Best Wood for Carving

Best Wood for Carving – Most Suitable Timbers for Shaping

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Carving wood has been around for thousands of years, with ancient civilizations partaking in this expressive art form. Nevertheless, this is an incredibly challenging task if you are inexperienced, as you need to ensure that you are using the best wood for carving before you begin. There are different types of carving wood available, and we will take a look at the different factors that will ultimately affect your choice, such as availability, texture, grain, and hardness. So, keep reading to find out more below!



Softwood vs. Hardwood for Carving

Before you can choose the best wood for carving, it is imperative that you have a clear understanding of the differences between softwood and hardwood.

The type of wood that you choose will determine what you will be able to make, for instance, you should not use softwood to make a bowl.

Below we have gone through the differences between softwood and hardwood for carving, which should make your decision much easier.



Softwoods are harvested from conifer and evergreen trees and are often the ideal choice for woodwork as it is easy to work with. While you could easily assume that softwoods are not very strong, there are plenty of softwood species that are much harder than some hardwoods out there.

When carving wood is concerned, softwood will always be easier to work with, making it the ideal option for beginners.

Below we have provided some of the advantages and disadvantages of carving with softwood.

  • Safer, as your tools will not slip
  • Beginner-friendly
  • Cheaper
  • High sustainability
  • Resistant to insect infestations
  • Not as strong as hardwood
  • Absorbs water
  • Requires more wood stain and paint
  • Easily scratched and torn


Softwood Species Used for Carving

Since softwood is usually regarded as the best wood for carving, it would help to be more specific when it comes to the different species that are available. The best types of softwood for carving can be found listed below.

  • Basswood
  • Butternut
  • White pine
  • Cedar

Best Cedar Wood for Carving



Hardwood is taken from dicot trees that are primarily found in subtropical, tropical, and broad-leaved temperate regions in forests. The main difference between hardwood and softwood is that softwood has vessels that transport water, which also provides it with a much more prominent wood grain.

When using hardwood for carving, the process is much more labor-intensive, but the results can be superior to softwood; however, this depends on a variety of factors such as the type of wood that is used, the skill level of the sculptor, and so on.

Below are some of the advantages and disadvantages of using hardwood.

  • Greater durability than softwood
  • Incredibly strong
  • Easily maintained
  • Enhanced fire resistance
  • More color and wood grain variety
  • Expensive
  • Incredibly time-consuming
  • Not as safe as using softwood
  • Requires more physical strength


Hardwood Species Used for Carving

While hardwood has a bad reputation for not being the best wood for hand carving, there are “soft” hardwoods that are easy to shape. However, many of these are more expensive than softwoods as they are either difficult to find or are used on luxury items. Nevertheless, below you will find a list of hardwoods that can be used for carving.

  • Cottonwood
  • Black walnut
  • Oak
  • Mahogany
  • Cherry

Best Oak Wood for Carving



Top Five Best Woods for Carving

When choosing the best wood for carving there are a variety of factors that need to be considered. This includes the wood’s availability, popularity, and suitability for various styles of carving and techniques.

Best Hardwood for Carving

We have narrowed the selection down to the top five best woods that should be used for carving, this includes basswood, butternut, oak, black walnut, and aspen.



Basswood is an incredibly popular wood that is great for beginners due to its softness. This wood has nearly no grain, which is perfect for those new to woodwork. Basswood is commonly used to manufacture musical instruments at a low cost.

This is a wood that retains detail well, making it ideal for beginning carvers.

Basswood has a smooth, consistent grain and is light cream in color with brown streaks. Basswood rarely warps, making it suitable for both big and tiny carvings. It is also inexpensive and simple to buy at hobby shops.

  • Easy to use
  • Very soft
  • Light
  • Cheap
  • Poor strength and durability
  • No rot resistance



Another excellent choice for beginners, butternut, or white walnut, is a soft hardwood that features a brown color that is slightly darker than aspen and basswood.

Much like black walnut, this wood polishes very well and is an ideal choice when it comes to making furniture.

Butternut is considered to be incredibly fragile, and this must be considered. This wood is not as dense as walnut hence will not accept as much detail. The grain orientation is not as accommodating as in basswood, so a careful carver is required to traverse butternut. Additionally, butternut has a lovely texture and shape. This means you will not have to paint on top of the carving. With a clear topcoat of poly, the carving may be tastefully completed.

  • Has a beautiful grain
  • Extremely stable
  • Easy to use
  • Decay and shock resistant
  • Expensive
  • Easily scratched
  • Prone to wormholes

Woodcarving Timber Selection



Oak has a variety of features that make it one of the best hardwoods for carving. It is a tough and durable wood and has a fairly distinct grain. Oak is also a very popular wood for furniture building.

