Traditional woodcarving of the Malays is mainly two-out forms. The motifs are always floral, based on real plants, or simply imaginative renditions of the awan larat. i.e. arrangement of motifs. The depiction of human or animal figures is involved in accordance with the Muslim religion - Islam.
From low relief to cut-out, woodcarving is a time consuming art form still practiced the old-fashioned way as seen in the refined details. The traditional craft of woodcarving expresses the expertise of carvers down the ages in the form of relief's and cut-out carvings. Popular, frequently-used motifs include drifting clouds, tendrils, the petola leaf and the ketumbit flower. Works of high quality require diligence, determination and precision on the part of the carver.
Traditional woodcarving has a special place in Malay society. The unique attraction of palaces and old houses lies in the decorated, carved frames found on structures such as walls, doors and windows. These express their creators' artistry and creative spirit.
Contemporary woodcarvers, use tanalised or kiln dried timber, a little help from powers tools, and sand paper to smoothen the surface. A further application of shellac and lacquer is added for the finishing (unlike in classic woodcarving, where the sap of the wood is brought out by presistent smoothening using daun palas).
Malay woodcarving is applied mostly on parts of a house: panels, doors, windows, and on furniture, decorative and other utility items.
Traditional concepts have been adapted, blended and improved to suit modern needs. Recently bark has begun being explored and fashioned into beautiful objects such as bags, wall decorations and dividers.
In Peninsular Malaysia, aborigines from the Mah Meri dan Jah Hut tribes produce carved wooden creatures linked with their religious beliefs.
The Kayan, Kenyah, Melanau and Iban tribes of Sarawak create decorative carvings and both utilitarian and religious objects.