glossary ltemplate

Chip Carving

A means of decorating a workpiece's surface with geometrical patterns . In operation, chip carving consists of a series of recesses -- or pockets -- where the sides of which slope to the center, as shown below.

At a fundamental level of chip carving, the tools needed are a knife and a ruler and a carving punch. Compasses may sometimes helpful, but not absolutely necessary, because -- in a pinch, the carver can use a pencil and string. The knife chiefly used for the work -- known as a chip-carving knife -- has one cutting edge, the slanting end.

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While the special chip carving knives below are used, gouges and chisels can also be used. Vertical cuts are made along the centre lines and the wood sloped away at each side.

The designs desired are drawn on the wood's flat surface first. The outline of the design can be with a sharp then -- to enhance the design's outlines -- stamp the background with a carving punch [not illustrated yet 1-23-10], striking the end of the punch firmly and evenly with a mallet or light hammer. The stamping "draws out" the designs, which makes knife work easier to accomplish neatly.

(Note: for other books online about chip carving, see Sources, below.)

Historical Roots

Among ancient man, worldwide, carving, in wood or in stone was an opportunity to create useful tools and express their artistic instincts, even though they had no formal training. One of the simplest forms of the work is what is familiarly known as " chip-carving " or peasant carving.


Knives of different cutting configurations -- some with straight or skewed blades, others with the cutting edge inclined at 45 or 60 degrees -- are used to produce series of recesses, usually of reversed pyramidal form.

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Examples are preserved of ancient man's attempts at notching wood and/or stone with a knife or other sharp instrument to create his tools or other objects of his daily use.

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Chip Carving in Chicago Elementary Schools at Turn of 20th Century

While my colleagues in the Anthropology Dept would cringe at the mention of "savage" -- first line in box, below -- this curriculum manual for the Chicago Schools has much to teach us today about both chip carving and the efforts in a school district to introduce subjects other than academic into children's education. Considering the technology of the time needed to publish a book, the effort required to produce this manual is in itself an achievement. But, after a glance at its contents, the imagination and care exhibited by the teachers responsible for creating the illustrations, writing the text, and assembling the pages into this book is impresssive.

chip carving in elementary school manual chicago schools 1900


Chip-carving, sometimes called "peasant-carving," is the development of the "savage's delight in notching with a knife the wooden implements and objects of his daily use." As a home industry it has been most fully developed in Scandinavian countries, by the peasants, during the long evenings of winter. As a means for the decoration of objects made by the manual training classes, chip-carving has been found very attractive to the pupils and has stimulated them to greater effort in the accurate making of the objects to be decorated, for no piece of work may be ornamented unless it is the product of the pupil's best effort.

Fig. A represents the method used in marking out the simplest form for chip-carving. Fig. B shows the position of the knife (See page 30) in cutting. Holding the knife vertically, place the acute angle in the corner (a) to be cut deepest, pressing it hard into this corner, let the edge of the knife sink into the line till it touches the upper border line. Make these vertical cuts on both sides of the triangle. Then, holding the knife at about thirty degrees from the horizontal, remove the triangular chip (b).

Fig. C shows a design formed by doubling the line of triangles. Fig. D shows slight variations and a square like those in Fig. C, but notched on four sides.

Designs for chip-carving should always be very carefully drawn with a sharp pencil.

Children should plan their own designs as soon as they have learned the general method and have acquired some skill.

Sources: Adapted from Margaret J. Codd, "Wood Carving", The School journal, Volume 61 1900 page 168; Paul Nooncree Hasluck, Wood carving comprising practical instructions, examples and designs ... London, Cassel & Co., Ltd., 1908. ; Edwin W Foster, Carpentry and Woodwork Garden City, N.Y. : Doubleday, Page, 1911; Vic Taylor, Wood- worker's Dictionary , Hemel, Hempstead, England: Argus Books,1987; Pownal, VT: Storey Communications, 1990, page 145; R A Salaman, Dictionary of Woodworking Tools  Newtown, CT: Taunton Press, 1989, page 250.