How to Carve Olive Wood

Updated February 21, 2017

Olive wood is an exceptional choice of wood for beginners and master carvers alike. Whether used for relief carving or 3D carving, olive wood is hard and dense and lends itself to magnificent finished products. The veins in the olive wood, depending on its maturity, can range from darkish red swirls to lighter planes of colour. The older the wood is, the darker the patterns in the wood will stand out.

Choose a pattern that complements the olive wood. The finished carving should reflect the underlying beauty of the wood. Tape carbon paper under the pattern with a strip of painters tape to position the pattern onto the rough out or block of olive wood. Trace the pattern onto the wood.

Secure the wood. Clamp the rough out or block of wood securely in a vice. The vice secures the wood and helps keep it stable enough for carving.

Test and sharpen tools. Sharp carving tools should slide through the wood grain with ease. Test each tool across the surface of a spare piece of wood. If the tool hesitates or sputters across the wood, sharpen the tool on a whet stone. Finish off the edge of the sharpened tool on a piece of leather.

Choose the best tool for the job. A flat-edged tool is more conducive to shaving off the excess wood for larger areas than a v-grove tool. Each carving tool is specifically designed for different detail work. When working through the wood with smooth strokes, change tools accordingly to detail, area and complexity of the pattern. Work first in the larger areas of the pattern before carving out finer details.

Sand and varnish the wood. When the carving is finished, sand the piece down to ensure the surface is smooth. The smoother the surface, the better the varnish will look once it is applied. After carefully sanding the finished piece, buff it lightly with a lint-free cloth. Apply a single coat of varnish with a sponge brush and set the carving aside to dry.

One coat of varnish is all that is required with olive wood carvings. The natural olive oil in the wood helps to protect the carving. As the finished piece ages, the veins in the olive wood will darken and become even more beautiful.


Taking the time to safely secure a piece of wood while working on it will prevent injuries to hands and fingers. Dull tools are dangerous tools, and will gouge the surface of the wood needlessly.

Things You'll Need

  • Rough out or block of olive wood
  • Carving tools
  • Whet stone
  • Leather strap
  • Leather woodworking gloves
  • Wood vice mounted on a smooth flat work table
  • Paper carving pattern
  • Painters tape
  • Sheet of carbon paper
  • Pencil
  • Fine-grit sand paper
  • Clear wood varnish and sponge brush
  • Lint-free cloth
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