Canadian Woodworking

Top 10 power carving tips

Getting into power carving is like opening up an entire new woodworking world. Sculpting and shaping wood in three dimensions is fun, and will leave you with stunning projects that will turn heads.

1. Buy Decent Tools

A grinder with cheap bearings will rattle your arms and hands beyond belief. You will be able to stand it for a short while, but any longer and you’ll be feeling pins and needles for hours afterwards. Don’t break the bank, but don’t cheap out here. Smaller tools and cutters will also give much nicer results when they’re well made.

2. Do Your Research on Power Carving

Everything, from which specific grinders offer the best value when power carving to what the different types of cutters excel at, can be researched. Because power carving is something few woodworkers know much about, a bit of research will answer questions you didn’t even know you had.

3. Protect Yourself

Power carving can be dangerous, especially to those new to the technique. I would start out with safety glasses, a dust respirator, a smock that isn’t too loose fitting, steel toes and a full-face shield. Some wear gloves, but I always worry about getting them caught in the cutters or even slightly losing control of the grinder. Don’t ever sit on a stool under the workpiece/workbench – rather, stand over it in a dynamic position.

4. Be Patient

Don’t go into it thinking you will power carve a museum-quality work of art on the first day. Take it slow, as there are lots of things to learn. Also, don’t get frustrated when your first completed piece doesn’t look wonderful. Power carving benefits from mock-ups and some pre-thought to design, just like furniture.

5. Keep it Down

Power carving will transfer a lot of energy into a workpiece in many different directions. If that workpiece isn’t properly secured it will fly, hurting it and yourself. Clamping large workpieces is rarely a challenge, but when working on smaller projects it’s often a good idea to not cut the project out of a board until you have to, so you can easily clamp it to your workbench.

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6. Practice First

With some cheap, knot-free stock, practice using the grinder and cutters. Don’t make anything specific, but try different cuts and different angles to see the results. Listen to the sound the cutter is making. Soft, even sounds likely mean you’re not overtaxing the cutter or grinder, while louder sounds may mean you’re working too aggressively.

7. Start Simple

Start by not carving too deep into a blank, like a gently hollowed platter, or just adding some texture to a surface. The deeper you go, the harder things get. Also start with medium density woods with even grain, like walnut or cherry, for best results.

8. Add to Your Collection

One grinder and cutter is enough to get you going, but you may quickly want other cutters, as they can have drastically different pros and cons. Changing cutters every five minutes gets frustrating, so this is when a second grinder comes into play. A second grinder means you might want to get another cutter, which means… I think you know where this is going.

9. Sharpen Your Hand Tools

These final two points won’t actually improve your power carving skills, but they will leave you with nicer power-carved projects. Once you’re finished using your power carving tools, all those surfaces have to be levelled. Hand tools (small hand planes, chisels, carving gouges, etc.) are great for the initial levelling, and will work best if they’re razor sharp.

10. Get Serious About Sanding

Power carving leaves a lot of exposed end grain, and unless it’s sanded properly, machine marks and sanding scratches will be eyesores. Small yet aggressive sanders are wonderful for smoothing machine and tool marks, then hand sanding can perfect the surface.

Rob Brown - [email protected]

Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement. Instagram at @RobBrownTeaches

Any thoughts, tips or questions you can share?

Leave a comment in the section below.


  1. Many years ago I had a sanding compound which came in various grits. It was package in Polly bags and looked like summer sausage. It was applied to a cotton wheel and the friction would warm it enough to coat the wheel. The rotary cotton of what ever size was then ready for sanding any irregular shaped wood project. I am loosing my mind looking for this material. Would you have any knowledge of this product which I do not remember the name of it. Hand sanding was a thing of the past from course to highly buffed. I melted a rouge and added pumice and may add other abrasive materials but I would simply prefer to purchase it and get to work.

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