Chip carving or spooning as it is also known inward craft, is a method and style of carving in which special knives or chisels are used to cut small chips of wood from the flat surface in a single piece. The small cuts are built up to create chip carving patterns which can be highly decorative and often intricate.
The most common method is to draw out the design in pencil onto the flat surface of the wood. The carver then carefully plans each chip cut in order to ensure that there is a consistent pattern and that the cuts are made in a logical sequence to ensure there are no errors with mis-cutting through knife slippage.
Tools required to create chip carving patterns
The tools are quite basic with the chip carving knife being the principle tool required. This is like a pen knife with a small broad which is extremely sharp. Blades are high carbon alloy steel which have been tempered to form the razor edge. Sharpness is the key as the knife needs to glide through wood both with and against the grain.
Finger and thumb protectors made of cow hide are a preferred option as they give the user much more freedom of movement and control when using the knife.
Agility of the hand is essential when chip carving to maintain control of the blade and accuracy of cutting.
The process of chip cutting patterns
Rather than randomly pile into a piece of wood with a chip carving blade there are several steps and techniques to ensure you get the best possible result. We looked at an excellent video demonstration on Youtube by Mychipcarving with a chip carving project (see full video at the end of this article).
The demonstration is of a hand held mirror and is perfect for showing how to pencil out and take preliminary marking cuts before the main chip cutting starts.
The first step is to carefully outline in the pattern with a pencil. Accuracy is essential and in the video the artist is obviously ver skilful. You may need to draw a grid in feint pencil before copying the design onto the wood.
Don’t forget you always have the opportunity to make corrections as pencil can be erased from wood (pen does not come off so easily!)
The next step is to lightly shade the areas you are going to cut out. This is not essential but I would advise you to do this if you are a beginner to chip carving. It will keep you focussed on the cutting area and eliminate mistakes.
Take the chip cut knife and anchor the side of your palm to the work surface using your thumb as an additional stabiliser.
The hand position is really important both to make accurate cute and for your own personal safety. These knives are razor sharp and will cut you as easily as the wood you are working on. These are tools that should not be used by children.
The experienced carver in the video wears no hand protection. Until you are really competent with this type of craft knife I would advise you to wear either a safety glove or finger/ thumb protectors.
You can see that the carver marks out with the chip knife before making the cuts. If you don’t do this the wood will break and splinter beyond the pattern guide lines.
You can see that the pattern marking works fine for chip cutting when it is marked out correctly. This shading, marking and cutting process is slow but very rewarding when it all comes together.
Watch the full video to get a real sense of the cutting marking process and soon you will be well on your way to creating some fabulous chip carving designs!