Zoe Gertner  - Professional Woodcarver & Tutor

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This page introduces you to some woodcarving projects, and starts with a relief carving which is rather like creating a picture in wood. Then follows an easy introduction to 'carving in the round' (which is one which you can handle) by showing you how to carve a tortoise, and finally, a sample of how to sharpen a woodcarving tool.

Zoe is happy for you to use these instructional webpages for teaching or newsletter purposes provided you acknowledge her as the author and do not accept any payment from using them. Please contact Zoe beforehand if you wish to make use of them.

In addition, Zoe is currently producing    Woodcarving Projects on CD roms  , a variety of topics ideal for beginners and those who wish to gain confidence with their woodcarving. Written by Zoe for her students, these CDs are suitable for a wide range of abilities from complete beginner to those with some experience using hand tools for wood carving.

Each topic has clear instructions, diagrams and pictures, showing you direct carving techniques and guiding you through your carving at your own pace whilst developing your confidence and creativity. With an array of carving techniques at your fingertips, where will your imagination lead you? More details at the end of this page.


 Introducing Relief Carving

Carve an Ivy Leaf

You will need two or three no 3 gouges of widths such as 1/4in and 1/2in and maybe 1/8in, a 1/4in 60 V tool (known as a no 39), a wooden mallet, a flat piece of straight grained wood such as sycamore or lime and some means of securing this so it does not move as you are working. Recommended carving tools can be purchased from www.ashleyiles.co.uk




1. Pick a couple of nicely shaped ivy leaves to use as templates, arrange and fasten them on to the wood using small pieces of masking tape and draw round them using a soft pencil.  Rest the wood on a non slip mat or in a vice so it cannot move when you cut.

  2. Cut round the drawn outline with a 60 degree V tool using the tool with a mallet so you can control the cuts accurately. Cut in the direction so that the leaf edge is clean -  you might find it helpful to practice on scrap wood first. Do not cut the stalk lines yet.


3. Use the no 3 gouge of appropriate width, turning it so that its curvature corresponds with the leaf shape. Lean the tool against the slope of the V channel and cut down and outwards, away from the leaf edge. Work thus all round, then use the widest gouge to make angled cuts towards the leaf, cleanly meeting up to make a deeper and wider V channel than that made by the V tool. Repeat the sets of cuts several times to widen and deepen the channel.


  4. Now remove the background adjacent to the leaf edge, starting by cutting into the V channel then gradually lengthening and overlapping these cuts. Always cut towards the leaf itself when removing the background, and do not start too far back or you may split the wood in front of the  gouge.
  5. Where leaves overlap, use the same  channelling techniques and reduce the adjacent surface of the leaf so it is lower than the edge of the upper leaf. Pare the surfaces of both leaves so that they undulate, then mark in the veins and stalks with the V tool. Finish the carving with a coat of clear wax polish. Do not sand it because you will lose the crispness of the carving.

copyright Zoe Gertner 




If you enjoy carving leaves, why not try the 'Green Man' or the  Maple Leaf CD

You will find full instructions on each CD, details below.



Starting a Carving in the Round

Carving a Tortoise

This is an easy introduction to 'Carving in the Round', one which is three dimensional or sculptural, meaning that when finished you can hold and view it from all round.

For the initial shaping you will need a deep gouge such as a 3/8in no 9 followed by two or three no 3 gouges of widths such as 3/4in, 1/2in and 1/4in, and a 1/4in 60 V tool, a wooden mallet, and a scraper for finishing. A Surform or other rasp, or plane will be useful. The carving will need to be held securely in a wood vice whilst you are carving. To make a larger version than the example, use wider gouges with the same sweep/numbers.


  1. Use an axe to split a log lengthwise and flatten the base of the tortoise. This can be done using a plane, Surform, Shinto rasp or microplane tool, or wide no 3 gouge and mallet. My tortoise is about 2in long from a branch of Laburnum, chosen so that the contrasting colours of the heart and sapwood will contrast between the shell and the body of the tortoise when finished. You could use Yew wood to similar effect, or any log from the firewood pile if is sound and straight grained.  

2. Using your deepest gouge with a mallet, round off both ends of the log, cutting away from it and lifting your gouge hand as you cut. When rounded over, smooth off the convex surfaces with your widest no 3 gouge, alternatively  you could use the Surform, microplane or Shinto rasp for this.





3. In the middle of the underneath scoop out a gentle hollow so that the belly is raised up from the outer edge. Then avoiding the corners, remove the surface between the front and back legs so that it stands on 4 small areas, the feet, one at each corner.


4. Reduce the shell surface behind the head, tail and legs so they project from the shell. Shape the head and tail with the no 3 gouges. Your tortoise should now be standing on all 4 feet and have a pointed tail and blunt head .




