Wood Engraving Process


Wood engraving can add a unique, personal look to your garden elements. Although wood engraving often refers to the fine engraving of items such as plates for books or blocks to create Japanese wood block prints, the same techniques can be used on fence slats, posts, benches, or any other wood garden or yard element. By understanding the tools and process, you can take a plain piece of wood and turn it into a piece of handmade folk art.


Engraved wood, sometimes called wood cuts, were the primary form of illustration in early books. As an art form, wood cuts evolved from simple black-and-white illustrations into an advanced full-color printing technology in 18th and 19th century Japan. These early wood block prints were made by removing the wood around a series of lines. The wood was inked, and a paper was placed on the block. The ink on the higher portions of the engraving transferred to the paper, creating the print. This style of engraving is well suited to the creation of engraved wood in your garden.


There are two types of engraving processes suitable to your garden and yard. The method used to create wood block prints is called relief. When carving a relief, the background is carved further into the wood from the foreground. Sunken relief is the other form. In sunken relief, the subject of the relief is carved from the wood and the background is left higher. For example, the flower would be the highest point of a relief carving of a rose. In a sunken relief, the flower would be below the surface of the surrounding wood.

Hand Engraving Tools

Any tool with a sharp cutting edge can be used for wood engraving. With enough time and patience, a simple pocket knife can be used to carve away the surface of wood for both reliefs and sunken reliefs. However, purpose-made tools for wood engraving often include very sharp wood chisels and gouges. These tools have shapes ranging from flat to U- or V-shaped. These tools are pressed along a wood surface to shave off very thin layers of wood. By repeatedly removing thin layers of wood, the surface is lowered to a desired level.

Power Tools

Many power tools are available to speed the engraving process. Rotary tools, such as a Dremel tool, often have bits purposely made for engraving. Because these tools spin quickly, you often must work fast. They generate enough heat to darken or even burn softer woods.

Engraving Process

To create a sunken relief, draw the pattern or letters on the wood. Use hand or power tools to remove the wood from the central area of the pattern. To make a full relief carving, draw the pattern and carve away the background areas that aren't part of the main design. Once the main design is roughed in, use the engraving tools to add detail to the main design by judiciously removing wood to create lines and patterns.

Keywords: woodworking techniques, wood carving, wood engraving techniques

About this Author

Although he grew up in Latin America, Mr. Ma is a writer based in Denver. He has been writing since 1987 and has written for NPR, AP, Boeing, Ford New Holland, Microsoft, RAHCO International, Umax Data Systems and other manufacturers in Taiwan. He studied creative writing at Mankato State University in Minnesota. He speaks fluent Mandarin Chinese, English and reads Spanish.