Perfect figures from oak and robinia wood
The nature of the wood being carved limits the scope of the carver in that wood is not equally strong in all directions: it is an anisotropic material. The direction in which wood is strongest is called “grain” (grain may be straight, interlocked, wavy or fiddleback, etc.). It is smart to arrange the more delicate parts of a design along the grain instead of across it. Often however a “line of best fit” is instead employed, since a design may have multiple weak points in different directions, or orientation of these along the grain would necessitate carving detail on end grain, (which is considerably more difficult).
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.