5. Draw and cut with a V tool the edge of the shell round the tortoise and above the head and the tail. Work from the middle of each side towards the top of the head / tail so you are working with the grain. Reduce the surface of the head, tail and legs adjacent to the V line so the shell  rests upon these. You can see the colour contrast between the lighter shell and darker body, ie the heart and the sapwood of the branch.

6. Cut indents along the edge of the shell to make it scalloped and mark the features on the head with the V tool. The claws on the feet are also marked using the V tool.


7. Using a scraper, clean up the surface of the shell so it is really smooth, taking care to scrape with the grain as you do this. Finish the carving with a coat of wax polish and buff to a nice sheen with a duster.

Copyright Zoe Gertner


Zoe's tortoise project was featured in more depth

in the 'Woodcarving' magazine, issue 143, January 2015



 Sharpening a V Tool

(Excerpt from Zoe's CD: 'How to Sharpen and Restore Carving Tools')

V tools are very useful carving tools, and are used for outlining a relief carving (see above), marking details and texturing. The width of the tool is measured across its blades, and the angle between the blades is usually either 45, 60 or 90 degrees. A  1/4in 60 degree V tool with a straight blade, (also known as a no 39) is a good 'all rounder' and cuts the correct angle around the design when used to outline a relief carving.






For sharpening carving tools I recommend a fine ceramic sharpening stone (in blue box) which is used dry, together with a sharp edged slipstone of the same grade, (seen behind the stone) and a piece of leather as a strop. The leather is mounted in the lid of the box for convenience but can be glued on to a flat piece of wood instead. An 8000 grit Japanese waterstone  (top) is also suitable, but it must be soaked in water before using, and you must dry your tools carefully in case they rust.




Using the stone longwise, place the cutting edge so it is at rightangles to the stone, raise the tool handle a little and abrade the edge by running it up and down the surface to create a burr across the cutting edge. (left) This is called 'honing'. Work across the stone at the same time so that it wears evenly, especially if you are using a Japanese stone.


Use your thumbnail and stroke outwards across the cutting edge to detect the burr. If you do not have this, repeat the honing but holding the tool handle a little higher and you should obtain it very quickly. Repeat the procedure for the other blade. Then with the sharp edged slipstone, (right) rub outwards  at the same time press it firmly flat against the inside surface of each blade to remove the burrs along the cutting edges.

  Strop both cutting edges of the V tool by drawing each firmly along the leather, this removes any traces of the burr which may remain.  


  •  If your V tool does not cut easily or you have to hold it inconveniently upright to make it cut, its outer bevel, (where the blades meet underneath) may need extending. When the metal is too thick in this area it acts as a wedge, so impeding the tool cut. (You use a grindstone to correct this).
  •  The cutting edges should be at rightangles to the blade length and not lean  forward or backwards excessively.
  •  The 'nose' or 'beak' which may develop at the inside angle of the blades is normal, and is useful. It cuts slightly in advance of the blades, enabling you to cut right up to an edge, such as when marking veins on a leaf; it also produces clean cuts when working on end grain, (provided your tool is sharp, of course). If, however, you wish to remove it, it can be honed away in a figure of eight on the stone and  the resultant burr at the junction of the blades removed using the sharp edged slipstone.
  •  Using a mallet with a V tool is quicker, more controlled and less hard on your hands than than pushing it along by hand.

For lots more about V tools see:

 'Victory over the V', Parts 1 & 2, Woodcarving Magazine issues 24 & 25

''Sharpening and Maintaining Woodcarving Tools' , Traditional Woodworking Magazine Jan '05

'Carve a Maple Leaf in Relief' CD (See below)


You can find more projects and sharpening techniques in Zoe's book

'Woodcarving - A Foundation Course'   details...

and also

    Zoe's "How to Sharpen and Restore Carving Tools" CD   details


Woodcarving CDs now available:

 12 each incl p & p



How to Carve Lettering and Lay Out an Inscription

How to Sharpen and Restore Carving Tools




Carve a Green Man, Face and Foliage

Carve your Family Pet




Carve a Maple Leaf in Relief

More about these CD's

I hope you have enjoyed this page. The instructions above are very basic, but for tuition in greater depth, why not  see the Course Dates and consider coming for some wood carving tuition?

If you would like to suggest any other aspects of woodcarving on this page, please contact me via the feedback page.


 Updated October 2018                  Puddleduck Farm, South Wonford, Holsworthy, Devon. EX22 7DR 

        Telephone:  01409 261648                  e-mail: mail@zoegertner.co.uk              www.zoegertner.co.uk