How to Begin Woodcarving with a Utility Knife

Woodcarving is a time tested hobby that is both relaxing and fun. Starting out can be intimidating, since woodcarving kits come with so many little tools. You can learn the skill without buying a whole set; all you really need to get started is a utility knife and a few other supplies. After trying your hand at a simple carving, you can consider pursuing the hobby further.


  1. Image titled Begin Woodcarving with a Utility Knife Step 1
    Choose your pattern. The first part of any woodcarving project is deciding what to carve. There are many places you can find good pattern books, such as hobby shops and the internet, or you can draw your own.
  2. Image titled Begin Woodcarving with a Utility Knife Step 2
    Choose your wood. There are a lot of different types of wood providing a wide variety of color and grain textures. Some basic woods can be found at your local hardware store, while more exotic woods can be found at hobby shops, specialty wood stores and on the internet. Some woods are better suited for some projects than others. For your first carving, it is best to use a soft wood like pine, bass or soft maple (available at most hardware stores). If you can easily mark the wood with your fingernail, it is probably soft.
  3. Image titled Begin Woodcarving with a Utility Knife Step 3
    Trace your pattern. Using a stylus and a piece of carbon paper, which can be found at an office/stationery supply store, trace the pattern you have selected. Try not to move the pattern until it is completely traced, or it may get a little disjointed. It is often helpful to tape the pattern to the wood with small pieces of masking tape.
  4. Image titled Begin Woodcarving with a Utility Knife Step 4
    Make a stop cut. Take your utility blade and cut around the outline of the pattern. This prevents unwanted chipping and helps your outlines to look clean.
  5. Image titled Begin Woodcarving with a Utility Knife Step 5
    Cut the background. With your blade at a shallow angle, cut the wood around the outline of the pattern. In this case, it would be the petals, stem and leaves.
  6. Image titled Begin Woodcarving with a Utility Knife Step 6
    Cut the next level of outlines. Repeat steps 4 and 5 for each level of detail. In this case, it would be the flower petals. Continue doing this until all of the lines are cut. Be careful to pay attention to which side of each line you want to cut; you want to cut the side that will appear farther away.
  7. Image titled Begin Woodcarving with a Utility Knife Step 7
    Add detail. Now that the basic outlines are cut, add detail that creates the illusion of depth and texture. For our pattern, this detail includes:
    • Rounding edges: Lightly cut the corners off the sharp outlines to provide a smooth transition.
    • Thumbprint type cut in the petals: To add dimension to the otherwise flat petals, cut circular gouges in each one, holding the utility blade at a very shallow angle and pivoting it about the tip. Don’t worry if it looks a little sloppy, as this will be smoothed out later.
    • Adding levels to the leaves: Cut the portion that is farther back - this gives the illusion of a portion of the leaf folding over itself.
    • Adding veins to the leaves: This requires two cuts per vein, a stop cut and then another cut at a steep angle to create a long thin gouge in the wood.
  8. Image titled Begin Woodcarving with a Utility Knife Step 8
    Sand your piece. Once details are cut, they can be smoothed and cleaned up by using bits of fine grit sandpaper to smooth the cut marks so the carving has a uniform surface.
  9. Image titled Begin Woodcarving with a Utility Knife Step 9
    Add stain and finish. Adding stain to your piece can add depth and texture, bringing out nuances in the carving that would not be as visible without the stain. Protect the wood from the elements with a varnish or sealer. The extra gloss can also give it a more professional look.


  • Keep a vacuum or small dustpan and broom on hand to keep your work area free of chips and other debris.
  • Be patient, as this is not something that can be done in ten minutes. If something doesn’t look right, just keep working at it as it will probably come out fine.
  • You can download the picture in Step 1 and re- size it on your computer so you can easily print it out. You can view a larger version of all the pictures by double clicking on them.
  • Change blades frequently. If carving starts getting harder or your cuts aren’t coming out clean, it is probably because your blade is not sharp. This is the beauty of using a utility blade. With other woodcarving tools you would have to sharpen your blade, but with this you can just swap it out for a new one.


  • When applying stain, remain in a well ventilated area. Those fumes are not good for your brain or lungs.
  • The other excellent reason to use only a sharp blade is that dull ones require more force to cut. This isn't a problem in terms of the quality of your work, but of safety: the more pressure you're exerting, the less control you have if the blade slips. You don't want to be out of control of something that's not *quite* razor-sharp but still adequately sharp enough to cut a nice chunk out of you.
  • Keep your hand out of the way. These are sharp blades; if they can cut wood, they can cut you. Always ask yourself: "What if the blade slips?" Try to keep the hand you use to hold the work piece behind the blade and cut away from yourself so that if you slip, you won’t cut your hand.
  • Wear eye protection. Though it might not seem like woodcarving is an eye hazard, there is a possibility that a blade might break and send a shard into your eye.

Things You'll Need

  • Utility knife
  • Extra utility blades
  • Pattern
  • Wood (preferably soft)
  • Fine grain sandpaper (no less than 120 grit)
  • Stain and finish (optional)
  • Carbon paper
  • Safety glasses
  • Work Gloves (optional)

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