Our guide to stone carving

Our guide to stone carving

First published date April 02 2014 Amended date May 27 2014

Stone carving is one of the most ancient forms of human art or expression with some findings believed to be possibly hundreds of thousands years old. Whether it’s ancient, prehistoric stone carvings of figures, or modern day stone sculptures or engraving, it’s a craft with a fascinating history and could potentially be a skill you could learn now for the future if you have a look at some of the stone carving courses we have on offer.


I’ve never done any kind of sculpting before

You don’t have to be Michelangelo to enrol yourself on a stone carving course. Courses are available for the newest of beginners who are just looking to maybe find a new hobby. Courses are designed to be a fun and educational experience, not to exclude those who are new to it all. Beginner courses are readily available but if you’re already experienced with stone carving and want to spruce up on your skills then there are more advanced and improver sessions too.


What will I be learning?

Stone carving courses will vary in content from the level of difficulty to the types of stone carving that will be taught, so it’s best to look into a course properly to decide whether it suits your needs specifically. All classes are likely to begin with some kind of induction or health and safety lesson as the materials and tools you’ll be using could be heavy and sharp and dangerous if used incorrectly.  

On the beginner side of things, courses will take you through the early stages of stone carving which won’t even involve any stone to start off with! Carvings usually begin with sketches and clay mouldings to practise and perfect your approach on before going on to the actual stone block. Most courses will include the materials, both carving tools and stone blocks in the price. You may also be taught some theoretical things, as well such as the different types of stones used for carvings and their properties.

After being taken through the carving process and techniques you will end up feeling rewarded with a beautiful stone carving you made yourself to take home and show off!

The more advanced courses will tackle trickier carving techniques like creating a fully 3D sculpture as opposed to carving words or pictures on a stone block. What you carve on this kind of course is entirely up to you and your imagination and could include animals or even gothic sculptures too.


Methods of carving

Stone carving by hand is a very precise and delicate skill yet funnily at the same time requires a lot of elbow grease, as essentially you will be hammering solid stone. The carving process can be broken down into three general stages.

The ‘roughing out’ is the first stage of carving in which the stone block gets large chunks knocked off it to give it a general, rough shape usually with a kind of chisel and mallet.

From then the piece if ‘refined’; this uses more precise tools create specific lines and gouge shapes to give it a more detailed and textured look and it’s at this stage where things really begin to take shape.

The final stages will usually involve further refining of details on the piece like the hair or eyes and after that is all done, any unwanted bits of stone or dust are taken off and the stone is then treated and polished.


Types of stone used for carving

The Mohs scale of mineral hardness is the scale used to determine the hardness of various minerals and is ranked from number one, the softest to the hardest at 10, which is diamond. Going up the scale, let’s look at some of the stones you’ll be carving with and their strengths and uses. Your everyday metals like iron and steel have a Mohs rating of four or five to give you an idea of the scale.

-Soapstone has a low Mohs hardness rating of two, meaning it’s quite easy to work with and is usually used for carving by beginners.

- Alabaster is one up from Soapstone on the Mohs scale at three. It’s slightly more robust than soapstone but is still good to carve with and is very desirable by carvers because of its translucent nature.

- Limestone and sandstone are really the only sedimentary rocks used for carving among the most popular carving stones used. With a rating of four on the Mohs scale, its durability makes it excellent to carve with.

- Marble is a solid six on the Mohs scale, though it actually isn’t an overly difficult to carve despite being harder than others on the scale.

- Granite carving tends to be done by more expert carvers as it’s a very tough rock to work with. It’s the hardest that’s regularly carved, with a rating of eight Mohs.