The sort of wood you use will be determined by the style of carving you conduct. Those who use power carvers frequently utilize different wood than those with hand tool carvers. Many oak species, such as American Oak, responds nicely to carving instruments.

The grain structure of oak is coarser than that of lime wood, making oak variants ideal for bigger items rather than very delicate work. However, with its wealth of durability, strength, and versatility, oak is a fantastic choice for larger projects such as interior or outside furniture.

  • Very strong and durable
  • Distinct appearance
  • Rot-resistant
  • Water-resistant
  • Difficult for beginners and experts to work with
  • Those with hand carving tools are limited in what they can do
  • Can become patchy because of the slow seasoning process of the wood


Black Walnut

A common option is black walnut. It costs more than basswood and aspen. For the most effective results, carve it using razor-sharp instruments and a mallet.

Walnut is used for a variety of things, including furnishings and gunstocks, due to its rich color and texture.

This variety of walnut is popular among carvers because of its outstanding versatility and capacity to hold complex features. Black walnut wood has rich, dark brown tones that make it a favorite carving material. Its rich hue and shiny sheen add to the completed sculptures’ remarkable aesthetic.

  • Rot resistant
  • Easy to work with
  • Incredibly durable
  • Features a straight and regular grain
  • Very expensive
  • Inconsistent color
  • Sensitive to light

Use Walnut for Carving



A white wood that is favored among carvers is aspen. It is stronger than basswood yet remains rather soft, making it suitable for carving. Aspen is widely accessible and reasonably priced.

Because Aspen wood does not split, it is very easy to cut and shape. Furthermore, it requires little effort to sand and does not shrink either.

Splinters may be avoided while cutting Aspen wood using whittling and carving instruments. It is also a machinable wood, allowing for precise and straight forms and intricate shapes. Aspen wood is similar to basswood, which is ideal for carving.

  • Soft and lightweight
  • Does not split when hit with nails
  • Good stability
  • Uniform texture
  • Easily damaged in high-traffic areas
  • Thick pieces are hard to get
  • Has a fuzzy appearance



Tips for Choosing and Preparing Wood for Carving

You have likely wondered what type of wood is good for carving, but it is much more complicated than that. Most experienced wood carvers have spent years working with different types of wood.

Selecting Best Wood for Carving

It is important to experiment and find out what type of tools you are comfortable with using, what types of wood you enjoy working with, and of course, how much you are willing to spend on raw materials.

You will also need to learn about the properties of different types of wood and how you will need to prepare it for carving.


Preparing Wood for Carving

Preparing wood for carving is a crucial step as even the softest wood variants can be difficult to carve if they are exceptionally thick or rough. Start by soaking the wood in water for a few hours or overnight to soften it. By softening the wood, it will be significantly easier to carve.

Just make sure to fully dry the wood before you begin carving since excess moisture might cause it to warp.

If you are planning to carve small pieces, then there is no reason for you to start with a large piece of wood. Start by cutting the wood into smaller pieces and if necessary then apply a sealant to prevent the wood from cracking.


Dry Wood vs. Green-Wood

The vast majority of the wood is best carved while it is dry. Since moisture is removed during drying, the risk of dry wood breaking or splitting is substantially reduced.

Greenwood, on the other hand, is a popular choice since it is easy to carve with. Because it is soft, it makes cutting smoother and much easier.


Choosing Different Tools

The tools that you use will determine how easy the process is, but it is important to remember that different tools have different purposes. We have provided some of the basics regarding these tools and what each one is used for.

  • Bench knives: These knives feature thin blades that range in length from 1 to 3 inches. Some pocket knives may also be used as bench knives if they have a sharp enough edge to penetrate the wood that you are working with. It is completely achievable to carry out a job using simply a bench knife.
  • Round gouge: If you want to remove a significant amount of wood at once, invest in a variety of circular gouges. These gouges are useful for smoothing out slopes in wood. To approximate, use round gouges, and smaller tools to accentuate and enhance finer characteristics of the piece.
  • V-gouge chisel: This special chisel is merely a flat chisel shaped like a “V.” Each V-gouge chisel differs not just in terms of angles but also with respect to the blade thickness. V-gouge chisels are frequently used to add texture to things such as beards or hair.
  • Chisels: The size and angle of chisels may differ. Angled chisels are known as “skews” since their blades are skewed, or extended on one end. Chisels come in help when you need to hone an edge or just complete an item by smoothing down any jagged edges.

