Once the sculptor has selected their wood, he or she begins a general shaping process using gouges of various sizes. The gouge is a curved blade that can remove large portions of wood smoothly. For harder woods, the sculptor may use gouges sharpened with stronger bevels, about 35 degrees, and a mallet similar to a stone carver’s. The terms gouge and chisel are open to confusion. Correctly, a gouge is a tool with a curved cross section and a chisel is a tool with a flat cross section. However, professional carvers tend to refer to them all as ‘chisels’. Smaller sculptures may require the wood carver to use a knife, and larger pieces might require the use of a saw. No matter what wood is selected or tool used, the wood sculptor must always carve either across or with the grain of the wood, never against the grain.
A wood carver begins a new carving by selecting a chunk of wood the approximate size and shape of the figure he or she wishes to create or, if the carving is to be large, several pieces of wood may be laminated together to create the required size. The type of wood is important. Hardwoods are more difficult to shape but have greater luster and longevity. Softer woods may be easier to carve but are more prone to damage. Any wood can be carved but they all have different qualities and characteristics. The choice will depend on the requirements of carving being done: for example a detailed figure would need a wood with a fine grain and very little figure as strong figure can interfere with ‘reading’ fine detail.