Martin Wenham’s Letter Carving Book

When I first encountered Martin Wenham’s work several years ago, it expanded my awareness of the wonderful possibilities that letter carving offers. Martin’s pieces are testaments to his attentive sensitivity to wood and language. Many of his works can be explored here. Better yet, start with this video in which Martin tells his story and discusses his approach to lettering. You also get a few peeks at his methods and see a lot of his finished pieces:

I’ve mentioned Martin on the blog before, and now because, just a few months ago, Martin’s book The Art of Letter Carving in Wood was published. I purchased mine from Blackwell’s here, and the price includes shipping to the USA.  Here is a link to a print interview in which Martin discusses the book. And you can see a few more shots of the book, including the table of contents, at the Crowood Press site, here.

The book is a culmination of what Martin has learned since he began carving letters in 1967. He explains, in clear detail, the methods he uses, including the shape of his tool edges and the way he sharpens them. There are many possible ways to carve letters, or to carve, period. Martin’s approach has proven to be effective through his work and his methods are accessible and achievable even if one is just beginning to explore. Note that Martin uses no knives and the methods are most suitable for letters larger than, say, those on spoon handles and such.

Far more important than the carving method, Martin offers great insight into letter design, spacing, variations, and much more. The back cover gives you an idea of the topics covered as will the links provided above. Throughout the book, Martin illustrates his points with examples of his own wonderful work. Highly recommended.

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16 Responses to Martin Wenham’s Letter Carving Book

  1. Skip Florey says:

    A terrific resource. Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Chris Edie says:

    I came across the video of his work a year or so ago, the sweep of the letters are amazing. I loved that he uses things like imperfections in driftwood to inspire him. His lettering style reminds me of your work on your bowls and spoons.

    All of it hugely inspiring


    • Dave Fisher says:

      Thanks, Chris. I’m glad you enjoy the video as much as I do. It’s always a joy to revisit it. It reminds me of the spirit and sensitivity Martin brings to his work that inspires me. Of course, any similarities in our work is due to Martin’s impression on me rather than the other way around, or the fact that we’ve both been inspired by the work of other lettering artists, even ones ancient and unknown. Some of the history is discussed in the video, along with Martin’s insightful comments about influence.

      You may have already visited it, but the website of the Lettering Arts Trust includes the amazing work of many lettering artists working in stone, ink, glass, wood, and more:
      Also, I’d recommend Chris Pye’s book, Lettercarving in Wood, as well as Tom Perkins’ book The Art of Letter Carving in Stone.


  3. samueltitera says:

    Wonderful inspiration, thanks a lot!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The best book I have with such detail and understanding how to make the shape of the letters relay the message plus using color at the same time. This is a must have if you letter carve.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Scott Thomas says:

    Sounds like an excellent resource and study guide which I may look in to getting. Or I may be a hopeful holdout for a future book of carving and lettering to be authored and illustrated by Dave Fisher. Any possibility?


    • Dave Fisher says:

      Well, Martin waited until he had been lettering for over 50 years before writing his, so we’ll see, Scott. A book on bowl making and designs may make more sense for me. After I clean the gutters.
      Thanks sincerely for the encouragement.


  6. Wendy Owen says:

    Truly an inspiration, as are you David. I am practising so that I can build on the experience of such wonderful practitioners to create my own interpretations of words and artful thoughts. So grateful for the generosity of you both in sharing your secrets. Wendy

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Steve Smith says:

    David, thank you for always supplying great information in your newsletters. Great help

    Liked by 1 person

  8. JimAnd says:

    Another fascinating post. Another hand and voice to learn from. My copy of the book is on its way.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Jeremy says:

    Thanks for sharing this! I have seen his work somewhere else before, but didn’t make note of his name and was at a complete loss how to search out his work again for inspiration and reference.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Todd says:

    I received this book in March but just finding the time to get my chisels really sharp with my Tormek. Have you rounded over the corners of your chisels like he shows in his book? If not, do they dig into the lettering?


    • Dave Fisher says:

      I do have some chisels that I’ve sharpened with a camber, an edge profile with a radius instead of straight across. If I’m using the technique like Martin teaches in his book, that can be important (but I often use other techniques as well). Yep, you’ve got the idea: When cutting the sidewalls of straight stems with downward overlapping successive chisel strokes, the slight camber draws the corners back and prevents them from digging into the sidewall, leaving tracks. You can still cut straight stems without cambering the edge if you work very carefully.
      I’ve never used a Tormek, but it works well for Martin, and many other folks of course. Martin goes to sharpening stones after the Tormek. Lots of ways to get there. Have fun with your letter cutting!


      • I didn’t realize the problem with the factory grind until I started to letter carve but the corner digging in is a challenge to cutting letters but one has to slow down a bit. I am considering having two sets even when relief carving having rounded corners would help until you are carving sharp angle’s then you need both.

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      • Todd says:

        Many thanks for the explanation of why the cambered edge is important for Martin’s method. For carving, many say to keep the chisel’s corners and here Martin is doing something radically different and getting brilliant results. I appreciate your site and your lovely examples of lettering.


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