Best Tools for Wood Carving


Decide What You Would Like to Make

Furniture is distinct from ornamental items. We recommend that woodworkers utilize hardwood when creating various furnishings or sculptures. Nevertheless, if a carver plans to cut ornamental pieces and other little objects such as spoons, softwood is always preferred.

Carving Soft Wood

Keep in mind that it is important to understand what type of tools you would need before you get started.

It goes without saying that you will need specialized tools for carvings with more intricate designs whereas you could get away with using basic tools for making furniture. The wood that is used should also be considered, not only when it pertains to the hardness, but you should also consider the color and grain pattern.


Experimenting With Different Types of Wood

The ideal wood for carving is determined mostly by your talents, equipment, and the project at hand. Each wood kind is best suited for a certain job and has unique qualities. For a complete novice, butternut and basswood are excellent choices, but for long-lasting objects such as home furnishings, hardwoods like oak are preferable.

We suggest testing out several types of wood to see which one works best for you.

Best Wood for Decorative Carving



Important Factors to Consider Before Carving Wood

There is a lot more to choosing the best wood for carving than simply looking at a type of wood and deciding that you like how it looks. There are a few important factors that need to be considered such as hardness, grain, texture, and stability. We will take a brief look at all of these factors below.

  • Stability: Wood that is vulnerable to warping or bending is not recommended for relief carving since it can be hard to get accurate details in the end product. Stable wood, like that with low moisture levels, is preferable for carving in general.
  • Texture: Smooth textured wood is preferable for carving projects since it provides a stronger grip. However, rough-textured wood is sometimes difficult to carve with and is susceptible to splintering or ripping.
  • Grain: When carving, wood with an even grain produces the greatest results since the fibers are oriented in a regular direction. Wood with a more uneven grain, on the other hand, can be difficult to carve because the fibers run in various directions, rendering the wood more susceptible to splintering or ripping.
  • Hardness: Harder wood is less difficult to carve since it holds its edge better and is less susceptible to chipping. Nevertheless, if you are a newbie, they might be difficult to deal with. So, start with softwood and gradually work yourself up to hardwood to learn how to work with them effectively.

Best Wood for Sculpture Carving



Different Wood Carving Techniques

Much like painting, there are different techniques that can be used when carving wood. Below we have featured some of the techniques that you will use to establish your foundation as a novice wood carver.

  • Running cut: This is a method that is based on the same principles as chiseling. Your dominant hand propels the instrument, while the other one guides its movement. The running cut, as opposed to the chisel, is a smooth, prolonged cut that ends up in a lengthy furrow. You do not need to cut in a single line, but accurate, measured cuts are essential.
  • Stab cut: These cuts appear considerably more severe than they are. In reality, you are just inserting the instrument into the surface for a short distance before withdrawing it. These kinds of cuts can be utilized to create holes in wood as a design or for ornamental purposes.
  • Stop cut: Should you be working on a project that necessitates you to remove a lot of wood, use the stop cut to designate where you want to stop cutting. Although it may appear repetitive, this type of cut is an excellent method for determining where to begin and end carving.
  • Sweet cut: A gouge is required for sweep cuts, and this is done by maintaining or increasing pressure when the gouge penetrates the wood, based on the extent of the cut you want. Before leaving the wood, push down harder to ensure a smooth and clean cut.
  • Slicing cut: Instead of sandpaper, the slicing cut is utilized to complete your creation. It’s one of the most difficult cuts to perfect since you are not using the tool as much as if you were working when making a sweeping cut, yet there is still accuracy in the movement.


Whether you are asking yourself, “is oak good for carving?”, or if you are looking for different carving techniques, we have you covered with all of the information needed. Wood carving is an incredibly rewarding hobby and profession; however, it takes a great deal of practice to ensure that you get to the point where you will be comfortable with working with different types of wood and techniques. Nevertheless, our advice ensures that you are able to get the head start needed to learn as much as possible before you begin, so good luck!




Frequently Asked Questions


Is Oak Good for Carving?

Oak is a very popular wood when it comes to carving, as it has a variety of features that make it the ideal choice. The wood grain is incredibly defined and its strength is what has made it a favorite among veteran wood sculptors.


What Is Considered to Be the Best Wood for Hand Carving?

The best wood for hand carving is basswood as it is readily available, making it a cost-effective option. Additionally, basswood is very soft and has no grain, which is perfect for beginners.


What Type of Wood Is Good for Carving?

There are different types of carving wood available, but there are other types of wood that are not ideal as they are either packed with knots or are simply too soft. Woods such as tupelo, mahogany, red oak, cherry, maple, walnut, butternut, and basswood are great for carving. However, each one has different characteristics, which means that you will need to take a look at your skill level before choosing one.

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