Directions for Tiki Carving


The term tiki originated in Polynesia and generally applies to carved humanoid figures of stone or wood. Sometimes these carvings are small enough to be worn on a necklace; sometimes they are so large they would dwarf a building. Carving a tiki requires specific tools and woodcarving experience.

Wood to Use

Traditionally, tiki statues are carved in the trunks of very old palm trees. The trunks will slowly change color, and a patina will develop over time that gives them an authentic look. Some carvers use yellow cedar logs while others use acacia koa wood.

Tools Required

Use a chainsaw or a handsaw to cut the ends off of the log (some tiki carvers use a chainsaw, even for the details). Each type of carving tool has a specific function. However, sharp knives are the most important among wood carving supplies. The Tiki project should also require a craft knife set, a 45-degree "V" tool, a 1/2-inch gouge and a 1/4-inch gouge, a sharpened chisel set and a rubber mallet. A Dremel high-speed rotary tool with a bit set also can be quite useful.


The typical tiki has round eyes, a large flat nose, an oval mouth, and its hands clasped together over its stomach. Many tiki wood carvers use patterns. You can make your own pattern; or woodcarving stores, magazines and the Internet provide a wide array of patterns from which to choose. Transfer the pattern onto the wood with graphite paper. Keep your wood clean, and free of smudges or stains. Start with a very simple, stylized pattern so it is easy to work with.

Carving the Tiki

Use a chainsaw or a handsaw to cut the log to the desired length, remembering to leave a bit extra in case of misdirected cuts. Rough out the initial shapes with a chisel and mallet. Using the high-speed rotary tool, drill out any hollow areas in the statue, such as the facial features. Use different-sized gouges and chisels to begin to bring out details and smooth out rough patches. Remember to carve with the grain of the wood and define smaller details with a sharp knife. If you really want to have a unique tiki, try carving a whole palm tree with the trunk upside-down and the root ball still attached for a wild hairdo.

Finishing the Tiki

Smooth the tiki's surface using the sandpaper. Begin with rough-grain paper and sand out any noticeable imperfections in the wood. Sand with the grain of the wood, and only in one direction. As the surface begins to appear smooth, switch to a medium-grain paper. Define the tiki's details and bring out the shine in the wood using fine-grain paper. The finished tiki should appear smooth and rounded. Some tiki carvers use a wood sealer as a finishing touch.

Keywords: tiki carving, wood carving, tiki making

About this Author

Based in Fairland, Ind., Kelley Walker Perry has been writing professionally since 1999. Her articles have appeared in “The Shelbyville News” and “The Daily Journal” newspapers, and in “At the Center” magazine. Walker Perry is a Hoosier State Press Association award winner for Best Profile Feature. Her short story, “Lake Effect,” placed 18th in the Lorian Hemingway Short Story Competition in 2007.

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