Types Of Wood For Carving (Tips For Your Next Project)

wood whittling examples

Woodcarving has been an enjoyable and even profitable pastime for many individuals over the years. If this is something you are curious about and may consider starting, there are some things you should learn about first.

For instance, you’ll be happy to know that there is a variety of wood types that are ideal for this practice. They each have their own benefits and drawbacks so you would do well to be aware of them before you begin.

Read on to learn more about the different wood you can use for different purposes.

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Hard Wood vs Soft Wood

As you consider wood for carving, you’ll find that some are hard woods while others are soft. So, which should you chose?

Each has their advantages and disadvantages, so let’s dig into that first.

Hard Wood Soft Wood
Pros: Easy to maintain, fire & decay resistant, high density Pros: Cheaper, easier to cut, resistant to insects
Cons: More expensive, more challenging to cut Cons: Not resistant to decay & fire, low density, not easy to maintain

10 Common Wood Types For Carving

If you’re looking for some good soft wood or hard wood for some carving projects, then one of the ten options below is a good place to start. These are some of the most popular wood types that carvers use.

1. Basswood

Basswood is a soft type of wood that is a light cream color and it has no odor. This makes it easier to whittle and carve. It’s a good option if you’re a beginner or have minimal skills in this area.

Whittling is your best bet with basswood, for which you would only need to use a knife and no special tools are required to do the task. However, you might want to make more complex designs and that would require you have a gouge, chisel, and/or a hammer.

This type of wood is not good for chip carving, but it is perfect for caricature or spoon carving.

2. White Pine

This has a cream color and medium-grain texture. It’s similar to basswood in its ability to be carved though it does have more of a stubborn grain.

This soft wood is great for whittling using only a simple knife. It’s not a good choice for chip carving but you can use it for carving in the round since it’s easier to fashion and shape.

All in all, white pine is an extremely durable and popular type of wood that is ideal for those who have more experience. Work with it when it’s still green and also when it is wet for the best possible results.

3. Cherry

Cherry is a hard wood that is rather dense. It is pinkish-brown and has wavy grains.

This is difficult to whittle though it is good for chip carving and if you’re looking to make tiny items and then stain them afterward. As you carve you’re sure to reveal beautiful grain patterns that make this an ideal choice for natural-finish sculpture.

Just bear in mind that you should use a sanding sealer before you begin the staining process so that it doesn’t get blotchy.

Some other fruit wood that you may want to try include mulberry, plum, apple, and pear.

In general, it’s a good idea to work with this variety of wood when they are still green as the wood is more likely to crack and split when it’s gone dry. Since they have a close-pored texture you’ll find them worthy of making dishes and spoons as well as other leak-proof vessels.

4. Oak

Oak wood is heavy, solid, and it tends to last for a long time. Its timber is yellow, ash gray, or light brown depending on the age of the tree.

It’s an incredibly strong and durable type that is resistant to fungus and decay. This is only part of why it’s become so popular to use for carving.

Oak wood has a straight grain that is coarse and sometimes interlocked. Oak looks amazing when it’s polished, especially larger items such as sculptures that are finished with beeswax.

It’s been used for centuries to make cabinets, flooring products, historical pieces, as well as in construction.

5. Birch

Birch is an extremely hard wood that makes for tough carving. For this reason, it’s best to use power and machine tools instead of hand tools.

It has a fine grain and a light color with a natural shine. Preserve your project in a plastic bag if it’s fresh or undried to avoid damage as birch can crack and warp if it’s not dried completely.

This has numerous benefits that include its beauty, strength, shock resistance, and rigidity so it’s used readily for furniture and flooring. It does have a low decay resistance.

You can sand, finish, paint, and varnish birch with ease.

6. Butternut

This is another type of soft wood that’s great for beginner carvers. It’s more on the brown side and the grain is beautiful.

This is related to walnut though it is easier to carve and it also polishes nicely like black walnut. You might use it for making furniture.

You also might use butternut wood to make relief carvings and boxes. Watch out for wormholes as you work with it.

7. Poplar

Poplar is olive-green or yellowish-brown and it has a medium-to-fine texture along with straight grains. This has a unique level of softness so you should utilize extra-sharp tools when working on it.

This way, you won’t have to apply any strength when making your designs. It’s widely spread and it’s easy to process.

Poplar is excellent for making upholstered furniture frames, crates, pallets, and it’s considered to be among the most common utility hardwoods in the United States.

