Home   Gallery    Blog    FAQ    About Me    Guestbook    E-book    Patterns   Tutorials&Pictorials    Knowledge    Wisdom   Lore   Links

 Woodcarvings by Maura

the following information was collected over time from various internet lists which I belong to.  I have tried to credit the individuals who wrote this info.  If I have somehow left your credits out, please contact me with your credit info.  Thanks

Notes For The Carving Teacher

1) Have a written lesson plan prepared. This was necessary for me as the quick action and interchanges at the teaching table often pulls you away from where you are in the lesson and where you are headed next. If you haven't, just jot down a brief outline of the steps that you are going to use, in order, and a few side notes of what are important that they learn with each step.

2) Give them a list of what tools you are using ... students want to be able to purchase those tools that they have been introduced to but often don't get a chance to write down their names, brands, or sizes. For example, I have a micro dog leg chisel that I love and use on about every carving. Now my students might remember that it's the tool with the 90 degree angel in it but have no reason to remember that that angle in wood carving tools is called a "dog leg". As a traveling teacher I always liked to give the studio that was kind enough to sponsor me the list of tools in advance. That way they could, if they chose, stock those tools and have them ready for the students during class. I also was always willing to use the tools that the particular studio sold ... that way I wasn't using something that the students couldn't have or the studio didn't sell.

3) Let them know if this is your first teaching class ... your students will love it! They will be very patient and guide you through what they need to learn and what they expect to get from the class. You will discover that you will learn as much as they do by the end of the session.

4) Don't be afraid to say "I don't know that answer!" Your students really don't expect you to know everything. I sure don't know everything today even after years of working in this craft. They don't so why would you. You can tell them, if this is a series of classes, that you will find the answer for them for the next session. Post their questions to the digest or e-mail other carvers. That way your students learn not only the answers to their questions but also how to discover/find/ask for themselves. You can also get them to sign up for a mailing list that you can then write and mail the answers too. This also gives you, the teacher, a mailing list of students who might be interested in taking more classes from you.

5) Let your students tell you what they "NEED" to learn. Be attentive to their questions. Often, even with a written lesson plan I would end up somewhere that I had never considered teaching that day. I have found that if one student asks a question then most likely every student is confused on that point! Very few people are willing to say "I didn't understand what you just said" so when one asks it I always assumed that I needed to restate the instruction in new words or to demonstrate what I wanted them to do.

6) Go where you students want to go, not where you planned to go. If your students have questions of sharpening, as an example, take time from the class to teach sharpening! If they want to discuss different woods that are used, go there with them. Remember your teaching project is just a vehicle by which you teach. If they don't get the project done because of all this other information that they have learned ... fantastic! They LEARNED from you and they learn WHAT they needed to know.

7) Carving the student's project - Please ... this is just my opinion here as both a student of seminars and as a teacher ... there was always one unbreakable rule in my classes ... I NEVER took a project out of a students hands and did the carving step for them on their piece!!!!! I would take a blank or several pre-carved or pre-worked blanks with me to demonstrate on but never worked on another person's project. If I did it for them then they didn't do it and so they didn't learn how! Note all of the exclamation points in this paragraph. I would rather hand a student my blank to practice on, make mistakes on, ruin!!! than to take a project out of someone else's hands to demonstrate on. They really don't care as students if their first class project is perfect, they care that they did it themselves, all by themselves!

(Note: There was a good bit of discussion concerning # 6 after that hint was posted. My take on the general consensus of the discussion was that an instructor should ask the student before carving on their project but that many students actually preferred that an instructor carve on their project so they could follow the instructors carving on their side. Almost everyone agreed that an instructor should ask before carving on the student's project.)

8) Have fun! Teaching is fantastic, one of the greatest highs life can give you, and they pay you to do it! I always used the little trick of treating my students, no matter whether it was in my classroom or someone else's studio, as if we were all sitting down at my kitchen table having coffee and as a group of friends and buddies enjoying learning together.

9) The most important person in the room is the one that knows the least. Focus on that student. The questions that they have are probably very basic and simple, but you can never go wrong by teaching the basics! I thought that was the last idea for you this morning before I posted this ... but, I have one more.

10) Remember to breathe!!!! I often found myself, even after years of teaching, holding my breath as I watched the students sit down to the table. So, Smile, Hand out your patterns and instructions, Take a slow deep breathe, and say "Good Morning ... What a wonderful treat to me that you have come to enjoy a day of carving together!"

