Small Scale Carving: 
Taking it Down a Notch

Julia Harrison

LEVEL 2, 3



While super-sized carvings might pose more obvious challenges, working at the small end of the spectrum has its own difficulties:  what tools do you use?  what materials work best?  and how on earth do you hold your work while carving?  

This week-long course will answer these questions and many more, borrowing tools, techniques, and inspiration from traditions as varied as tramp art, duck decoys, and Japanese netsuke.  Whether you want to carve small sculptures or jewelry, add decorative carvings to your furniture, or just tighten up the details on your larger carvings, you’ll leave this class with the essential skills.  

We’ll also cover surface refinement and finishing, and applying our skills to other materials, including hard waxes for jewelry casting.  Students can expect to leave with either one completed piece and several samples, or a few works-in-progress.

Class Description

Day 1

  • Hand exercises and tool safety
  • Discussion of hand-carving tools (chisels, knives, planes, drawknives, scalpels, etc)
  • Begin spoons or other warm-up projects:
  • Design, layout on blocks, roughing out with bandsaw
  • Using handtools for interior/exterior carving

Day 2

  • Tool maintenance, sharpening
  • Begin main project:
  • Sketching and model-making for subtractive work
  • Case-by-case laying out and roughing
  • Demo of adze roughing
  • slideshow #1

Day 3

  • Continue main projects:
  • Faceting
  • Stop-cuts
  • Reapplying/adjusting design
  • Demo of drawknife
  • Begin surface refinement:  
  • Sanding vs scraping vs burnishing

Day 4

  • Hand exercises and tool safety
  • Continue main projects:
  • Demo using drill to excavate deep spots
  • Begin finish carving on spoons:
  • Chisel finish effect with different profiles
  • Simple patterns
  • Detail carving with chisels and scalpels
  • Slideshow #2

Day 5

  • Complete carving of main project
  • Finish all projects
  • Demo decorative finishes
  • Discussion and demo of wood sealants
  • One-on-one trouble-shooting of next carving projects


  1. Basic carving set (see below for Julia's description)
  2. Any additional carving/woodworking tools
  3. Safety glasses, dust mask, ear protection
  4. Sketch book, mechanical pencil

Basic Carving Set:  

Students will need to arrive with a very basic set of personal tools; early on in the course, I will advise students on choosing, using, and maintaining tools such as adzes, chisels, knives, saws and rasps.  A beginner should be able to put together an adequate set of starter tools for $50-$100.

Choosing the right tools is a very personal decision, based on considerations such as your hand size, scale, studio situation, and budget.  I’ll talk with you throughout class about options and about my own preferences.

As a basic starting point, I suggest getting at least three chisels; I recommend::

  • C- or U-shape (aka “sweep” or “gouge”)  
  • V-shaped 
  • Flat blade with either a squared-off or angled (“skew”) cutting edge

I think that the Flexcut brand offers a great balance of affordability and quality.  They are available either with fixed handles, or as interchangable blades that snap into different handles; the snap-on blades take up less space and are more portable, if that is an issue for you.   I’ve bought them from Woodcraft (where you can sign up for a birthday discount) and various online retailers, and I keep my eyes open for sales.

I feel that the three most useful profiles for getting started are a C (“sweep”), V, and flat; here’s a chart that shows the Flexcut range:  Flexcut offers a number of beginner kits (3-piece on up); these are generally fine, but since they regularly change the contents of the kits I don’t recommend one in particular.  If I were choosing three blade profiles from scratch I’d get these:

SK317 45 deg. x 5/32" (4mm) Parting Tool

SK407 #2 x 9/16" (15mm) Skew Double Bevel

SK402 #8 x 3/8" (10mm) Sweep

Want 1 or 2 more? If you plan on working big, a larger C-shape with a tighter curve will let you move through material more quickly. If you like small details, choose one of the smallest C- or V-shapes.

Protect your tools from day one by keeping the ends capped or covered when not in use. Never let the cutting edge touch another piece of metal! For regular maintenance on Flexcut chisels, I recommend a Flexstrop Slip Strop; we will have one for you to use during class.

Protect your tools from day one by keeping the ends capped or covered when not in use. Never let the cutting edge touch another piece of metal! For regular maintenance on Flexcut chisels, I recommend a Flexstrop Slip Strop; we will have one for you to use during class.


Please note: You should have some prior carving experience, familiarity with simple hand tools and bandsaw.

Class Information and Registration

Class starts at 9:00am on the first day.

This class takes place in Building 306 at Fort Worden - not the School Building. Map

Please read our What to Expect page for general information about the School.

Please also read our Registration Policy.

Class size: 10

Cost: $ 650

Materials Charge: $ 35

When you click on the Register link you will be able to register for the class or, if the class is full, sign up for the wait list.