Carve, incise, engrave, etch, chisel, sculpture, sculpt, sculp are comparable when they denote to cut an outline or a shape out of or into some substance (as stone, wood, or metal). They are, however, not close synonyms, for few of the terms keep within the limits of this meaning.
Carve (see also CUT) suggests working with an instrument (as a knife or a chisel) in order to adorn a surface or to fashion a solid figure; the term may connote an artistic purpose (as representation or decoration) and a method of work involving the cutting of a pattern into a surface or the cutting away of parts of the original surface so as to leave a raised design or raised figures upon a new ground or the fashioning of a whole or partial figure by cutting or chipping away excess material.
Incise implies cutting into with an instrument (as a knife) that leaves traces; more specifically it implies a cutting into some hard or resistant material so that figures, letters, or devices are marked upon its surface.
Engrave often implies a cutting into and may be used as an equivalent of incise; in general use, however, it more often implies a cutting (as upon wood, stone, or metal) with a graving tool in order to form an inscription or a pictorial representation that can be printed either from the incised lines, spaces, or points (as in copperplate engraving) or from parts of the surface left in relief (as in wood engraving).
The noun engraving denotes a picture printed from a plate or block thus made, but the verb usually emphasizes the work of the one who actually cut the plate or block.
Engrave also may be used to connote an indelible impression upon the heart, mind, or memory.
Etch differs from engrave only in implying that the lines and dots which form a picture are incised not upon the metal but through a hard, acid-resisting surface (as of varnish) covering the metal of a plate and are then eaten into the plate by coating this surface with acid.
Chisel, though used widely by workers in stone and wood to suggest the various processes (as of cutting or shaping) that are executed with a chisel, is in general use more often employed to suggest either literally or figuratively the process of carving an image from resistant material; the emphasis in such use is upon the skill of the maker and the artistic quality of the product.
Sculpture and the related sculpt and sculp imply the formation of primarily three-dimensional figures especially in stone or metal. Basically sculpture suggests carving or chiseling out of some hard substance, but all three terms stress the end result over the technique and may be extended to include the making of three-dimensional art forms by such diverse methods as modeling and molding, welding, or construction as well as by the traditional carving and chiseling, and all three, but especially sculpture, may be further extended to processes and results suggesting the work of a sculptor.