Carving Hair

The following techniques will add life to your carvings.  This discussion pertains to carving long flowing hair that might be found on a mountain man, or on a woman, but it will work equally well on short hair and/or beards and mustaches, such as on Santas and wood spirits.  A V-tool is often the tool of choices, however, a deep U-gouge will also work.  The U-gouge will give a softer look and is especially effective on a woman’s hair.  If you use a U-gouge, experiment with different sizes.  A small U-gouge (the size depends on the size of the carving) will result in a busy look.  More experienced carvers do not mix V- and U-cuts on the same piece.


1. Make long sweeping S-cuts (Fig. 1).  A common mistake when carving hair is the use of long straight cuts.  Try to avoid this approach.  With sweeping S-cuts your carving will take on much more character.  Make the direction change in your S-cuts severe.  Start by drawing an S on your carving.  If it doesn’t look like an S then the lines are too straight.

Figure 1. Parallel or Serpentine Cuts

2. Change lanes periodically (Fig. 2).  Pretend you are on a freeway during rush hour.  Begin your S-cut adjacent to a previous cut then, after a short distance, merge into the previous cut.  Use this technique frequently to add interest to your carving.  Be careful not to create a repeating pattern when merging cuts.

Figure 2. Changing Lanes

3. Begin some cuts between previous cuts (Fig. 3).  For example, when carving long flowing hair use the above techniques first.  Start your long sweeping S-cuts at the bottom and work toward the top.  After you have four or five cuts, with some lane changing, start a new cut between two previous cuts.  You can incorporate lane changing with these cuts as well.  Repeat this process as needed with successive cuts beginning nearer the bottom or closer the top.  Avoid making a repeating pattern.

Figure 3. Begin Between Previous Cuts

4. Deepen some areas (Fig. 4).  After you have carved most or all of the hair using the above techniques, go back over some areas to deepen the flow.  This will create locks in the hair.  WARNING: Be careful not to develop a distinct pattern doing this.  Random placement of the deepened areas will make it look more natural.  Also, be sure to carve the entire surface.  Try to remove all flat spots between hair strands.

Figure 4. Deepen Some Areas

Once you master the above tips you will probably be quite happy with the results.  But if you want to obtain spectacular results, you might try carving spiral curls (Fig. 5).

Figure 5. Hair With Spiral Curls

Questions & Comments

Our first comment this week comes from joebnv responding to last week’s article on “How to Make Dirt.”  Joe comments:

“Like the idea of adding color to the 50/50 mix”

We have a question this week from Dean Stewart about how Tony Harris carved the hair on his cowboy last week.  Dean asks:

“Can Tony maybe explain how he carved that cowboy’s hair.  I’ve never seen anything like that.  Its amazing!”

That’s a great question, Dean, and it truly does look amazing.  I spoke to Tony and asked him about the hair.  This is what he told me:

“I just draw different sizes of circles all over the area giving it a look of a bunch of grapes. Then start with a 5/32″ (4mm) 45° V- tool to cut out the drawn lines/circles.  After that I use a detail knife to deepen the corners where the circles touch each other.  Then use a 1/8″ (3mm) #11 gouge to dip out the centers of the circles. After that I’ll use a 2mm Dockyard gouge to give random cuts from the dipped out parts to give it the texture.”

The paint process Tony used was a 3-step approach with all Ceramcoat paints.  First, he applied a coat of egg shell white.  Next, hippo gray was tapped into the deep parts between the “clumps” of hair.  Finally, after the paint was completely dried, he dry brushed black over the entire area to give the hair a salt & pepper look.

Our next question comes from Dick Bonewitz from Carmel, Indiana.  Dick wants to know about using lacquer before painting.
"Have you ever used spray lacquer to seal a carving before painting?   What are your thoughts on it 
Dick Bonewitz 
Carmel Indiana" 
Dick, I have never used spray lacquer to seal a carving before painting and don't recommend it.  Lacquer is a sealer that dries hard and contains polymers which are basically components of plastic.  When you paint over polymers the paint doesn't soak into the wood the way you want it to.  You don't want to paint over plastic or a hard finish.  You want your paints to soak into the wood.
When you seal your carving with an oil such as Walnut Oil or Mineral Oil you don't have that problem because those oils react much slower as they dry.  They don't polymerize as quickly the way some other oils, lacquers and varnishes do, which allows the paint to soak into the wood before the oil is completely dry.

Carver’s Corner

“Carver’s Corner” is the section where you can send in photos of your carvings to have them critiqued by me and get my truthful opinions on what you did right and where you might improve next time.  It’s an excellent opportunity to improve your carving skills!  Send your photos to

Our first entry to the “Carver’s Corner” this week comes from Michael Mahar who carved an amazing Leprechaun from a Gary Falin roughout.  Michael writes: “From a Gary Falin rough out. Gary helped me working on the face at the Renegade Woodcarvers Roundup this past fall.”

I think it’s a very good carving overall, Michael.  There are just two main areas that come into my mind as I look at the carving….creases and paint colors.  The clothing has no creases or wrinkles.  They look too stiff and flat.  The use of a gouge to add wrinkles to the pants, jacket and shirt to create shadows will bring depth and life to the carving.  Study some pieces of real clothing (even your own) to see all the peaks and valleys that exist and see what I mean.  I would also make some cuts/creases across the tops of the shoes.

