Many people are interested in learning how to carve wood, but they may not know which wood makes the best carving material. Wood is one of the most popular materials for carving, but it can be tough to choose from between all of the different options available, each with its own benefits and drawbacks. Many factors play into what type of wood will work best for you, which will require you to consider them when choosing.
This article will discuss some of the most important factors which you need to consider, explore 17 different types of woods suitable for carving and also answer questions about wood carving that you may find helpful.
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Things To Consider When Choosing The Best Wood for Carving
1. Select The Wood According To Its Function
The first thing that you need to consider when choosing the best wood for carving is what it will be used for. Different types of wood are better suited to different types of projects. For example, if you’re craving something that will be used outdoors, the wood for it should be durable; hard, and water-resistant.
2. Softwoods Are Easy To Carve, And They Don’t Dull Knives
If your knife gets dull, you’ll have a very hard time carving. When choosing wood to carve, look for woods that don’t dull your knives too quickly. One of the most common woods used to carve are softwoods due to their ease of carving. They are also safer to use compared to hardwoods since you are more likely to get cut carving with hardwoods due to the extra pressure needed when making cuts.
Also Read: Best Whittling Knife for Your Wooden Crafts
3. The Direction Of The Wood Grain Determines The Finish
When people think about wood, they usually imagine it as a solid uniform material without any grain lines. But in reality, wood is composed of many fibers within it with grain lines running across its surface.
The direction in which these grains run will determine the finish of your carving. If you’re looking for a smooth and easy craving experience, then you need to cut with the grain. However, if you want to achieve an antique look, then try carving against the grain.
4. Inspect The Wood To Make Sure It Doesn’t Cause Allergies
Some people may suffer from allergies and you need to make sure that your wood is not one of those which will most likely cause an allergic reaction. To make sure, you need to inspect the wood.
First of all, make sure that it isn’t stained or dyed as these are often the main causes of allergies. Then, take a small piece of it and rub it against your skin. If you experience any itchiness or irritation then you shouldn’t use that wood.
5. If The Wood Has A Strong Smell, Avoid Carving It
Some types of wood have a very strong smell. Before you buy it, take some time to check if the smell is too strong for you. If you don’t like the smell, then it’s best to avoid using that wood. The smell will stay on your carving and won’t go away easily, it will also be a bad choice of business. So, avoid using wood with a strong smell unless you want all of your hard work to be overpowered by it.
6. Do Not Carve Wood With Defects
When you’re choosing your wood, make sure to avoid any pieces which have defects like cracks or knots. Make sure to inspect it carefully. Wood that has defects may ruin your original idea of the project and cause your knife to slip which can be dangerous. Also, they are likely to crack or split as you’re carving it. This may ruin your carving or even cause injury.
17 Different Types Of Woods – Which Is The Best Wood For Carving?
1. Lime wood
One of the most popular carving woods is lime wood as it’s a softwood that is easy to carve. It is also known as Linden and Basswood. However Basswood and lime wood differ in origin, weight, and price. Lime wood is of European origin while Basswood is of American origin. And, since European limes are harder than their American counterparts, it means that lime wood is harder than Basswood, the former is pricer too. In appearance, lime wood is white or cream-colored with fine, parallel grain lines. This wood is often used for making bowls, spoons, knives, and other flatware items.
Oak is an extremely popular carving wood despite being hardwood and is one of the best for many reasons. It’s not too expensive to buy and it’s also easy to carve. It’s strong and has a nice warm color to it which is perfect for any carvings. When it comes to strength and durability, Oak is one of the best woods on the market and is often used for many different large home decorations such as wooden tables and chairs. However, since it is a strong wood, you need to make sure that you use your tools correctly or they may easily break.
