Wooden mask carving is a creative form of woodcarving that has been performed by indigenous peoples, theatre prop makers and artists for centuries. Carving wooden masks allows for entire creative freedom. You start off with a blank piece of wood and can create a mask to depict any character you can imagine. To begin mask carving, select a wood that is easy to work with such as basswood. Basswood is soft and has a consistent grain that is ideal for carving.
Draw an oval shape on one 8-by-8-inch surface of the basswood block. This is the outline of the mask. Draw the details of the mask. A first carving might be as simple as the classic drama happy face mask. Draw eyes, nose and a mouth.
Cut out the outline of the mask with a band saw. Slowly guide the block through the saw allowing the blade to cut the wood as you guide the block along the pencil line.
Drill a 1/2-inch hole through the centre of the eye and mouth outlines using the drill press. This will provide a starting point for the eye and mouth holes.
Draw the gentle curve of the mask on one 3-by-8-inch edge of the block. The mask should be in the shape of a convex curve.
Clamp the mask in a bench vice so that the inside is facing up. Shape the inside curve of the mask with a U-gouge. Cut thin strips from the inside of the mask until you are satisfied with the shape.
Turn the mask so that the front is facing up in the vice. Use a carving knife to shape the front curve of the mask. Cut thin flowing strips from the front until the curve is smooth.
Carve the details of the mask including the eyes, nose and mouth. Start from the drilled holes and work towards the edges. Score the outline of the eyes, nose and mouth with the carving knife. Carve away small chips at a time until the features are fully defined.
Add texture to the mask by carving out small lines and recesses with the U-gouge. Under the eyes, cheeks and mouth are all areas that can be further defined with the U-gouge.
Sand the mask with fine-grit sandpaper. Sand in the direction of the grain to avoid scratching the surface.
Apply a wood finish to the mask. Allow the finish to dry prior to handling.
Wear eye protection when working with wood and carve away from your body.