Relief Carving Classes

One of the things I love about woodcarving is how many people are interested in learning it. In my other life at university, I teach a few courses every year and I find teaching to be something I love. Teaching carving classes is also something I do quite often and I find a lot of fulfillment in watching students get excited as they think about the endless possibilities of carving.

Recently, I have taught two different types of carving classes. The first was a lettering class at Lee Valley Tools in Coquitlam. In that class, we learned some basic principles of lettering – such as what is a serif? We didn’t dwell on this part, but moved on quickly to learn how light and shadow works for letters and how important it is to have tools that match the ┬ácurves of the letters. We learned that a 60 degree incised angle can be difficult to cut but it can make a large difference to the look of the letters. We learned that it is important to “give the wood a place to go or it will find its own way” and so we started each letter with stab cuts in the middle of the letter. Then we also learned how much easier it is to cut the serifs before cutting the rest of the letters. The students went home with a completed project and some ideas for how to apply their new-found carving skills to other carpentry projects.

The second class was an introductory relief carving class which I taught at our club location – the Central Fraser Valley Woodcarvers Club. We meet at Yale Secondary School in Abbotsford on Wednesday nights.

Relief Carving Class Brochure

What I found most interesting was how much the students seemed to take to carving with large gouges hit with a mallet. They learned just how easy it is to control a carving gouge with a mallet and how fine details can be cut by light taps with a mallet on the tools. We also learned how every carving gouge can cut a circle and how much difference it makes to use a slicing action when carving by hand. My goal is to show the students how to finish a carving right from the gouge, with no sandpaper needed. This method of carving is quite quick, and with the correct techniques and some artistic vision, can create a unique piece of artwork that shows the individual carver skill. I compare this to a painter whose brushstrokes set him or her apart from every other artist. The marks left by the carver show the skill of the carver, the sharpness of the tools, and are what shows the uniqueness of each woodcarver.

No sandpaper was used on these relief carvings!


If you are interested in taking a course, contact me by email at gvmcmillan(at)



More Letter Carving

I’ve been letter carving for 20 years and have only recently discovered how nice Aspen wood is to carve. And it has only taken me 20 years to carve my own name!

If you’d like something similar, contact me about a commission. My email is

Letter Carving Course

Interested in learning how to do incised letter carving in wood? The Central Fraser Valley Woodcarvers club is offering a course on Wednesday, November 18, with a follow-up session the following week if needed or wanted. 

The instructor is yours truly. We will be carving the word “Peace” in 1×5″ Aspen. If you have never carved a letter in your life or you want to hone your well-developed skills at lettering, the club welcomes students of all levels of experience. 

You must have the following tools, or ones very close to these:

  • Pencil
  • 3/4″ chisel (bring other sizes if you have them),
  • 1/2″ gouges in #3 and #5 sweep,
  • 3/8″ gouge in #7,
  • More gouges if you have them,
  • Methods for holding the wood (double-sided carpet tape is great), the shop has vises at each table too. 

The club meets on Wednesdays from 6-9 pm in the wood shop of Yale Secondary School. The cost of the course is $5 for members. There may be an additional fee for non-members (but membership is only $30). 

I hope you can make it. Please let me know you are coming so I can bring enough wood for you.