8. Cottonwood

Cottonwood has many different species in North America which include Fremont, Eastern, Black, Plains, and Narrow Leaf. This is in the same family as poplar, so it’s no surprise that they have similar properties.

It tends to be light yellow, almost white, or pale brown. It has a grain that is mostly straight though it can be interlocked or somewhat irregular.

You will need sharp tools when hard carving because the surface can get fuzzy. Cottonwood gets distorted easily as it dries so you’ll want to protect it.

The wood has a low resistance when it comes to attracting insects. It is inexpensive to find this for use in your crafting.

9. Hawthorn

This type of wood is incredibly solid and it’s red or reddish-brown, though young ones are often yellowish. It tends to be on the expensive side because of its fine qualities.

The timber is great for making more delicate carvings.

10. Acacia

Acacia is both a tree and a shrub. Both of these varieties are used for handcraft and it’s fine quality.

Its timber is yellow, yellow-green, or even olive-green and the annual growth rings have a unique clear appearance. This hardwood is strong and resistant to water.

This wood is great if you want to create miniature pieces. Make sure that you put paraffin wax on it when you’re in the finishing stage to preserve your work.

FAQs About Wood Types

If you’re a beginner, then you’ve likely still got some questions. Here’s the answers to come of the most common beginner questions that we see.

Which carving wood is the softest?

If you’re laser focused on getting a soft wood, then you might be interested in knowing that basswood is the softest wood for carving.

You’ll find that it’s very easy to work with, which makes it a good choice for beginners. The structure is tender and forgiving.

What is the wood used for spoon carving?

Basswood is the perfect wood to use for spoon carving projects. This should come as no surprise since it is the softest wood out there.

Basswood is also cheap and easy to get for your whittling projects. If you’re looking for a good basswood spoon carving piece, then check out this option at Amazon.

Should I carve green wood or dry wood?

If you want something that is soft and easier to work with, then carve with green wood. If you are beyond the beginner stage and want to do it the professional way, then carve with dry wood.

Some people also just enjoy the nice woodsy scent that you get from green wood that dry wood doesn’t offer.

Green wood is ideal for beginners and people who are just whittling with no real project in mind. However, when you whittle green wood, the carving may be ruined when the wood dries.

Is cottonwood good for carving?

If you’re doing hand carving, then cottonwood is good for that. However, the grain can vary – it may be interlocked, straight, or irregular.

You’ll also want to take care to keep the cottonwood away from any fuzzy surfaces when you’re whittling with it. And sharp tools are necessary for carving cottonwood.

Is pine wood good for carving?

Pine is a popular with woodworkers because it is durable and easily available at affordable costs. However, it’s not a good choice for beginners.

Pine can chip and split when you’re carving it, so it does take a bit of practice to get good with it in your woodworking projects.

Is balsa wood good for carving?

If you’ve done small projects at school, then you’re likely familiar with balsa wood. While it is a good wood for many hobbies, balsa wood is not good for wood carving projects.

You can’t get much precision or detail when carving with balsa wood because of its low density. That’s why it’s not ideal for whittling.

Is cherry wood good for carving?

If you’re familiar with this type of wood, then you already know how beautiful the color and finish is with it. It has some great wavy grain patterns, but is actually not good for hand carving as it is rather difficult to carve by hand.

If you’re working on a natural finish sculpture though, then this might be a good option for you.

What makes a wood good for carving?

As you evaluate the different options available to you, keep in mind that the best woods for carving are easy to work with, can be used for a variety of woodworking projects, and is easy to find and affordable.

Basswood is a good example of a good wood for carving.

What is the easiest wood to carve?

As previously mentioned, I think that Basswood is the easiest wood to carve (for both beginners and experienced woodworkers). Basswood has a soft structure and is tender to work with.

Woodworking with basswood is almost effortless, so you don’t have to worry about making mistakes that ruin the project.

Final Thoughts

It’s evident that there’s a lot to love about working with wood if you’re an artisan. Whittling and carving are wonderful for handcrafting especially if you want to experiment with a number of types of material.

Keep in mind that greenwood is much easier to cut as it has more water. If you’re in a more humid environment you’re more likely to find a variety of wood with which you can work, because it often makes the material softer.

Think about the tools you plan on using and what level of experience you have when choosing the wood you’ll use in your carving.

It’s in your best interest to join some online forums and check up on the latest news in wood carving by subscribing to newsletters and magazines. Also, it might benefit you to ask friends, family, and experts in the field for recommendations based on what you would like to do for your next project.

Maybe you’ll end up making some connections who can inspire you and further your goals as you explore the world of wood carving.

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