Also Read: Types of Oak Wood
3. Black walnut
Another popular strong carving wood is black walnut. It has a nice dark color that makes it unique and ideal for creating detailed carvings. However, since it’s a hardwood, you should use tools that are made from high-quality metal or you’ll have a hard time cutting into it. It’s also important to make sure that your tools are sharp to avoid breaking them. This wood is also very expensive compared to other carving woods but has a rich gorgeous look that you can’t get with any other wood.
4. American Cherry
Not the easiest wood to carve but it’s strong, hard, and has a beautiful reddish-brown color which makes your carvings look unique. Keep in mind that this wood is often sold as American Black Cherry, but it’s the same thing. This wood is very strong and can resist many different types of damage such as scratches and dents. Also, it’s expensive so be prepared to spend a lot of money on this wood. However, since it is so strong and durable your carving will be able to last for a long time.
5. American White Ash
This is another great-looking carving wood that is similar to oak. White ash has a lovely off-white cream color but is quite hard to carve. However, if you have the patience and most importantly experience with carving hardwoods then this is the wood for you. It looks perfect with its straight, fine grain and is definitely worth giving a try. It’s typically used to make furniture, cabinets, sports equipment, musical instruments, and even custom items.
6. Western Red Cedar
This wood is widely used due to its low price and availability which makes it ideal for carvers on a budget. It also has an overall pleasant look with its light brown color and beautiful dark streaks running through making your completed carving look great. However, like the white ash wood, the western red cedar wood is also hard to carve and is better suited for experienced carvers.
Also Read: Types of Cedar Wood
As mentioned above Basswood is the American brother of lime wood. Although it is a lot more affordable than European Limewood, in appearance they look very similar and both can be easily carved with tools. It’s widely used by beginner carvers who are simply after a cheap carving wood for practicing their skills. Basswood has a nice white color that’s ideal for creating impressive-looking carvings and is commonly used to create sculptures, wall plaques, and other various items.
Another beginner-friendly soft carving wood is butternut which is also known as white walnut. It is affordable and has a beautiful light brown color and straight grain which makes it perfect for newbies. It’s very easy to design, cut into with various tools, and doesn’t have a strong odor, so is ideal for creating decorative items such as picture frames, bowls, spoons, and many other small carvings. However, just like Basswood, this type of wood isn’t very strong so it’s best to avoid using your carving to hold up other things, or else it will break.
This tough and durable wood has a dark brown color that looks luxurious and beautiful. It’s very strong, and hard to carve into and due to its thickness, it can be quite difficult to cut into. However, if you have the necessary skills and resources to work with it, this wood will benefit you in the long run because of its reliability and low maintenance. Walnut is a common carving wood used in the production of various items such as modern furniture, decorative pieces, and any other interesting designs. It does not have a very strong odor and can resist moisture and changes in humidity.
A difficult wood to work with but worth the time and effort when it comes to creating your masterpiece. It requires careful planning because it’s very difficult to carve and needs to be cut in a certain way for the end product to turn out well. Maple wood needs to be carved along the grain but as its grains aren’t symmetrically aligned, it may take some time to get right. However, once this is achieved the result will be stunning. Something to be careful of is that maple wood has a high chance of causing allergic reactions.
Another great carving wood is the cherry which, as you may have guessed, has a nice light brown color. It’s comparable to maple, but is easier to work with – it’s not too difficult to cut into and doesn’t splinter much. It has an overall smooth surface that looks nice and is easy to paint. This type of wood is often used for carving decorative items such as small sculptures, fruit bowls, wooden cups, and many other items. After completion of your project, the wood may shrink a bit but it’s not something you have to worry about, just have to be aware of, since after that the cherry wood becomes highly durable.
Also Read: Types of Cherry Wood
12. Red Oak
This wood is extremely hard and quite difficult to carve into, but it’s certainly worth the effort. If taken proper care of, it can last for a long time, in fact for centuries while maintaining its great appearance. Red Oak has long big grains and a beautiful color which makes it ideal for creating carvings and decorative items but requires a lot of power, professional skill, and experience to cut into. It also does not work well with water so it’s best to keep it away from it. That being said, don’t let that scare you off because after your project is completed the end result will be stunning and durable.
