What Is The Best Wood For Hand Carving?

best carving wood for beginners

If you walk through an average forest, you will quickly come across many different types of trees. So you might think it wouldn’t be very difficult to find wood that is suitable for carving.

However, every type of wood has its own characteristics that will determine how to work with it and how the final result will look like.

Although experienced woodcarvers can use almost any type of wood, in this article we will focus on the best carving woods for beginners.

Carving Softwood Vs Hardwood

Carving wood can be classified as either softwood or hardwood. In general, the softer the wood is the easier it is to carve. So beginners should probably start by carving softwood.

Some common types of softwood include pine, spruce, cedar, redwood, etc. And examples of hardwood include basswood, elm, butternut, aspen, etc.

That being said, these terms can be a little arbitrary in that some types of hardwood (basswood, butternut, aspen) can be just as soft as softwood.

What is the Easiest Wood to Carve?

Having almost no grains and being one of the softest wood for carving, basswood is very easy to carve by hand. Basswood has a white appearance and can be found throughout Europe and the Americas.

Basswood is great for whittling or relief carving as it can be carved into many different objects such as spoons, bowls, plates, or more detailed pieces of art.

Other Types of Wood For Hand Carving

Although basswood is great to start with, you might want to try your hands on some other types of wood as well. Here is a short list of other good wood carving woods, both softwoods, and hardwoods.

  • Aspen: is a little stronger than basswood but can still be classified as softwood, so it’s fairly easy to use.
  • Balsa: this wood is quickly becoming more popular. It is characterized by the soft nature of the wood and its fine grain. Since it is lightweight and cheap it’s often used to carve model airplanes or similar toys.
  • Butternut: this wood is a bit browner than basswood and shows a good-looking grain. Although related to walnut, it’s still pretty easy to carve. The only downside is that butternut often contains wormholes.
  • 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.
  • Cottonwood: a rather white looking wood that contains soft bark which can easily be carved as well.
  • Mahogany: although classified as a hardwood, mahogany can still be carved both along and across the grain. Its reddish color makes it a great option for many different projects.
  • Oak: a pretty sturdy and strong kind of wood with a very defined grain.
  • Sugar Maple: a very light color wood that is very hard and difficult to work with.
  • Walnut: it’s dark and rich color makes walnut a popular choice for carvers. However, it’s pretty hard and difficult to carve. You will have to use extra sharp tools and a mallet for the best results.
  • White Oak: this wood has a faint yellowish color and a medium to coarse grain.
  • White Pine: this wood is similar to basswood in that it is pretty soft, easy to carve, and has creamy color.

How to Choose Wood for Carving?

That’s quite a long list to choose from right? Finding your favorite type of wood to work with can take some trial and error. But here are a few things to keep in mind to speed up the process:

  • Your skill level: as mentioned above, it becomes increasingly more challenging to carve wood the harder it gets. So choose a softer wood if you are just starting out.
  • Your carving tools: you will need some carving tools that are specifically made for working with hardwood and you will have to frequently sharpen them.
  • Your carving project: depending on what you are carving you might want to change the type of wood you are using. For example, kitchen utensils are normally best made out of hardwood because it absorbs less water than softwoods. On the flip side, some hardwoods such as Oak and Ash resist water but readily absorb oil.
  • Safety: some people might have allergies for certain types of wood, which results in your skin turning red. Whereas some other types of wood may emit bad odors that can sometimes lead to headaches. If you want to play it safe, you can try to stick to the most common types of wood such as basswood, oak, etc.
  • Quality: if you have the opportunity to hold the wood in your own hands before buying it, then make sure to check it for any defects. Some types of wood are prone to insect holes which can ruin the finish. Also, try to avoid any wood with knots as they are pretty much impossible to work with.

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