demand distinguished skill sets. 

How to Paint Relief Carving?

Before painting your relief, carry out the following:·

  • Smoothen the wood carving surface· 
  • Clean the relief carving· 
  • Seal your carving properly 

As several carvers, use acrylic paint on your wood relief carving. The benefit of acrylic paint is that it dries quickly and is waterproof when fully cured. It’s easy to clean with water.

What is the Best Wood for Relief Carving? 

There is no definite answer to this question. But the best wood for carving in relief is a softwood that isn’t prone to warping and also easier to shape. Basswood is my favorite and best for beginners. If you can’t find it, use white pine or butternut. I encourage working with a wood board twice thicker than the intended carving depth.

How do I Carve a Relief Sculpture?  

Carving a relief sculpture is an exciting idea to experience. All you need is the right tools(See: best whittling kit for starters) and relevant skill set. Each device has a specific effect on relief sculpting. You also need to know the kind of woods to use as a beginner. The process of carving a relief sculpture entails the following:

  • Tracing the pattern on the wood· 
  • Cutting in the outline and adding depth· 
  • Defining shadows and details 
  • And we are finally finishing the sculpture.

Here is a guide on the best whittling pocket knife for your projects.

Beginner Relief Carving – Summary!

Your journey to relief carving is promising. Achieving a satisfying result is possible even if you’re just starting. With this beginner relief ultimate guide, you’ll become a pro in no time.

If you’ve practiced relief carving, let us know how your project went and what you’d do differently next time.

Here are some other wood carving projects for beginners.

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