Got old 2x4 scraps lying around? Don't throw them away. The soft and uniform grain of 2x4's are perfect for woodcarving, especially for beginners. Create unique, hand carved works of art out of them! From a treasure display to curtain rods, each 2x4 is just waiting to become a mini sculpture, all you need is a pocket knife and a little patience.
Step 1: How to Hand Carve Wood With Minimal Tools
First off, I use terms that I came up with on my own since the only instruction I have ever received in woodcarving was a summary of the "be safe with knives" lecture my brother got at scout camp (which, by the way- be safe with knives), so there may be other names for these techniques or they may be techniques that nobody really uses, and there may be a far better way to do this but it works for me so here it is.
I use 4 techniques utilizing 3 parts of the blade.
The blade parts are: 1 the point, 2 the curve, and 3 the flat (see picture 2)
the techniques are 1 line cut, 2 edge cut, 3 round cut, and 4 hole cut (see the rest of the pictures)
The line cut uses the point of the knife and you do it by more or less holding the knife like a pencil and drawing a line of varying depths depending on the pressure you use. I use this cut begin most projects and it can be used with other cuts for a number of effects.
The edge cut uses the curve of the knife and is done by basically digging into the wood, the angle at which you dig in will determine the depth of the cut. this one is good for removing a lot of wood and is also used with other cuts for specific effects.
The round cut uses the flat of the blade and is used mostly to round corners, you can use the curve of the blade to do this in tight spaces but the flat gives you better control. This cut is also good for removing a lot of wood.
The hole cut is the least used for most projects and is basically only used for making holes. it uses the point and you simply stab the point into the wood and twist it around until you have the hole depth and width you want.
Using a pocket knife for the first time is awkward, which is one reason working with scrap 2x4's is so nice, it's soft and often free. It may take some practice but being good with a pocket knife is an under valued skill and is worth putting in the effort.
Step 2: The Actual Carving Part
Once you have decided what you want to make you can begin planning it out. Choose a 2x4 that doesn't have knots or is misshapen, or find a way to incorporate these blemishes into your work. Mine had a knot that looked like an eye so I planed that into my design. Some projects can be totally free spirited, but most will require some measuring. I wanted to display a treasured blue marlin sword that was given to me, so I started out by what length I thought would look good (ok, so I used a skill saw to get the length but other than that it was all pocket knife) and measuring how thick the groove would have to be for the sword to fit into it.
Then I drew out the design I wanted; you can use pen or pencil, or won't matter since it's going to be carved off anyway. I cut the groove for the sword with the deepest line cuts I could manage and some pretty steep angled edge cuts. Then, using the line cut, I went over the entire design and began cutting it out to the desired depth with the edge cut on the outside and the hole cut and the edge cut in between the loops. once it was to the depth I wanted, I smoothed it out using the round cut, except for the face which I left with shaper edges.
At this point it just needs sanding, if you want you can use a dremel but that's kind of cheating or you could use sandpaper. But if you want you can use your knife to do it too, which I guess that means there is a fifth technique. Holding the knife perpendicular to the wood, gently scrape back and forth and it will sand the wood. Admittedly, it's not as good as using sandpaper and really doesn't work in the cracks very well, but it's still a skill to develop.
Step 3: Finish It Up
If you like the look of white pine you are basically done. Otherwise, now is the time to paint or stain it. I find that cheap acrylic paints work great and I haven't found a stain that didn't work well with 2x4's. For this particular project I'm going with stain which I apply with rags because they are free and get into the cracks well.
Once it's dry it's time to show it off!
Step 4: Notes/Hints
Although these steps are simple, keep in mind that they do take a long time; patience really is important here. These are some pictures of a curtain rod I made 7 or 8 years ago, also out of a 2x4. Even though it's a pretty simple shape it still took me several weeks to complete and you can see many spots where I messed up. It really is awkward until you get the hang of it, so don't give up if your first project is a disaster.
Also, each type of wood is slightly unique, until you are familiar with its characteristics you should make very small cuts, as is the case any time you are doing something with fine detail- the smaller the cut the less likely you are to make a mistake and the easier it is to fix if you do. When you do make mistakes there is usually a way to fix it, I usually just change my design slightly and work it in.
And don't be discouraged, keep at it and soon enough you will have something cool to show your friends.