To some people, wood carving is a profession and to some people, it is a hobby. Either way, using the best wood for carving is a must.
It is really a matter of pleasure when you see your finished piece in beautiful shape fitting to be added to your garden decors.
Anyone can carve wood if he has 3 things – skill, good quality wood, and proper woodworking tool
Skill develops through practice and proper guidance. If you do not use the right material for carving you cannot utilize your skill properly.
So you should gather all the necessary information about the best wood type and proper woodworking tool for carving.
The article will be very long if I depict all of this information in one article. And it also seems boring to catch a lot of information at a time.
So I decided to talk about only the best wood types for wood carving in this article.
Category of Wood for Wood Carving
Generally carving woods are classified into 2 categories depending on the density of the wood.
Wood of evergreen trees (trees that do not lose leaves) is categorized as softwood since they are less dense. In terms of botany, they are called gymnosperm.
Since they are less dense it is easier to work with softwoods but there are exceptions also. An example of this exception is the wood of yew trees.
Yew woods are considered as softwood by definition but they are relatively hard in nature. Compared to hardwood softwoods are cheaper in price.
Here is a list of some common softwood trees along with their scientific name:
- Hoop pine –Araucaria cunninghamii
- Paraná pine- Araucaria angustifolia
- Cedar- Cedrus
- Celery-top pine-Phyllocladus aspleniifolius
- Arizona cypress- Cupressus arizonica
- Alerce- Fitzroya cupressoides
- Hinoki cypress- Chamaecyparis obtusa
- Lawson’s cypress- Chamaecyparis lawsoniana
- Mediterranean cypress- Cupressus sempervirens
- European yew- Taxus baccata
Wood of deciduous trees (trees that lose leaves one a year) is categorized as hardwood since they are dense. In terms of botany, they are called angiosperms.
Since hardwoods are dense it is difficult to work with hardwood but there are exceptions also. An example of this exception is the wood of Balsa trees.
Balsa woods are considered as hardwood by definition but they are relatively soft in nature. They are also pricier than softwoods.
Here is a list of some common hardwood trees along with their scientific name:
- Ash – Genus Fraxinus
- Beech – Genus Fagus
- Basswood – Genus Tilia
- Birch – Genus Betula
- Black Cherry – Genus Prunus
- Black Walnut/Butternut – Genus Juglans
- Cottonwood – Genus Populus
- Elm – Genus Ulmus
- Hackberry – Genus Celtis
- Hickory – Genus Carya
- Holly – Genus Iiex
- Locust – Genus Robinia and Gleditsia
- Magnolia – Genus Magnolia
- Maple – Genus Acer
- Oak – Genus Quercus
- Poplar – Genus Populus
- Red Alder – Genus Alnus
- Royal Paulownia – Genus Paulownia
- Sassafras – Genus Sassafras
- Sweetgum – Genus Liquidambar
- Sycamore – Genus Platanus
- Tupelo – Genus Nyssa
- Willow – Genus Salix
- Yellow-Poplar – Genus Liriodendron
All of the carving woods fall in one of these 2 categories or medium range between these two categories.
Researching so many carving woods we have shortlisted the 7 best types of wood for wood carving in this article.
How to Choose Wood for Carving?
If you take the following factors in the account you can easily choose the best wood for carving:
1. Choose the Wood Based on Your Purpose
It is the primary factor to be considered before you spend your money on buying wood for carving. What type of carving or art you are going to do with the wood will work as the basis of choosing wood for carving.
If you are going to make wooden utensils such as wooden spoon or bowl for using at kitchen you need to choose hardwood because hardwoods are durable, do not break easily and absorbs little moisture compared to softwood.
But, you cannot use any kind of hardwood for making kitchen utensils. For example, you cannot use oak or ash wood for making a bowl.
Oak or ash wood resist the absorption of moisture well but creates stain rapidly when it comes in contact with oil.
2. Using the Right Carving Tool
While choosing wood for carving you should also be conscious of the carving tool you have in your collection. Some woods are too hard to carve with a typical knife or chisel.
If you try to carve such a hardwood with typical wood carving tool it will be dull and the wood will also get spoiled.
Softwood like basswood or pine is easier to carve whereas hardwood like oak is very difficult to carve.
So depending on the carving tool available in your collection select wood. You can also buy new carving tools for carving your chosen wood.
3. Ensure the Safety Issues
All types of woods are not safe to work with. Different people feel allergy with different wood. There are also some woods that are considered toxic and can cause diseases to your skin.
In research, it has been found that around 5% of users feel allergic reaction during carving wood. Your skin can turn red in contact with the wood if you have allergy with it.
Some wood emits strong smells. If you cannot tolerate strong smells you should not choose such a wood because it may cause you ha headache.
So, before spending money make it sure that you do not have an allergy to your chosen wood.
Generally, basswood, oak, pine etc. are considered as safe wood for carving because most wood carver does not face any health issues because of these woods.
4. Taking Note of the Direction of the Wood Grain
The direction of wood grain has a strong impact on the finish. So, you must know this fact and carve the wood along or across the wood grain. It will offer you so many advantages.
