Tips for Using Woodcarvings to Add Style and Value to Projects

Tips for Using Woodcarvings to Add Style and Value to Projects

At a time when the stock market is experiencing extreme ups and downs, and other investment opportunities are standing on shaky ground, real estate continues to look more and more promising. Home sales and new home starts remain high, due primarily to record-low interest rates, and people continue to look for spaces that they can not only call their own, but decorate and remodel in such a way that they can add value to their property with a future sale in mind.

For homeowners and new buyers alike, investing in their homes, especially in their kitchens and baths, is like money in the bank. Updated appliances, high-tech fixtures and upscale decorative touches all add to home's design and value.

One decorative touch that is often overlooked in today's kitchen and bath designs is woodworking. Handcrafted woodwork pieces can add not only personality and individuality to a room, but value, as well. From simple carvings to ornate displays, hand-hewn elements work with a variety of styles, and add a rich elegance to any design.

Joe Leonard, a woodcarving expert, offers beginner woodcarving workshops nationwide at a variety of Woodcraft stores, including locations in Illinois, Ohio and Arizona. A 30-year veteran of the woodcarving industry, Leonard has created 17 life-sized carousel horses for Euro Disney, among his many other projects. He encourages those in the building and design industry to consider hand-carved wood pieces when creating or remodeling a home to add a personalized touch.

"I've found that building industry professionals enjoy learning how to make relief carvings for fireplace mantels, panels, door jambs and other aspects of home construction and remodeling projects," reports Leonard.

"Woodcarving is a natural extension of talents for many building professionals." He adds that, with only a relatively minor investment in some sharp tools and a little training, builders and remodelers can easily turn a mild interest in woodcarving into a passionate hobby  not to mention a profitable sideline that can add cachet to a kitchen and bath firm, and beauty and value to any kitchen or bath project.

Leonard offers a variety of tips on how to get started in woodcarving. First and foremost, he notes, a woodcarver needs to respect his tools, as well as sharpen them often. "A sharp tool makes it easier to work the wood," he remarks. "I suggest people participate in a class or demonstration on chisel sharpening to make sure they know how to safely sharpen their tools on a regular basis."

For those starting out, Leonard recommends these basic tools: a #1 straight chisel - 12mm, a #2 sweep gouge - 8mm or 12mm, a #12 V parting tool - 6mm and a #11 sweep spoon gouge - 7mm. He also recommends a small carving knife, like the FLEXCUT detail knife. Leonard himself prefers to use PFEIL Swiss Made carving tools. "For under $115, a builder or remodeler can invest in all of the basic tools he'll need for woodcarving," he reports. "The key is to purchase quality tools that will serve you well."

Once a builder or remodeler has the right tools to begin a woodcarving, the right wood is the next step. "I work primarily in basswood because it has great carving and sanding characteristics," Leonard comments.

"Depending on the project, I can also see building professionals using walnut, poplar and mahogany. The choice depends on what the final product is going to be, the type of finish used and whether the piece is going to be painted, stained or clear finished."

"While it's really a matter of personal preference, I've seen fireplace surrounds in cherry, mahogany and poplar that are striking. If a builder is working on architectural trim for a home, then I think pine or oak are good wood choices. And, if a remodeler is replacing a baluster, then pine, cherry or mahogany woods should work particularly well," he continues.

When the tools and wood are chosen, Leonard recommends these tips for both beginners and more experienced woodcarvers:

  • Learn with professionals. Be sure to take a woodcarving class offered in your area either through a Woodcraft store, community college or woodworking organization.
  • Ask questions. Challenge others and yourself. Don't be afraid to experiment on your own with different types of woods and with different tools.
  • Sharp tools work best. Be careful, however, because sharp tools present safety risks if used carelessly.
    For those interested in learning more about woodcarving, a number of books on the subject are also available from Woodcraft. These include the following:
  • Woodcarving Basics by Alan & Gill Bridgewater
  • How to Carve Wood by Richard Butz
  • Woodcarving Tools, Materials & Equipment by Chris Pye
  • Caricature Woodcarving by Gerald Ekern

A full selection of Leonard's work can be viewed by visiting Leonard's Web site, located at

For additional information about the workshops that Leonard will host in the coming year throughout the country, contact Woodcraft at 800-344-3348.