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A Guide to Safe Woodcarving

Woodcarving safety tips
Master woodcarver
Chris Pye and friend.

Chris Pye, with a witty and plain-spoken style, regularly (and very generously) shares his knowledge online with a devoted worldwide following of woodcarvers.

The tips presented here are excerpted from the complete A Guide to Safe Woodcarving available at his Web site.


  • Hold your work securely to a stable bench or surface, so that it can never move unpredictably.

  • The rule is: Only the cutting edge moves; the workpiece remains fixed.

  • Re-position the work to avoid carving dangerously.

  • Check clamps and fixings periodically.

Bench discipline:

  • Lay the carving tools you aren't using flat down, in a row, at the back of the bench and away from where your hands are working. (Be methodical about this good habit which also protects the delicate cutting edges from clashing together.)

  • Normally, you'd be keeping your cutting edges pointing towards yourself to make it easier to recognize the particular tool you need. This is, in the main, a safe way of working.

  • However, if you must work with the blades close by your hands, or sticking up a bit, then at least make sure the tools will push backwards loosely and easily if you knock against their sharp edges. The last thing you want is for the tool handle to abut something fixed, while the spike-like, immovable edge is pointing at you.

  • Never try to catch a falling carving tool, either with your hand, or by putting your foot in the way. Let it go!

  • Carve in footwear strong enough to protect the feet from falling clamps, tools or wood.


  • woodcarving chiselsKeep your tools as sharp and clean as possible.
    A blunt cutting edge needs far more pressure to cut wood fibres and, at the end of its cut, a blunt carving tool tends to jerk uncontrollably out of the wood and into the fresh air.

  • Contrary to what most people think, a sharp tool is safer because it cuts cleanly and with less effort.

  • Take particular care when using the benchstrop - especially the forward stroke.

Tool use:

  • Keep both hands and fingers behind the cutting edge at all times.
    Since only the actual cutting edge is sharp, it follows that it is impossible to cut your your hands and fingers so long as they're behind the edge.

  • Don't wave your carving tools in the air - something easily and unconsciously done while talking or demonstrating. Students and onlookers will find such waving, at the very least, alarming, and you'll feel very silly dressing your own wounds.

  • Carving tools are offered to the wood at many different angles: be prepared to re-position the work or your body to avoid carving dangerously.

  • Never cut, or exert pressure, towards any part of the body.
    Both hands should be on the carving tool, with the blade-hand resting on the wood.

  • The only exceptions to this are mallet work and specific, one-handed carving techniques.

  • If you need to hold the work with one hand and manipulate the chisel with the other, use the thumb of the work-holding hand as a pivot or guide to control the cutting. Never cut towards the work-holding hand.

  • In vigorous mallet work, especially with very hard, brittle or old and dry woods, wear eye protection.

Bench height:

  • Try to work with a straight back at all times and you will avoid backache. To this end, the bench (or workpiece) must be at a correct height.

  • My book Woodcarving Tools, Materials & Equipment has a discussion for figuring correct bench height - which is an individual matter for you, the carver.

  • The normal woodworker's or joiner's bench is far too low for most people. Raise it on blocks or fit a false top, and adjust the workpiece as necessary. Relief carvings can be fixed vertically - details of some vertical carving stands can be found in my book Elements of Woodcarving.

Wood: A lump of wood can be surprisingly heavy, and toes surprisingly small and painful. Wear boots with steel toe-caps when shifting and sorting lumber.

Lifting: Don't just bend over and use your back. Keep your back straight and use your strong leg muscles by bending and straightening your knees.


  • Work rhythmically at a regular pace - this is less tiring and easier on the joints than sporadic, violent bursts of passion.

  • Use the lightest mallet that will do the job.

  • Keep the elbow of the mallet arm in (towards the body) as much as possible, and strike so as to include the shoulder. This lessens the stress and fatigue on the elbow and arm.

  • Use the mallet with either arm - learn to do this from the start.
    Wear eye protection with hard, brittle woods.

  • Malletwork can be hard on the ears! Ear defenders reduce the tension that creeps up on you with loud, sharp noises.

Wood shaping:

  • Use a tough leather glove to protect the skin if you grip the end of a rasp.

  • Protect the heels of your hands from sharply-cut edges, splinters and facets of wood with fingerless gloves.

  • Use a dust mask without fail when you sand wood, and protect your eyes. Never blow away sandpaper grit and wood dust.

  • Know your material: some tropical hardwoods are toxic to everyone, others cause allergic and other reactions.

courtesy Chris Pye

More about woodcarving & woodworking safety around the Web:

Getting started with woodcarving -Safety

Wood Carving Tips for Beginners


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