Comfortable Carving

Simple changes and stretches make it comfortable to carve for long periods of time

By Don Swartz

When you are carving, do your arms and shoulders get tired? Do you feel pain in your neck, back, or extremities? Most carvers feel fatigue during or after a carving session. Here are a few ways to reduce the pain and make carving more enjoyable.


If you slouch or slump down in your chair while you carve, you will get sore; ditto for sitting on a stool with no back. Carvers also have a tendency to pull their work in tight to the body and stare straight down at it. All of these actions shift the natural angles of your back out of kilter, causing fatigue or pain.

It’s easy to correct these problems. Choose a comfortable chair with arm rests (if possible, high arm rests). Tuck your tailbone into the back of the chair and sit up straight with your feet flat on the floor. Use a cushion if necessary to encourage proper lower back positioning. Hold the project out from your body and use the arm rests for support, or place it on a table, so your neck isn’t bent down. You’re trying to find a healthy, upright position that still allows you to be comfortable as you carve.

Also, look around. Your eyes will get tired from focusing at the same spot. Rest them by periodically looking up and focusing on a few different places around the room before looking back down to your work.

Exercises and Stretches

While you carve, stop and take a deep breath every so often. Stand up and walk around the room, and then try a couple of these stretches. Hold each stretch for five seconds and repeat them three to four times. The stretches should never be painful; strive for a gentle pulling sensation.


Shoulder shrugs: Lift your shoulders up toward your ears and back down.
  Side-to-side neck stretch: Grip the top of your head with your hand and gently pull your head to one side and then the other.
Shoulder blade stretches: Move your elbows back and squeeze your shoulder blades together; relax. Then, move your arms and elbows forward, crossing your arms, to spread the shoulder blades as far apart as possible.
  Front-to-back neck stretch: Bend your neck forward until your chin touches your chest. Then, extend your neck back like you are looking up at the stars.

Flap your “wings”: Clasp your hands behind your head. Move your elbows together until you feel a stretch in your upper arms and shoulders. Then, move your elbows apart until you feel a stretch.


Back arm stretch: Clasp your hands behind your back at the waist. Move your hands up, bending your elbows, until you feel the stretch. Then, unclasp your hands, keep your arms straight, and lift your arms away from your back until you feel the stretch.

Shoulder rotations: Put your opposite hand on your shoulder as a landmark and to isolate your movement to the shoulder. Bend your arm at the elbow and rotate your arm up. Then, rotate your arm down.

Forearm stretch: Tuck your elbow into your side and hold it in place with your other hand. Straighten your arm and extend your hand. Rotate your hand so the thumb moves from side to side.


Wrist stretches: Extend your arm, curl your fingers into a fist, and bend your wrist down. Open your hand and use the other hand to pull your fingers back.

Carpal tunnel stretch: This stretch requires help from another person. Have your helper position his thumbs parallel with the inside of your wrist, and wrap his fingers around the two sides of your hand. The helper should rotate his wrists to bend the sides of your hand backward, stretching the palm of your hand.

These exercises are for woodcarvers who do not have a medical diagnosis of injury or disease in their neck or shoulder regions. They are generally considered safe, but perform them at your own risk. If you have any specific medical concerns, please check with your doctor or physical therapist.

 CLICK HERE to see more great projects from Woodcarving Illustrated Summer 2017 (Issue 79). CLICK HERE to purchase the issue.

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