The other thing, and this is really a matter of personal preference is color choice.  I feel there is too much green in the carving(that’s just me).  Personally, I would make the hat band and belt black, and maybe also the short belt on the back of the jacket.  Again, these are just personal preferences.

Your Leprechaun is a carving you should definitely be proud of.

Our next entry comes from Mike Dize who carved this cool one-snowman barbershop quartet.

“I gave this to my Dad who loved singing in the Barbershop Chorus.  I figure….why should the snowman be limited to only one head when he has four round parts to him? He can be a quartet all by himself.”

Hoosier Snowman Quartet by Michael Dize

That’s a really cool carving, Mike…a very novel idea, and quite creative too!

I looked very carefully at your Snowman Quartet and can’t really find anything major to be changed or done differently.  If I have to say, perhaps I would have ‘squished’ the balls down together just a bit more.  Also, don’t make straight cuts on your mustaches.  Use “S” and “C” cuts to give them more character.

I like all the different faces, which are cool snowman faces, and you did a great job on the different mouth’s and eyes.  It’s a terrific carving that I’m sure your Dad loved.    

Next we have three different carvings Tracy Czajkoski would like to have critiqued:

“Hello Bob,

Love your Wood Chip Chatter and appreciate your effort to put out great articles. 

Loved the “HOW TO MAKE DIRT” and can’t wait to try. 

Thanks for sharing your carved mule from years ago. I think it’s pretty fabulous! 

I would like a couple of my carvings critiqued on Carver’s Corner. 

I’ve been carving for 4 years. I live remote and work full time, so it’s hard to get to club meetings for

help and feedback. I learn a lot watching the demo’s on International Association of Woodcarvers, You Tube and magazines.

I’m going to attach my: DOG ON A SCOOTER, DAD DOG and CAT ON LOG carvings. 

Critique away! I love them, but also feel they can and need to be elevated somehow. More character….something. That’s where you all come in, because I don’t know how. I got one critique from a respected woodcarver who felt my 3D carvings are more like “2D and a half” (and I get what he’s saying) but he never followed up with how to make them more dynamic.

  • Perhaps my cuts need to be much deeper for more shadow?
  • Will they pop with antiquing, which I haven’t tried. 
  • I have since learned to carve “hair and fur” which could have helped here.

All feedback welcome. I know that’s how you get better.


Tracy Czajkoski”

Thank you for sending in some photos of your work, Tracy.  I'm happy to critique them.  I've never heard of "2D and a half" so I don't know what your other woodcarver friend is referring to.  They are nice carvings and appear to be original, but there is something about them that does not look quite right.  I think your own critique is a good start though.  Deeper cuts to create nice shadows are always recommended,  Use a gouge to simulate creases and wrinkles in the clothing to add "life" and make your carvings look more "dynamic."  Antiquing will help in some cases, but only if you've made deep cuts in the carving for the antique to sink into.  Be very careful with antique!  A poor antique job will ruin a perfectly good carving.  Experiment on scrap wood first.  Deeper cuts and better shadows will give more dimension to your carvings and give them the 3D appearance you're looking for.
If you're going to carve animals, learning to carve hair/fur is a good idea although it's not necessary on all animal carvings (for example, my mule from last week).  You can also create a lot of hair/fur using a wood burner.  Many carvers combine carving and wood burning on the same carving.

Personally, I would also do less sanding, for two reasons.  First, because I hate sanding!  Second, because you want to leave the facets from the knife marks which help give a woodcarving (particularly a caricature) its character.  Lastly, go thinner with your paints.  Thin them to a watery consistency and apply them in layers.  It's better to paint with several thin coats of paint, and build up the color, than to apply one thick coat.
 I think you're doing very well with your carvings, Tracy.  The concepts are unique and whimsical.  The overall execution is good, and each carving shows a lot of "motion."
 Our final entry to the "Carver's Corner" this week comes from Dean Stewart who carved a flat plane fish from James Miller's book.  Dean writes:
Here’s a picture for the Carvers Corner.  This work in process fish is from James Miller’s Flat Plane carving book.  I have one question.  Does it look like a flat plane carving?  I struggle with the concept and I think I use too many cuts." 

Flat Plane Fish Carved by Dean Stewart

I‘ve never seen a flat plane fish before so I can’t say I know what one should look like.  However, it does look like you have too many cuts in there, and you’ve rounded off the figure too much.  I struggle with the same problem and have never been able to grasp the concept of flat plane carving.  I think the key to flat plane carving is to make long, straight cuts, and not round off the corners of those cuts.  A good flat plane carving has a lot of angles on it and it is not particularly smooth. I also think a fish is a harder subject to carve in the flat plane style.

