Last Updated on April 10, 2020
Maybe you’re a whittler, or you want to carve kitchen implements, dinnerware, or reliefs, or maybe you’re the type with the mettle for chainsaw carving. But without the right type of wood, you may find yourself struggling. Some types of wood are too soft for handling food, for instance. Others, such as pine, can be so knotty they’ll fight you as you’re trying to carve.
With all of Mother Nature’s options at hand, you may be wondering which wood is best for your own carving needs. Read on for some in-depth information on different wood types to help you get the most from your hobby or profession.
Wood from fruit trees, such as apple, pear, and cherry, is fine-grained enough to work well for dishes (especially bowls) and is some of the best wood for spoon carving. The close-pored texture of fruit wood makes it perfect for leak-proof vessels. It’s best to carve fruit woods when they’re on the greener side, as the drier the wood is, the harder it will be and the more prone to cracks.
Basswood is one of the easiest wood types to carve, and is highly recommended for beginners. It is soft and forgiving, which means it’s easy on your tools and will hold wood stain well. It’s also the best wood for whittling or to achieve intricate details in relief carving. While the softness of basswood makes it easy to carve against the grain, carving with the grain is always preferable for best results.
As one of the strongest wood types, oak is widely regarded for its durability, which makes it ideal for furniture. It also boasts a beautifully stark grain and a rich color that adds attractiveness to your work. White oak has close pores and is widely used for crafting barrels in which to ferment whiskey or wine. Because it is so hard, it is one of the more difficult woods to use for relief carving.
Black walnut is on the harder side, but its rich grain and color can create beautiful carvings. Many carvers use it for relief carving, despite it being difficult to carve, because of its aesthetic appeal. If you choose it, make sure you have good quality tools and keep them sharp to avoid too much strain on your hands.
Pine is well-known for being a beast to carve, but the softer white pine is the exception. While it’s most popularly used for lumber, it is also commonly used for furniture making or carving, since it holds its shape well. It’s also the best wood for chainsaw carving, as it can withstand the power behind a chainsaw. If you choose white pine, make sure it’s on the green side, and keep it wet for best results.
Balsa is perfect for whittling. It’s soft, lightweight, and inexpensive enough to make it a good fit for beginners. It’s commonly used for crafting, modeling, and dollhouses, but is versatile enough for statue or ornament making, too. Balsa wood can splinter easily when dry, so be sure to sand the edges thoroughly to protect the wood.
This is a rich tan wood that is another ideal starter for beginners. It is soft, straight-grained, and good for relief carving or sculpture. It also looks great stained. It’s a close second to basswood for ease of use, but can also be somewhat difficult to find because the trees are being threatened by fungus in North America.
Wood is a diverse substance, and no two trees are exactly the same when it comes to carving them. For any beginner, choosing a soft and lightweight wood such as basswood or butternut is good for getting started. If you plan to spend your time on projects that require some durability, such as furniture or cabinetry, a harder wood like oak is best. It’s a good idea to practice using different wood types to learn how they respond to your tools, how they finish, and what kind of products you can successfully create with each.
Header image credit: BeaverCraft
Ryan is a freelance writer from Arizona. When he's not blogging about his favorite hobbies, he's writing fiction, hiking or running in the great outdoors, and spending time with family.