Zen Carving, The Minimalist Way of Miniature Chip Carving

In this article, we introduce a minimalist technique of miniature chip wood carving named Zen carving.

There are several types of carving methods on wood. In fact, there are three methods of carving on wood, which is: hand carving, mechanical carving, laser carving. Certainly, hand carvings have a lot more artistic value.

Chip carving is one of the most traditional and old styles of wood/stone carving. The idea is to remove small chips from a flat surface by using a single knife. The most common chip form is a triangle.

Usually, that’s the first style people touch when they start to learn wood carving but the real art comes up when the carving and drawing skills are on a professional level.

In fact, calm and patience (zen), math and painting skills, as well as an artistic and visual appreciation are the essentials of this art.

A small miniature carved work could have more than a thousand chips, so this way is called zen carving. Stay with us.

Zen Carving

Tools Needed For Miniature Chip Wood Carving

Chip wood carving is a very ascetic art – the only tools you’ll need are:

  • A knife.
  • A sharpening tool. You can use a simple wooden ruler covered by GOI polishing paste (green color) for a simple sharpening and an abrasive stone if you want to reshape the knife (e.g. make a different angle). Since the cutting edge of the knife is pretty small the ruler does its job very well if you do your sharpening frequently;
  • Drawing tools: you can use a simple mechanical pencil, a flexible ruler, a compass and an eraser.
Tools needed for miniature chip wood carving

All the tools fit in a small pencil case and always could be carried with you wherever you go. I always bring it with me on a business trip or for vacation.

Materials Needed For This Art

First, you would think where to get a blank item (e.g. a wooden box or a stand).

If you’re not lucky to have your own joinery shop you might want to check if there’s a woodwork co-working nearby or simply buy a blank wooden item in an offline or online store.

Here’re the things you should note:

  • Don’t buy plywood. Simply don’t.
  • If you’re a beginner buy small items – the best choice would be a simple plate – it would minimize your risks to cut yourself. Don’t buy round items for the same reason.
  • The best material for chip carving is basswood since it’s pretty soft. You might try birch as well. Don’t use a hardwood like oak if you don’t feel professional enough.

Some people like the natural wood color so they don’t like to apply color for painting. Instead, you can use a transparent mastic and apply it by using a toothbrush.

Mastic provides a certain level of waterproof as well as you would get a nice soft touch feeling.

Note that mastic as a wax based material is hardening when the temperature goes down and if your layer is not uniform just try to heat your items (e.g. by using your electrical kitchen stove) and use the brush again.

Zen Carving

Introducing a Technique By Alexey Kobzev, Russian Artist

The Technique

Once I’ve started to check other carver’s videos on YouTube I realize the way I do my carving is a bit different from the traditional one.

Traditionally by carving out a triangle, they make a Y-form vertical pin and then carve 3 chips out – one after another.

That might be okay if you’re a beginner but as for me, this initial Y-pin is unnecessary. I simply make tree cuts and remove a single chip.

This makes the carving tidier since you won’t get any pit from the Y-form cut. Since the chips I carve are very small I hold the knife the same way as a pencil, that allows doing make a very precise cut.

A great joy is to carve butt-end areas (e.g. a top cover on a round wooden box) by a sharp knife – that’s like you carve a butter.

However don’t forget that you should not make a mistake – the second correcting cut won’t be easy due to a high risk of share.

zen carving

Drawings

That’s actually the real art. Try to divide a geometrical figure in different ways and make sure it looks good.

After a hundred sketches, you would understand what combines well and after another thousand sketches, you might understand what your style looks like.

My personal style is a miniature chip carving where a triangle chip could be less than an mm. However, if you just carve your item with a similar small chip that won’t look nice.

Here’re some tips I can provide:

  • Try to combine small chips which form a star-shaped figure with long thin chips.
  • Use curved lines. That’s more difficult to carve that kind of chips but it brings dynamics to your pattern.
  • Leave spaces and make accents.
  • Use different size chips near each other.
  • Try to play with different depths.
  • If you’re an advanced carver, try to make so-called 3D chip carving where you carve a big chip out first and that carve a smaller element/elements inside.

Zen

A small wooden ring box could have more than a thousand chips so the work requires lots of patience.

A single mistake (like a shear) could ruin the whole job so take your time, don’t be in a hurry and relax.

After you get some experience you would notice the wood structure, the way you would need to carve and the way you need to hold your blanks.

The carving process is a real meditation which brings me joy and helps to relax from the hustle life in a megapolis. Now, it’s your turn!

This article proudly made by the help of our friend, Alexey Kobzev (Credits back to him for his great images of the work). His Instagram Profile: @zencarving

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