11) Safety first and be prepared for in-class accidents. For safety, we like everyone to have a glove and a thumb guard. We carry a large supply of "green tape" to wrap people's thumbs. We ask them, "Does anyone need a thumb guard? We also have band aids. It is easy to become so involved in your project that you forget the safety aspect.

12) Spend equal time (or nearly so) with all of your students. If they were interested enough to attend your class they should get equal time. I love it when instructors use a timer. If you have a student that needs a little extra time just turn the timer off and spend it. The other students will understand. What they won't understand or like is that if one or two students get way more of your time than the rest of the students do.

13) Add surprise and the unexpected to make important points memorable. There are times I've made a point, when I see a student in danger of breaking off a delicate part off the carving, I pick up a piece of wood about the same size as that delicate part, hide it in my hand, and hold their carving and knife the same way like I'm going to make the cut and let that piece pop out of my hand. It makes for a little excitement in class. Then I explain how to make the cut without loosing that delicate piece.

14) Make time and space available for those students that need a little extra attention.
One tip I can offer is if one student needs extra time, I take that student to my demonstration area and invite all the other students to join us for a group demonstration.

15) Don't hesitate to assign homework and let them see what they will be doing next. I give them 5 more of the same project to take home. The more THEY practice the better they got and the better THEY got the better I looked in the eyes of others. Every week I have a NEW small project for them.

16) Make eye contact so that your students know you are paying attention to them and their project work. Another thing we have quite a lot of is the student feels apologetic or has little confidence. Try to give them eye contact straight on and let them know how important they are. You don't have to say those words but they should pick that up through your working with them.

17) Encourage creativity and individuality in the student's work. The other thing that I would like to add to the list is to encourage students to add their own personal touches to a pattern or blank. I look at teaching as an opportunity to first teach the necessary techniques, and then teach the skills one needs to create their own works of art.

18) As an instructor, teach your students everything you know. Don't hold back as I see in some instructors...so that their students won't be as good as they are. Give them 100%+.

19) The first time carving is usually the worst one. We probably fell the first time we tried to skate, missed the first time we shot a basket, or hit a bad note the first time we tooted a horn. Understanding this can help both the teacher and student understand that learning to carve is a process. Your first carving is the first step in a lifelong learning process. The more you do, the better you get. Your best carving will probably be your next one.

20) Just as there is no one way to learn, there is no one way to teach. Do what is fun for you. It will be fun for your students. When Moses stepped down from the mountain, there was nothing about wood carving written on the stone tablets he hauled down with him. Thus, my pronouncements are suggestions, not commandments. I will show you my way of doing it. I may even show you different ways of doing it.

21) Be versatile in how you demonstrate a step or technique. One problem developed in a class with a young carver who I determined had to be unteachable, until I noticed he was left handed and everything I tried to show him looked backwards. We were both quite thrilled when I took the tools in my left hand to demonstrate for him. He soon became very proficient. Ever since then, the first thing I ask is if anyone is left handed.

22) Take pride in your students and their successes! Our carving club provides beginner
lessons each spring. A couple of the students who I helped get started are now doing much better work than I. It is thrilling to watch them progress and know that you had a little something to do with their ability. When they do well I think I'm prouder of their work than they are.

23) Don't let them "Sam It" and don't "Sam It" for them. One deceased carver named Sam used to ask the instructor to show him how to carve every detail until he had an instructor carved piece. He became the source of a common expression in the local club; "Sam It". When someone would comment they did not know how to make a cut, everyone would pipe up, "Just Sam it".

24) Encourage.....Encourage.....Encourage!

25) Catch them doing something right!!! I try to save 15 minutes at the end of each class for critique. Since each carver in my class is doing a custom project and each project is at a different stage of completion, there is a lot to see and learn from critiquing each carving in turn, I insist that these critiques be encouraging, positive and helpful. They invariably are.

26) Teach by example. I am a hands-on carver, teaching by showing. I show hand grips, techniques to coax smooth cuts from contrary grain, proper approaches to V-tooling and stop-cutting (plunge cuts) and the like. There is SO MUCH that cannot be communicated in words that it is essential that I show my carvers how to do it.

