How to Carve Wood With a Dremel Tool
Description, function and options for carving wood with a Dremel tool. Information on bit choices and accessories.
Dremel is a brand name for an oscillating tool, sometimes referred to as a rotary tool. The Dremel lineup includes a vast array of exchangeable tips, burrs and sanding drums.
Bold or Delicate
The type of carving you undertake determines the type of bit, burr or drum you will need. Start with larger cutting tools or wheels for bold, relief carving. Caricature or animal carvings require a more delicate approach with thinner, carbide-tipped cutters. Engraving or marquetry involves the use of fine-tipped engraving cutters.
Common Styles of Bits
Carving means starting rough and ending fine. Wheels are a type of cutting tool. With a thin abrasive disc, they cut through thinner pieces of wood like a circular saw blade.
Burrs are rough, round cylinders with different shapes. Some are blunt and extremely abrasive, others fine and pointed. With more variety than most other tips, burrs are multipurpose bits for wood removal and shaping.
When you've removed enough wood with a burr or cutter, the engraving bit can be used to add detail. Engraving cutters are small and thin. With the precision and accuracy of a sharp pencil, they cut or engrave the smallest features.
Draw a sketch directly onto the surface of the wood -- or draw the sketch on paper. If you use paper, glue the paper to the wood (use scissors to cut it if needed) and trace around it, transferring the sketch to the wood.
Use a band saw, hand saw, drill, jig saw, chisel or knife to remove as much of the wood from the drawing as possible, without disturbing the sketch or template.
Insert a stump burr or high-speed cutter bit to remove wood fast for relief carving. The size of the cutter should be in relation to the amount of wood being removed. Big bits remove wood faster.
Insert an engraving cutter or carbide-tipped cutter for engraving or to add details. Use a diamond-wheel point for the finest details. As with burrs, the size or shape of the engraving bit correlates with the amount, depth or size of the desired effect.
Hold the Dremel tool like a pencil. Turn it on and ease the tip into the wood, at a comfortable angle. When the tip engages the wood, drag it along the lines or open spaces to remove wood or cut lines. Work with short strokes, cleaning off excess sawdust to check your progress.
When the template or drawing is definitive, remove the template if desired. Continue defining the carving or engraving until satisfied. Change bits as needed to get into tight spaces or add details.
Change to a sanding drum if desired. Use the drum to round edges, blunt corners or smooth rough surfaces.
Sketch or Template
Remove Excess Material
Insert a Burr or Cutter
Insert a Detail Bit
Don't be afraid to experiment with different bits to find the right shape or profile.
Hold it Like a Pencil
Don't get too aggressive with your Dremel. Allow it to remove wood at its own pace. Don't force it. Placing too much stress on a Dremel causes it to heat up, which will damage the bit.
Cutting and Removing
Dremel tools spin in a clockwise direction. This means it will react differently when held in the right hand as opposed to the left hand. Run some test cuts to get the feel for it.
Switch to a Drum
The flex shaft attachment for the Dremel allows for carving in tight spaces. It's thinner and lighter, like a pencil with a cord, and provides the operator a more relaxed posture when carving.
Speed and Power
Dremel tools with higher horsepower remove wood faster than lower-powered models. Dremel tools with higher revolutions per minute, or RPMs, glide along the surface smoother and create less chatter and vibration for delicate work.
The variable-speed Dremel, runs from a low of about 5,000 RPMs to over 32,000 RPMs. It's a matter of personal preference, but the best results typically involve making less-aggressive passes at lower speeds.
Specializing in hardwood furniture, trim carpentry, cabinets, home improvement and architectural millwork, Wade Shaddy has worked in homebuilding since 1972. Shaddy has also worked as a newspaper reporter and writer, and as a contributing writer for Bicycling Magazine. Shaddy began publishing in various magazines in 1992, and published a novel, “Dark Canyon,” in 2008.