Sign with hand carved lettering

There are a few things to keep in mind if you are just starting out with letter carving.

Good quality tools are the way to go; cheap tools will only lead to frustration. And keeping them sharp is very important. Start out by carving sample letters on scrap lumber until you get the feel for what a proper cutting angle is and how deep you need to carve.

When you are ready to move on, take advantage of your computer and print out what you wish to carve in whatever fancy fonts you choose. The word processing program will give you the proper spacing between the letters. When you are carving, find a way to secure the piece of wood you are working with, but if you can find a system that lets you spin the piece around while you are carving, that would be ideal.

1. Use proper carving tools: knives, gouges, etc.

2. Keep your tools sharp: hone them constantly as you carve.

3. Use a proper cutting angle.

4. Don't carve too deep.

5. Use a word processor to print out your words or phrases.

6. Enlarge your printout on a copier, to keep the letter spacing correct.

7. Use a species of wood that is easy to carve: basswood, butternut, alder, close-grained softwoods.

8. Don't lose the big picture: strive for consistency in depth of cut and cutting angle on each successive letter.

Using printed paper as a letter carving template

Use spray adhesive to attach your pre-printed letters to the wood.

Letter A partially carved from a template

Carve pulling towards you.

Carved sign letter that has been sanded

Remove the paper and sand the surface smooth. If you're painting the carved area, leave the paper on.

Angles for successfully carving wood

Knife angle is the key to achieving uniform carved letters. About 65° is where you should start. Near perpendicular is most effective as you look at the side of the knife.

Stock for carving sign letters clamped to a workbench

Securing your stock is an important task. You also need to be able to spin the stock around; it allows you to easily pull the cut towards you.