Creating a Perfect Circle by Hand

Creating a Perfect Circle by Hand

By L.S. Irish

Many patterns used in wood carving include a circle or oval as a framing element in the design work. In our example below you will note the circle background that would make a wonderful place for your family’s name or street number on a large entry sign.

Trying to trace a circular line by hand is never an easy task. You will notice on the printable pattern that even with lots of practice at design work the circle is still wobbly and uneven. So let’ learn how to create a circle or oval line perfectly every time!


Creating a Circle Background

On the pattern you will see an “x” that marks the central point of the circle. At this point you will insert a push pin or thumbtack. Now get a piece of sewing thread or cord that is several inches longer than twice the distance from the push pin to the edge of the circle on the pattern.

Fold the string in half and loop in over the point of the push pin. Pull both ends of the string to the edge of the pattern circle and tie a knot where the pattern line and string intersect.

Now place your pencil point into the string loop. Gently pull the pencil to the full extent of the string loop, let the point touch the paper and now move the pencil across the sheet of paper. The pencil will naturally follow the path of the string making an instant perfect circle.


Creating an Oval Background

To create an oval line in your wood carving you will need to use two push pins.

An oval has two axis lines as shown in the drawing above left. The Horizontal Axis is longer than the Vertical Axis thus making an oval wider than it is tall. You will be working off the Horizontal Axis for these steps.

To find the Horizontal Axis measure from the bottom of the pattern paper up to the “x” on your design. The “x” marks where you want the center of the oval to lie. Somewhere else on the pattern paper make a mark at this exact measurement. Draw a line to connect the two points, the “x” and your pencil mark, the full length of the pattern sheet. This creates the Horizontal Axis line and keeps that line parallel to the bottom of your pattern paper.

Next, along this line make two new marks equal distance from the “x”. This is where you will place your push pins when you start the oval. The horizontal line that you created will keep your oval parallel to the edges of your wood project. The two points equal distance from the “x” will make your oval centrally located to the design.

Again, get a piece of sewing thread or cord and loop it over one of the push pins. Stretch the thread to the side of the oval that is farthest away and encircles the second push pin. Tie a knot where the string meets the Horizontal Axis point.

Now pull this thread to the top of the oval where the Vertical Axis point lies. Adjust the thread and/or push pins until the thread touches the Vertical Axis point. You may need to adjust the length of the thread or the position of the push pins several times until you have found the right combination for your pattern. Your thread needs to touch both the Horizontal Axis point and Vertical Axis point.

As you pull the pencil within the guide thread, be careful that the thread travels around both push pins. Again, you have made a quick and easy oval for your pattern work.

On a very large carving project I often will draw the circle or oval directly onto the wood surface, not bothering with drawing it onto the pattern. Once I have established where the center of the circle will be on the paper pattern, I locate that point on the wood. With a T-Square and ruler note exactly where that point lies, how many inches down from the top of the project and how many inches in from the sides.

Next, I tape to the project a small square of cardboard approximately where the point will fall of the wood. Remeasure and mark on the cardboard where the center point of your circle should be. You can now place the push pin into the cardboard and draw your circle without making a hole directly into the wood surface.


For oval lines I used a long strip of cardboard to accommodate using two push pins instead of just one.

If you have enjoyed the free wood carving design included with this instruction sheet you may wish to stop by our pages on:

Introduction to Landscape Relief Carving
Roofing Ideas
Boards and Bricks
Field Stone and Flag Stone
Barn Example Drawings
Carving Sample One – Rough Out
Carving Sample Two – Detail Work
Carving Sample Three – Finishing Details
Landscape Pattern Package