There is no one right way to carve small objects, but there are some tips and tricks to facilitate the process and to keep your fingers and other body parts from being carved along with the wood. The type of carving you choose may depend upon whether you are carving for your personal pleasure or whether you need to turn out many small pieces for sale or for gifts. Correct selection of tools and wood are important to the process.
Make several drawings of the object, with views from all sides. Don't worry about how well you can draw; these are for you, not for anyone else. They will help you visualise the object before you start work.
Start with a piece of wood that is slightly larger than the object you wish to make. Clean away any bark or unwanted twigs from the wood using a sharp knife. Use a carpenter's pencil to mark important features, particularly those that will extend to the outer edge of the wood.
Clamp the wood piece in the wood carving clamp. This will hold the wood firmly, freeing your hands so you can use a chisel and mallet without endangering yourself.
Use a small wood chisel to gently begin removing excess wood from around main features of the object. Work slowly, taking out small chips. Cut downward through the grain at the end of a part you wish to remove, then slid the chisel with the grain of the wood to remove the chip.
Use a wood rasp to round edges; use a gouge to shape eyes, ears and other small parts. Lightly sand the finished carving. If the wood is green, set it in an area that has an even temperature to cure. If you carved from seasoned wood -- which is recommended -- finish the piece with a clear finish or stain to keep the wood from developing an undesired colour.
Place the wood on the lathe. Secure the wood at both ends. This process will vary from lathe to lathe. Some lathes are small hand-operated tools, while others are large power-driven affairs.
Turn the crank on the lathe or turn on the power. As the wood turns, hold a sharp chisel or blade against it to create an even gouge around the wood. Reposition the chisel or blade to produce other gouges, as needed.
Add details such as eyes and ears to your figures by hand. Sand and varnish as desired.
Basswood, cedar, and pine are all good woods for hand carving. Oak makes beautiful items, but is very hard, especially after being seasoned. Green wood is easier to carve, but may split or break as it seasons, destroying your work. You can produce multiple small pieces by turning the wood on a wood lathe. This method is very useful when creating multiple small game pieces or figurines. Turning an item on a lathe can roughly shape an item before you add individual detailing.
Carving tools should always be sharp. Dull tools tend to slip and cut the carver instead of the wood. Wear safety glasses when turning wood on a lathe.