Carving the wood along the grain makes the work faster, easier and comfortable. In case of softwood if you carve along the wood grain you will feel it like carving through butter.
So, professional woodworker always cuts along the direction of the wood grain.
5. Inspect the Raw Wood for Defects
Before starting the carving work it is a good practice to inspect the raw wood for defects.
If you find any defect do not be sad or worried because especially for carving defects are not always a problem, sometimes defects are blessings too that add an extra dimension of beauty to the carved art.
Sometimes, the defect on the surface goes deep inside the material. So you should be aware of the type of defect and should be conscious while carving so that the defect cannot destroy your work.
7 Best Wood Types for Wood Carving
Butternut is an example of one of the most popular softwoods. Its scientific name is Juglans cinerea. It is also known as white walnut or oilnut.
Though it has similarity in figure and grain patterns with black walnut it is softer compared to black walnut wood.
The narrow sapwood of butternut is almost dead white but the heartwood is light brown in colour and has large grains.
Butternut is considered the best choice for beginners to practice. It is equally popular among the professionals as it provides flexibility in carving.
Its natural pinkish finish is really eye-catching. The dark brown streak of this wood is very useful for carving if you know how to use it.
Since it is light in weight it can be handled easily. Moreover, it is not so costly and easily fits within a narrow budget.
Since butternut is softwood you have to be cautious while carving this wood. Extra pressure or very powerful woodworking tool can cause damage to this softwood.
If you are beginner basswood can be a good choice for you to practice wood carving. It is a favourite wood to wood carvers used for centuries.
Basswood is a softwood and we have already mentioned that softwoods are easier to work with.
The scientific name of basswood is Tilia Americana. Basswood is found throughout the Europe and Americas.
In Europe it is also known as American lime since it has pretty many similarities with European lime that is scientifically called Tilia vulgaris.
It is white in colour and it does not have any grain. This softwood is light in weight and is free from odour. You can easily carve Basswood using knives, gouges or rotary carvers.
The straight grain and even texture of basswood provides advantages to the woodworkers to carve in detail. So, it is a favourite to the woodworkers and they are using it from the ancient time for carving purpose.
You can carve it both across or along the grain. It does not cost so much and you can make cooking utensils like spoons or bowls, electric bases, guitars, wood art etc. using basswood.
Another advantage of basswood is that if you choose it for carving you do not have to be worried about warping after the seasoning.
Without any hesitation, you can pick this wood for both smaller and larger carving.
3. European Lime
European lime has great aesthetic beauty. It is white to cream in colour which is really eye-soothing.
You can make intricate and detail work in European lime using a sharp carving tool. It has very subtle rings and is a popular wood both in beginners and expert professionals.
Cherry is neither a softwood nor a hardwood, it falls in the medium range. Its scientific name is Prunus serotina. It has a beautiful reddish brown colour that has given it an attractive classy look.
You can cut along or across the grain of cherry wood but it is easier to cut along the grain when the wood becomes dry.
If you choose cherry wood for carving you should be aware of the fact that it will shrink after drying. The special characteristic of cherry wood is when it becomes dry it sets into a solid and stable state that lasts for a long time.
I would also like to inform you about other important characteristics of cherry and that is its colour becomes dark as time passes.
It is an awesome wood for holding the carving detail and to make a strong and stable wood carved product.
Since it has medium density it is considered as a better option for woodcarvers who have intermediate to high expertise in wood carving.
All in all, cherry wood is popular among professionals for making creative wood art commercially.
Mahogany falls in the category of hardwood. It has reddish-brown tint with straight grain. It is generally used as a base for many projects because it has good load bearing capacity and can retain its shape for a long time after getting dried.
It does not emit any bad smell and it accepts stains well. Though mahogany is a hardwood you can carve it along or across its grain.
You do not have to use woodworking tools softy like Basswood or Butternut to carve mahogany.
You can use both powered and hand tools to carve mahogany without any worry because mahogany does not burn easily with power carving tools.
Maple is also a member of the family of hardwood which is scientifically known as Acer saccharum. It has coarse grains and it is better to carve maple wood along its grain.
It shows a tendency of blotching when the carving is finished. Since its grains are not symmetrically aligned you have to be careful and needs good expertise to carve maple wood.
It is sensitive to moisture and so it is better to use carved maple wood for the interior. It has a weak odour and some people have an allergy with maple wood.
You can check the wood moisture with any of these moisture meters reviewed by Tools Freak.
7. European Oak
European oak is a widely used hardwood. It has been used for a long time by a woodworker for carving purpose.
It has coarse grains and varieties of colour. But the most common colour is light to medium brown.
Wrapping Up Best Wood Types for Wood Carving
A single type of wood is not suitable for every project. Each type of wood is best but for a certain project.
You have to know which type is best suitable for your project. Some information you will get from the internet and some you have to acquire through practice and experience.
Choosing the best wood for your intended project is very important because if you choose a wood that is unsuitable for your project all your effort as well as your money will go in vain.
So never forget the 5 tips given above while choosing the best wood for carving.