How to Write & Carve Into Wood

Erin Moseley

Carving into wood has historic significance and widespread appeal. Examples include modern Welsh artist Ieuan Rees and ancient Egyptians who wrote on wooden mummy tags.

Whether you want to casually carve your name on an old picnic table or cut some finely drawn scripted lettering on a wooden gift box, there are tools and techniques that can help you to achieve just that.

  1. Attach the wood sample to a working surface to prevent it from slipping while you're writing and carving. Lay the wood down flat and use c-clamps to secure it in place.

  2. Draw a straight line across the surface of the wood to represent the bottom of the letters that you will write. Use a ruler and mark lightly using a ball point pen.

  3. Lay out stenciled letters on top of the flat wood sample. Position them to sit on the penned line so they are evenly spaced. Allow a blank space between words that is approximately equivalent to the size of one of the letters. This will help make the carving more legible when people read it.

  4. Trace the stenciled letters along both the inside and the outside borders. Use a regular tip ball point pen to write your lettering onto the wood. Make clean lines, but don’t be concerned about extra pen markings inside of the letters. These will disappear once the carving begins. Set stencils aside for reuse when finished tracing.

  5. Use a knife blade or pointed carving tool to make your initial cuts into the wood. Create thin cuttings around letter borders by retracing the penned lines along both the inside and outside of stencil markings. Use a metal ruler to guide your tool if you have difficulty holding it steady.

  6. Choose a carving chisel to gouge out wood inside of the cut penned lines. Use a straight edge chisel to create straight lines, or try a v-groove chisel for a tapered look. Continue carving until all letters are cut to your satisfaction.

  7. Brush away flecks of wood and wood dust, using your soft toothbrush, so you can fully view the extent of your work. Make any further cuts you need to improve the general appearance of the letters.

  8. Tip

    Choose a surface height that affords an easy reach to all parts of your wood working surface. An adjustable saw horse may best suit larger blocks. Practise chiseling with a variety of carving tools from your tool set to discover their range of effects. Use a projector to accurately trace letters and images onto the wood surface prior to carving.