WORKING WITH GRAIN

Understanding wood grain is an important skill for wood carvers.

WHAT IS WOOD GRAIN?

The annual growth rings formed during a tree's lifecycle create fine lines throughout the wood. When the wood is cut and we begin to work with it, these growth rings create a texture through the wood and are referred to as the wood's grain.

Depending on the species of wood and how it grew, grainline patterns might be light, thin and tightly packed together or they could be be thicker, darker or more spaced apart.

Carving and revealing the grain is the true beauty of working with wood and what makes every carving project so unique.

WHAT DO DOGS AND CARVING WOOD HAVE IN COMMON?

More than you might think!

When you pet a dog's fur in the direction it grew, your hand will glide softly and smoothly through the hairs. Pet against the fur growth direction and the fur will resist your hand requiring much more effort to get through and irritating the animal.

The same is said for carving wood. When you carve in the direction of the wood grain, your knife will glide smoothly through the wood, creating beautiful, silky clean cuts. When carving in the opposite direction, or "against the grain", your knife will dig into the wood abruptly, unpredictably breaking off chunks of wood.

Don't make the wood angry by carving against the grain.

CARVING THE GRAIN

WITH THE GRAIN:
When carving "with the grain", you will carve in a downward direction (from high to low) through the grain lines. You will constantly need to rotate your block of wood and reposition your hand grip to ensure you are carving in a downward direction.

ACROSS THE GRAIN:
You will find situations where you will need to carve "across the grain", (ie: when carving out the bowl of a spoon, shaping a knife blade, or carving the end grain of your wood block). Carving "across the grain" is a highly efficient way to remove wood, just make sure you are still working through the grain in a downward direction to prevent tearing or splintering of the wood.

AGAINST THE GRAIN:
While you are making a cut, if your knife digs into the wood and gets stuck, or your wood is tearing/splintering or you are popping large chunks out of your work, then you are most likely carving against the grain.

To fix this, all you need to do is rotate your wood block and carve it in the opposite direction.

CARVING THE BOWL

When clearing out the wood from a bowl of a spoon, you will be carving "with" and "across" the grain.  You will be constantly rotating the wood block to adjust your carve direction in an effort to maintain a downward motion. 

Important:  While hollowing out a bowl, if you notice that you are getting splintering during your carve stroke, it's because you are carving up against the grain.  To fix this, just end your carve stroke at the lowest point of the spoon bowl. 

"WORKING WITH GRAIN" NOTES:

Every wood block has it's own unique grain pattern. Before you begin a new project, take a look at the wood to find the grain lines and patterns and note any imperfections in the wood.

Plan how the grain pattern and imperfections will affect your cutting strokes.  Use a pencil to mark out grainline and cut stroke direction arrows (we show you how to do this in the step-by-step carving section).