A beautiful, red-brown colored carving wood that is well-loved. It is relatively easy to carve despite being hardwood and looks absolutely wonderful. It is straight-grained but can be cut both along and across with power tools as well as hand tools with ease. It is very strong and after the project is completed is going to last for a long time. Mahogany also has a nice, rich exotic scent. Overall this is a great wood to work with and the final product will definitely turn out well for you.
An interesting wood that can be used for carving is Tupelo which is pale yellow with very fine veins. It is strong and durable, making it a great choice for carving furniture and decorative items. Tupelo is hard so should be cut using power tools but fortunately, this wood is capable of easily handling them without getting damaged. It is often seen in the production of kitchen utensils like spoons or cutting boards and also boxes, floorboards, and crates.
15. Yellow Cedar
A highly durable wood that has a beautiful color and grain. It’s easy to carve into but does have a strong smell of cedar which can be off-putting to some. Yellow Cedar is often used for making boats, sauna manufacturing, fine cabinetry, and interior and exterior millwork. Its resistance to decay makes it an ideal choice for creating items that are meant to be outdoor or placed in humid areas.
Aspen is a light brown colored wood that is strong yet not too difficult to cut into. This type of wood can be found easily, is inexpensive, and is often used for making utility items like toys, crates, and boxes because it’s easy to paint or stain. It can also be used for creating rustic furniture or decorative items such as bookends. After the project is completed, there’s a chance it may get a bit warped or crack but with proper care, it can last for a long time.
17. White Pine
A reasonably priced softwood that has an extremely high amount of resin so it’s easily stained and takes paint well. It has a similar appearance to oak wood but is softer so beginner-friendly. It can be used to create furniture, cabinets, or other decorative items that are meant to be painted or stained. Its light in color, little grain, and knots will stand out when painted, making it a great choice for design.
Should You Soak Wood Before Carving?
Yes, this is something you should consider if you are working with hardwood. It can help it become easier to carve into. There are many ways to go about it such as spraying a 50/50 alcohol-water solution, soaking the wood in boiled water, spraying denatured alcohol, using a special water-displacing spray, or even soaking the wood in plain room temperature water for about 2 days.
Is It Better To Carve Wood Wet Or Dry?
It’s generally better to carve wood when it is wet because the wood fibers are softer and more pliable. This makes it easier to carve into and gives you a better result.
How Do You Keep Wood Carving From Splitting?
This is something you should pay close attention to when using hardwoods like oak. It’s not likely to happen with softwoods but can happen easily when using hardwoods. What you can do is make a cut on the end grain and not across it, use a carving wood with high density, or cut at a very low speed. After your carving is complete make sure to apply wood finish to protect the item from drying out and cracking.
Can You Carve Hardwood?
That answer is yes you can. However, carving hardwood can be difficult because it has a dense structure with very few open pores in the wood. Therefore, it’s best to use hand tools such as chisels and gouges which will give you the most control and precision while carving the wood. Some people like to use power tools like a jigsaw or band saw but it’s important to go slow in order not to generate too much heat which may crack the wood.
Wood carving is a hobby and art that is enjoyed by many, and it can be done with a wide variety of wood. Whether you’re looking for softwoods or hardwoods there are many choices out there, but it’s important to consider the benefits of each type in order to find the best wood for your project.
This article has highlighted some of the most popular and versatile types of wood that you can use for carving and it’s up to you to decide which one is best for your needs.
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I am a woodworker with over 21 years of experience crafting everything from furniture to ornamental pieces. I take pride in my ability to bring out the beauty of the wood I work with, creating unique and lasting objects. My passion for woodworking has been a life-long pursuit and I strive to push myself further and further with each new project. I am dedicated to the craft and take great satisfaction in the final product that I create.Read More.