What is Chip Carving?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Chip carving is a type of wood carving in which the carver removes small triangular chips of wood from a flat surface, creating a design which is classically geometric in style. Also known as Kerbschnitt, chip carving is practiced in many cultures, and examples can be seen in Middle Eastern, Alpine, and Indian art from many different eras. This craft requires the use of a specialized chip carving knife which can be obtained from a store which carries wood carving supplies or a company which supplies chip carving tools and accessories.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

In chip carving, the cuts must be very precise and even, so that the design is carved to the same depth throughout the piece. Although triangular shapes might seem rather limiting design-wise, chip carving can actually be quite diverse. The triangles can vary in size and shape, with some being long and thin, while others are short and fat, and they can be joined together as well as separated in a variety of ways. Skilled carvers can also create curved lines in their triangles for more visual interest in the finished piece.

Commonly, the goal of chip carving is to create a symmetrical design which includes a variety of geometric shapes. Stylized flowers, plants, and animals may also appear in the design. Skilled carvers can sometimes freehand patterns, while others prefer to sketch out the pattern on the wood before they begin. Mass produced patterns are available for people who are just beginning to explore chip carving, so that they can get comfortable with the process and get an idea of how to create a design which will look good when the piece is finished.

Many chip carvings are incredibly ornate and highly detailed, with a visually lush appearance. Chip carvings can be used to decorate plates, furnishings, decorative plaques, wood trunks, picture frames, and many other wooden objects. The woods used for this craft vary, with many being suitable for chip carving, and people can also integrate inlay and other skills into their finished pieces. Depending on the taste of the crafter, pieces can also be finished with waxing or staining to preserve the piece and enhance the level of detail.

People can learn chip carving from skilled instructors who offer workshops and training sessions, and instructional books and videos are also available. Most skilled practitioners recommend starting with practice cuts on scrap wood so that people can get used to handling the knife and creating cuts without needing to worry about finished designs or damage to the wood. Once people have achieved a level of confidence and comfort, they can try out this art on high quality wood.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I have always wanted to try chip carving, especially after seeing a demonstration on public television a few years ago. I found a chip carving knife at a local craft store, but I couldn't find a decent instruction book. The basswood blanks weren't too expensive, but I'd want to practice on some other kind of wood before starting a real project.

What I saw the professional carver do on the TV show looked easy enough, but he'd been doing it for a long time, too. The knife also gets dull fairly often, so you'd have to have a good sharpener and not be afraid to use it.

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