When I first started carving human figures carving the hands was one of the
things that gave me the most trouble. Chances are I'm not the only one. I
thought I would give a short little tutorial on some of the tips I have
picked up over the years in regards to carving hands. I have added some
directional arrows to some of the pictures below to help clarify the tips
and show the directions I usually make the cuts described. I hope these tips
will be of some help to you.
Well that is how I carve hands. This same basic process can be used for
hands in almost every position, as seen by the hand holding the book at the
right. If this technique has helped you, I would suggest that you experiment
with it on a few pieces of scrap wood. You will probably develop your own
little nuances and refinements. I'm still learning things about carving
hands every time I carve a pair.
Step 5: Knuckles & Fingernails
Now for the final details. I use a small 2mm v-tool to slightly etch in the
wrinkles for the knuckles and fingernails. I generally just use about three
very shallow cuts for the wrinkles on each of the knuckles. The cuts for the
fingernails are also to be made very shallow. In fact, on smaller carvings I
sometimes use my own fingernails to press in on the knuckles and fingernails
of the carving instead of using a v-tool. This works great on basswood which
is soft enough to leave a permanent indention.
Step 4: Ends of the Fingers
I use a v-tool to make stop cuts for the ends of the fingers. When making
these stop cuts I hold the v-tool at an angle so that one side acts like a
chisel on the side of the longest finger and the other side slightly rounds
the inside tip of the finger next to it. With the v-tool held at this angle,
I carefully push straight in, not too deep or it will leave a scar on the
body. Once these initial stop cuts are made, I use the narrow (7mm) #3 gouge
to round the ends of the fingers.
This same basic process is also used for the end of the thumb.
Step 3: Rounding the Fingers
I use a couple of steps to round the fingers.
First I use the same v-tool as I did to separate the fingers to follow the
same cuts, except this time I follow each cut with the v-tool laid at a
slight angle. This keeps the separation line defined and shaves a little off
the side of each finger, beginning the rounding process. This means I am
going over each separation twice.
Next I use a narrow (7mm) #3 gouge to round over any hard edges on the sides
of the fingers and thumb.
2: Separating the Fingers
Before I start separating the fingers I remove the excess wood from the
sides and ends of the hand. Now I'm committed, this is one reason the
drawing and establishing the planes between the knuckles is so important at
Next I use a small #11 veiner to separate the knuckles where the fingers
meet the hand; not a deep cut, just enough to separate.
I then use a medium size v-tool to separate each finger and the thumb.
Notice that I have three arrows between the fingers and two between the
thumb and the hand. I did this to emphasize that I make three separating cut
for the fingers and two for the thumb. I cut just slightly deeper in the
planes than I do at the knuckles, this makes the knuckles seem a little more
pronounced as they are anatomically. Finally, separate the thumb from the
body using the same v-tool.
1: Drawing the Hands
& Establishing the Planes
Before I start carving anything I like to first lay it out with a pencil.
This helps me have the proportions and shapes in my eyes, as well as my
mind. If my mind gets distracted my eyes will be able to pick up the slack.
Notice the different lengths of the fingers. Also notice the way the
knuckles are laid out; the row of knuckles where the fingers meet the top of
the hand corresponds with the first knuckle of the thumb, the first row of
knuckles on the fingers correspond with the end of the thumb. This is not a
hard and fast rule, it just gives a good starting point for proportioning
the thumb with the rest of the hand. Once the hand is drawn, I use a large
#3 very shallow gouge to flatten the planes between each row of knuckles, as
shown by the arrows.