Traditional Thailand Wood Carving Techniques

Thai woodworker carving a traditional relief image by babasteve:


Thailand has a long history of wood carving. Traditional tools, in the hands of skilled artisans, have resulted in some of the best known carved wood Buddhist icons in the world. Thailand has a wealth of beautiful hardwoods that have supplied traditional wood carvers with exquisite woods of differing harnesses suited to a number of carving styles.


Thai woodcarvers use a variety of tools to create wood sculpture. However, the most common tools are various shapes and sizes of chisels. In addition to the chisels, hammers and mallets are common, as are a number of knives. Although most Thai woodcarving uses traditional hand techniques, a number of younger sculptors use more modern tools like power cutters and other power carving tools, especially on larger commercial sculptures.


Reliefs and bas-reliefs are frequent styles of carving in traditional Thai art. Reliefs are usually carved by hand using chisels and hammers and can represent a number of motifs, including both modern and traditional. Traditional reliefs include Buddhist motifs ranging from full religious figures to ornate heads and hands. Other reliefs depict natural patterns and forms, such as flowers and leaves. Relief and bas-relief carvings can range in size from very small to full doors and wall panels.

Carving in the Round

Carving in the round refers to the practice of carving three-dimensional objects that can be viewed from a number of angles. Thailand is well known for the carving of statues destined for various Buddhist temples in Thailand and other parts of Asia. Bangkok has countless examples of this type of carving, with its pinnacle being the reclining Buddha at Wat Pho, the longest reclining Buddha in the world. Wat Pho also contains over 1,000 other Buddha images, many carved. Secular carving is also popular and can include carvings of monkeys, elephants or other natural forms.

Keywords: thai wood carving, thailand handicrafts, thai art, wood carving, asian art

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.

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