27) Remember to show up to teach the class :) I would also comment that it is good to confirm a date for a seminar or class, when you set one up and do not go by the 2nd or 3rd weekend of the month. This was questionable for me once, and I got busy, didn't check the specific date, and missed the one that they were expecting me. I was mortified. I have in the past been a very dependable person. It will be something that was hard to live down. KEEP THAT CALENDAR NEARBY!!

Joe Dillet

You only
need to have some knowledge that your students do not - then break it
down into steps that they can handle - demonstrate - encourage - help
correct mistakes , and all the while tell them how much fun wood
carving is. I told the students (junior highs) that carving was great
for relieving stress and was quite amused to hear one girl say, a she
struggled along, "This is stress relieving!!!!"

When I started teaching carving I did NOT know to much about carving (I
But I sure learned fast from my students
As they started trowing questions at me I had to get the answer for them
when they came again
New students (Beginners )I start them off with a simple little dog (from
and I give them 5 more to take home
The more THEY practice the better they got and the better THEY got the
better I looked in the eyes of others
Every week I have a NEW small project for them
In 8 weeks of 2 1/2 hrs per week they do 20 projects
By the end of eight weeks they been introduced to 5 types of carving
If and when they come back ( 98 % do )
They can choos wich or what kind of carving they want to do
I have beginners ,intermidiate and advance classes running at the same time
And many of my students come for 4-5 sessions
On the everage I have 70 students coming a week for a 2 1/2 hr lesson
First eight weeks they only use a knife
with that they do caricature carving chipcarving face stick carving relief
carving and so on
That is in cace they do NOT continue carving all it cost them on tools is a
knive ,and I promise I ll buy it back from them if they do not continue
carving after 8 weeks
(havent had to buy one back yet in 12 years of teaching )
Hope this will help you and GOOD LUCK I am sure you'll enjoy teaching

woodbutcher Jan Oegema


Since I got so many good suggestions for teaching a 2-day one-on-one
beginners carving class from the list, I thought you might like a brief
report on the class. First, I again want to say thanks for the input.
Because of it, I have no doubt that my student enjoyed the class very much
and really learned a lot. After beginning with a discussion of types of
carving tools (with demos), safety, carving woods and sharpening (with lots
of demo/practice as she had factory beveled set of palm tools that needed to
be properly shaped and honed), we began to carve in earnest. We did the
1. The 5-minute owl (ours was a bit larger than the pattern and took quite
a bit longer than 5 minutes but it was easy and fun and she really enjoyed
it - a great way to start.
2. A simple relief carved flower pattern from www.carvinpatterns.com - for
this we actually used the instructions provided for this beginner project on
the web site which were supplemented by clarifications and demonstration.
This was quite a learning experience but also very enjoyable.
3. A very easily carved Christmas tree ornament which was a reindeer that I
had cut out on the band saw, about 3/8" thick and which only needed
additional shaping, rounding and details such as a collar, eyes, ears and
mouth. Some details were also burned with the wood burner. She really like
this one and it too had some very educational elements (especially rounding
the antlers which were curved and required closely watching the grain
4. Lots of work on a study stick - first an eye and then a basic face with
beard. There was plenty of repetition on this and it was hard work but you
could really see the benefit of repeating the steps. This was great
preparation for the final project.
5. Ol' Joe's spirit face key chain. We did this in a 1" x 1" x 4" piece of
jelutong that was very easy to carve. The previous hard work on the study
stick really helped to make this a do-able task.
In the end she was very pleased with the instruction and amount of
information she had learned. She joined the Montana Woodcarvers Association
to take advantage of our woodcarving library (here at my house since I am
currently the librarian) and took a couple of books, a video and a study
stick home to help her continue her carving. We also spent quite a bit of
time looking at carving magazines, supply catalogs and web sites and she
made a list of contact information for later reference.
I think the most difficult thing to convey (might have been more difficult
since she was left handed) was proper way to hold the work and carving knife
or tool to have control, power and safety. Often it was necessary to make
corrections to keep her anchored to the piece and achieve the control needed
for accurate and safe work while removing enough wood to get the job done.
This required patience and persistence in making corrections to unsafe
methods. I found it to be very important to closely watch the student so
that coaching and demonstration could be interjected when needed. It seems
to me that this would really be hard if there were many students and I was
glad that I had only one.
Alex Bisso
Billings, MT

Back to knowledge page

Back to Homepage

 contact me

Maura Macaluso
Staten Island, NY

made in the USA

2005 Carvin' in NYC