One of the main reasons woodcarving appealed to me was that it was fairly inexpensive to get started. A good beginners set of carving tools can be purchased for less than fifty dollars and if you're good at searching for bargains at eBay, you can pick up a set for less than twenty.
So, what do you need to get started? Basically, a few chisels and a good knife. Many people begin with nothing more than an X-acto knife set and these can serve the new carver very well until he or she decides what other tools are needed for their style of carving. A google search on woodcarving tools can turn up many possibilities ranging from cheap imports to high dollar specialty tools.
Since I live way out in the boonies, miles from the nearest large city, finding a carving club close by is next to impossible. So I do the next best thing - I buy books and subscribe to a carving magazine or two. These take me step by step as I learn to take a block of wood and turn it into something special. There are also several web site forums that are devoted to wood carving and dozens of Yahoo groups where beginners can seek advise.
The best book I've found for a beginner like me is:
Whittling and Woodcarving by E. J. Tangerman
This book was written back originally back in the 1940s, but is still in print today.
Woodcarving Illustrated and Carving Magazine are the two carving print magazines I subscribe to and I really look forward to each issue.
Chip Chats Magazine comes with membership in the National Woodcarvers Association and is a real bargain at only fourteen dollars a year.
Basswood seems to be the choice of most carvers as the wood is straight grained and relatively soft (as compared to other hardwoods). But, basswood can be a bit pricey if you have to order it online; shipping alone can sometimes cost more than the wood. I've heard the larger hobby shops carry basswood at a reasonable price, but since I don't have one nearby, I haven't been able to check this out.
Since we own a sawmill, my wood of choice at the moment is cedar. We've been sawing a lot of that lately and it is simple for me to cut the sizes I want. I've also carved pine and maple, but unless the wood is green (freshly cut), it can be a bit hard to push a chisel through.
Once you begin carving, it won't be long before you become addicted to it. That's when you'll begin looking for better tools. Chisels and gouges can become expensive, but honestly, the better the tool - the easier carving can be. The cheap Chinese imports are truly a waste of money; they won't hold an edge and dull tools will quickly frustrate any carver.
Woodcarving can be enjoyed by the young and the old alike and everyone in between. Children, of course will need adult supervision as they will need to be taught how to keep their fingers away from the ends of the sharp chisels. There are special gloves that can be purchased that help protect the hands from accidental slips of the tools, which can happen to anyone.
Many woodcarvers have advance to what is known as power carving. Using Dremel like rotary tools, the pieces they create are awesome. There are also attachments available that will turn the rotary into a reciprocating carving tool. That's something on my 'wish list' of future wants, but for now hand tools suit me fine.
Some carvers paint their projects and others leave the finished piece in its natural state. How you finish your piece is entirely up to you. Right now, I'm doing simple relief carvings so a finish is not really needed. But, I will probably dig out the craft paints should I ever try my hand at caricatures.
Carving is a fun and relaxing way to whittle away a few hours. As you sit and chip away the unwanted wood, you'll find yourself letting go of the stresses of the day. Once your project is completed, you'll have a sense of pride everytime you look at the piece; knowing that you made that.