Best Carving Wood for Beginner Wood Carving Projects

best carving wood for beginnersWith all the different kind of trees and woods available all over the world, you would think it wouldn’t be so difficult to find some carving woods.

However, not every type of wood can be used as good wood for carving.

Every kind of wood comes with its own texture, color, and characteristics. So not only do you want to use wood that looks pretty, it should also be easy to work with.

For people that are not completely familiar with the wood carving basics yet, this article will go over what to look for in carving woods for beginners.

Determining Your Carving Style

Before buying any carving wood, you should consider what kind of projects you will be working on.

There are kinds of wood carving styles, and each style requires different carving techniques and a different size and type of wood.

For example, if you are into whittling you will be using a carving knife to leave knife strokes to create textured cuts and angular designs. So for your first whittling project, you might want to use some soft wood that is easy to work with.

Carving wood can come in many different sizes. For whittling or chip carving you normally want a smaller piece of wood that you can comfortably hold in your hand. But if you are into relief carving, you will need a bigger flat panel of wood to work with.

If you are taking a woodworking class online or in person, they normally will let you know exactly which wood to use.

Best Wood for Carving

Most carving wood is either labeled as softwood or hardwood.

If you are just starting out as a beginner, it probably isn’t a very smart idea to just start carving on a random piece of wood. Especially if you don’t know what type of wood it is.

In general, we will recommend you go with softwood for you first wood carving project. Softwood is easy to work with and can be found in most craft stores or you can easily buy it online.

Although softwood is so easy to carve, it is a little tricky to carve fine details. So for certain carving styles, you might want to transition to hardwood after getting to hang of carving softwood.

Soft Wood for Carving

The term softwood is a general term for types of wood that are easy to carve. If you are still a beginner, it is best to practice several techniques though a variety of carving projects that use soft wood. Fortunately, many types of wood fit into this category. Below we will go over some of the different types of wood you can use.


Basswood is the number one choice for many beginner hand carvers. It grows throughout America and Europe and has been used for wood carving for decades. Sometimes basswood is even used to make some simple musical instruments.

The wood is pretty easy to work with because it is soft. But at the same time, it has a pretty close grain, which means you can apply a decent degree of detail as well.

Basswood normally looks white with a few brown lines throughout. Although there can be some difference between sapwood and heartwood. You can bring out the grain more clearly by applying a layer of mineral spirits and linseed oil after you are done carving. If basswood can also be painted without any difficulty if you want to.


Butternut is another type of wood frequently used for carving. Since it is not always sold at craft stores, it might be a little more difficult to find. But if you can get your hand on a high-quality piece of butternut, it is worth the effort.

Butternut wood has a very pretty color and beautiful grain. It has a slightly more light color compared to walnut but is more easy to carve.

Unfortunately, butternut often suffers from wormholes or other insects. As a result, it often contains some holes. Some people can appreciate it and can see the nature in it, whereas others consider it a big negative.


This wood is another type of wood that is becoming more popular. Balsa wood for carving is characterized by the soft nature of the wood and its fine grain.

Balsa is often used to carve model airplanes or similar toys and can be found more easily in your local stores than butternut.

Hard Woods for Carving

As a beginner, you might be tempted by the beauty of mahogany to start carving hardwoods right from the start.

However, working with hardwoods requires a certain amount of skill and patience that not every beginner possesses right from the start.

Also, keep in mind that not all the wood carving tools are compatible with both softwood and hardwood. To check which carving tools can be used for hardwood, check our beginner’s guide to wood carving tools.


The term mahogany includes a range of different types of woods that possess a reddish color. So depending on where you buy it, you might end up with slightly different wood.

In general, mahogany has a relatively straight grain and is ok to work with for intermediate carvers. Although a finished carving made out of mahogany can look beautify, it does have a tendency to split while carving. So if you are easily frustrated or upset, you might want to skip this type of wood.


The good old walnut is used to make different pieces of furniture, due to its rich color and nice looking grain.

Walnut wood is probably the hardest wood on our list so far. You better skip it unless you are confident in your skills.

When working with walnut make sure that your carving tools are sharp enough and of good quality. And owning a mallet will make your life much easier too.

Additional Carving Woods that are Less Frequently Used

The list above will be enough for most beginners to get started. But every now and then you might come across a new type of wood and wonder if it would be appropriate for wood carving.

For you guys, we made a small list of some common wood types and their general properties.

  • Aspen: is a little stronger than basswood but can still be classified as soft wood, so it’s fairly easy to use.
  • Oak: a pretty sturdy and strong kind of wood with a very defined grain.
  • Cottonwood: a rather white looking wood that contains soft bark which can easily be carved as well.
  • White Pine: this wood is similar to basswood in that it is pretty soft, easy to carve, and has creamy color.
  • White Oak: this wood has a faint yellowish color and a medium to coarse grain.
  • Cherry: known for its pinkish brown color and contains a fine grain that often has a wavy pattern, which makes it difficult to work with.
  • Sugar Maple: a very light color wood that is very hard and difficult to work with.

Finding the Good Wood for Carving Online

Wood carving might be a very physical hobby, but that doesn’t mean you can’t buy your carving wood digitally. Especially if you live far away from the nearest craft store. That is precious time you could be carving!

Fortunately, some of the common carving woods for beginners can be bought through Amazon and delivered right to your door.

Best Type of Wood to Carve for Beginners

As a beginner, the best type of wood to carve initially is Basswood. You can opt to buy a single big block of wood or but a set of 3 or 10 smaller pieces.

For whittling, you might a smaller piece that easily fits in your hands, whereas the larger block is the preferred option for relief carving. If you decide to go with the set of 10 blocks, make sure they aren’t too small for your hand.

This basswood is smooth with an even grain, so your carving knife easily goes through it without crumbling the wood.

Click Here to buy a basswood carving block

If basswood is not your thing, you might want to try carving some balsa wood. Balsa is easy to cut and is great for carving models such as airplanes, railroads, boats and miniature figures.

These blocks are 2 x 4 x 12 in size and are dried using kilns. This minimizes the amount of water to create a light-weight wood but doesn’t compromise on strength.

This wood is unfinished, so you can use it for wood burning too. Since the blocks are so delicate, it might come with a few split ends and rough surface. But sanding it a little before you start carving will do wonders.

Click Here to purchase balsa wood