Photo Shop

“Photo Shop” is the section of Wood Chip Chatter where carvers can send in photos of their wood carvings for display. It’s your chance to show off your work…sort of a show and tell. The photos will only be displayed and no comments or critiques will be made.  For critiques on your carvings send them in to the “Carver’s Corner.”  Send your photos to 

Our first entry to the “Photo Shop” this week comes from Heath Paull who carved a really cool Gnome in a kayak.  Heath writes:

“Heavily Doug Linker inspired, gnome ready or some spring deliveries. 😎


Excellent carving, Heath!  Clean work and nice detail.

“Thanks! Happy to contribute in some way. 

Really enjoying your newsletter, thanks for all the hard work and sharing. 


Our next entry comes from Jim Johnson of Michigan who made a nice modification to my ‘Simple Santa Ornament’ from my article in the Woodcarving Illustrated 2021 Winter Issue #97.

“Bob – I took your ‘Simple Snowman Ornament’, and modified it to be a snow lady for my granddaughter. I think it turned out pretty well.

Since you said the traffic had slowed down, I thought I would send this.

I enjoy your blogs – thanks for doing this.

Jim Johnson – Michigan”

Jim Johnson’s Snow Lady

I love it, Jim!  It’s a great change up to my original.  Thank you so much for sending it in!  I greatly appreciate your contribution and I’m glad you’re enjoying Wood Chip Chatter.

Next, we have photos of two carvings Tim Sisko carved of “Hammerin’ Hank” from Kevin Applegate roughouts.  “Hammerin’ Hank” is featured in the current 2022 Spring issue of Woodcarving Illustrated:

“Bob, attached are several photos of the carvings I recently completed from roughouts by Kevin Applegate.  Hammerin’ Hank was featured in  Woodcarving Illustrated Spring issue 2022.  I would appreciate your critique of them and if you would like to they could be used in your “Photo Shop “ 

Thank you for your input.  

Tim Sisko”

Thanks for the photos, Tim!  I always appreciate getting them.  Both of your carvings are fantastic, and look very much like the original carved by Kevin Applegate.  They are well carved with clean cuts, and well painted. There are just a couple minor observations I made, though, that you might want to keep in mind for next time:

Make the bridge of the nose just a bit narrower and push it back into the face a little bit more. The bridge of the nose should be pushed further back into the face than the nostrils.

The hair flow on the sideburns is incorrect (flows in the wrong direction).  The hair should go from the upper right to the lower left on the right sideburn, and from the upper left to the lower right on the left sideburn, if the makes any sense (refer to the two photos below).

In reality, the eye brows don’t touch the sideburns, although these are caricatures where ‘anything goes’ so they look good the way they are.

Overall your carvings are terrific.  The carving work and painting are both well done, and I particularly like the way you carved the hammers.

Finally we have an amazing Chef Santa carved by Wayne Arrowsmith and painted by his good friend, Deb.  Wayne writes:

"Good morning Bob,
 I am attaching pics of my Chef carving. It’s a “Scott Carvings” rough out that I purchased and then once carved I handed it over to a good friend who wanted to paint it for me. Yes it was supposed to be a Chef Santa but Deb put her own creative spin on the painting. 
 Thank you for the well written article from last week on making dirt. Very informative!"

Thanks for the photos, and the kind words about my article from last week. Both are greatly appreciated.  Your Chef Santa looks terrific!  You and Deb make a great team!

News & Announcements

WOW!  I’m blown away by the overwhelming amount of contributions to Wood Chip Chatter this week!  I appreciate it more than you know.  It’s contributions like these that drive the engine which makes Wood Chip Chatter work.  I hope more and more of you will continue to contribute as we go forward.  Thank you so much for your support!

Lancaster County Woodcarvers Show

It was a real pleasure to meet and chat with so many of you at the Lancaster County Woodcarvers Show last weekend.  It’s always nice to finally match a face with a person you’ve been corresponding with over the internet for so long.

Despite the blizzard-like conditions on Saturday the show was a giant success.  Even in the snow storm on Saturday 150 guests managed to make it to the show, and on Sunday with much nicer weather 400 guests came in.

The carving competition on Saturday was also a big success and I’m humbled to say that I managed to win 4 ribbons, which included 2 First Place awards.  The carving seminars which went on throughout the show were very well attended, and there were some terrific prizes handed out as door prizes as well as in the silent auctions. If you missed the show this year, make plans to be there next year (March 11 & 12)!  This Blog ran kind of long so perhaps I will be able to put some show photos in next week’s Blog.

The International Association of Woodcarvers has upcoming Zoom meetings on the following Saturdays at 3PM EST with special guest presenters.  Check them out…

Zoom:  3104603575


3/19 – Ray Meyer

3/26 – Cam Merkle – Razortip

4/2 – Steve Tomashek

4/9 – Joe You

4/16 – Chris Hammack

4/23 – Brett Andrews

4/30 – Cecilia Schiller – Cranklady

5/14 – Dana Kababik – Carving Junkies



Keep a sharp edge and keep on carvin’!

Funny Bone

Published by carverbobk

I’m a self taught award winning wood carver who has been carving since I was a teenager. I enjoy instructing other carvers, especially beginners.

6 thoughts on “Carving Hair

  1. The answer to Dick Bonewitz’s question of Tony regarding applying laquer prior to painting was not all there. Looks like word wrap was not on.


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