How To Carve On Wood With A Wood Router

If you are reading this, you’ve probably been amazed by the pictures that some woodworkers carve in the wood with wood routers. But how in the world do they do it?! Well, they’ve definitely learned all the basics of wood routers for dummies and trained a lot to have their hands steady! The good news is that you can do the same and succeed quite quickly too. Read this super-detailed guide by Electro Garden Tools woodworking experts to know how to reach this goal. 


Choose the Right Tool & Router Bits 

Any woodworking project requires the right selection of tools, and carving with a wood router is not an exclusion. It’s very important to get the right router and bits to achieve the wanted result. You have three router types to choose from:

  • Fixed base router – this one works perfectly well with edging and cutting dovetails. The main advantage is convenient handling, while the main disadvantage is the inability to carve plunge holes.
  • Plunge base router – due to the plunge base, you can make deeper carvings anywhere in the workpiece by plunging the tool.
  • Trim router – this is the most compact router type. It lets you do a variety of trimming cuts on wood and laminates. Due to different base types, you can achieve high versatility in light-duty projects.

As for the router bits, you need to select the right ones according to the types of grooves or edges you want to make. There is an immense variety of shapes and sizes, so the best solution for starters is to purchase a set of bits that includes the most common types, such as angle, dovetail, dado, round over, etc. Here are the three main types of bits available in any store:

  • Grooving bits – these bits are used to make decorative inlays, dados, grooves, mortises, fluted columns, etc.
  • Joinery bits – these are often used for joints and shaped trimming, but you can experiment too.
  • Edge-forming bits – you can use them for smoothing out edges, making neat decorative edges, cutting quarter-circle or S-shaped grooves in edges, and making molding.

You can easily figure out which bit you need by looking at the picture of the groove it makes. If you already know which pictures and patterns you want to carve on wood, you can order the bits that match your project by reviewing the related pictures on Amazon or elsewhere. Make sure to select the right sizes too. Most probably, you will need several same bits of different sizes. 

The Wood Matters

Choosing the right wood for carving with a wood router, you should understand that there are no obvious options. Some woodworkers prefer softwoods, while others choose hardwoods despite all their minuses. It all depends on your personal preferences, wood appearance, or your customer’s expectations. 

Different types of wood imply particular working difficulty levels and different router bits wear off speed. The woods that are quite easy to carve include maple, sycamore, red oak, basswood, cherry, lime, black American walnut, pine, butternut, aspen, etc. The woods that require more skill and patience to work with include mahogany, pear, ebony, olivewood, etc. 

The most important thing to remember is that the easy-to-carve woods can’t let you achieve the same high quality of finish as hardwoods do. If you need a wood that finishes well, choose only from hardwoods. 

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All for One (The Auxiliary Tools)

Before you start wood carving, you should prepare the workbench with a set of auxiliary tools that will help you achieve the best result. Here is what you need to prepare:

  • Wood plane – it’s a tool for shaving off thin layers of wood whilst leaving a smooth finish.
  • Clamps – you need to mount the workpiece firmly, right? 
  • Sander – this is the one and only tool for perfect surface smoothing and polishing. Use it with different bits to achieve different finish effects. 
  • Paint or finish – you can cover the finished carving with any paint or transparent/pigmented finish you want. 
  • Varnish – it’s a pigmented coating solution based on polyurethane. 

The Steps to Follow

At last, let’s learn the right sequence of actions that will lead you to perfect carvings! Here’s a definitive instruction:

  1. Print or draw the reference picture – if you are good at drawing with a pencil, you can draw the desired picture right on the piece of wood. If not, you can print a reference picture on a piece of paper of the needed size and glue it right on the surface of the wood to have the guiding lines. You can adjust the size of the picture by printing it on paper of the right size or by compounding parts of a large picture printed on smaller sheets. 
  2. Make a throwaway route out – carving is a very delicate process that rarely allows mistakes. Always make several runs on a scrap piece of the same wood to feel the tool and ensure that you have full control and use the right bits. This advice is especially useful when you need to work on fine detailing. 
  3. Start routing out – now you’re ready to start carving on the main workpiece. Follow the guiding lines and always stop to remove excess dust from the surface. You must work on a dust-free surface. Otherwise, you will spoil the workpiece quite quickly. 
  4. Just do it! – use all your patience as a wood carving project might take from several hours up to several full working days. It all depends on your skill level and the overall complexity of the project. 
  5. Polish if needed – use your sander to achieve the needed smoothness of the surfaces. 
  6. Paint or apply epoxy – depending on your design, you can paint or apply epoxy over the surface of the carved picture. Let the workpiece dry as long as the instructions require. 
  7. Apply the finish – the final layer of finish can be made of stain, varnish, or epoxy. You can also sand the treated surface after drying to achieve a super-glossy finish. Oiling and regular (yearly) re-oiling is also recommended for the perfect look. 


Wow! Did you expect that carving cool pictures in wood with such a heavy-duty tool is that easy to comprehend? Now you have what to do during the next weekend in your DIY woodworking workshop. Remember that practice is a key to perfection and don’t be afraid to experiment. The chances that you invent a brand new design that people will love are very high!

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