Top Hardwoods for Carving

What is the best wood for carving?

Wood comes in many species and it is important to know each woods’ individual characteristics. Each wood has different texture and wood qualities that dictate how the wood will respond to wood carving.

Wood carving can be an incredibly rewarding and positive hobby, and it eventually can even become a career. It is one of the oldest crafts in the world and is both functional and artistically beautiful. Nearly every wood on earth can be used for carving, which gives the craft a huge abundance to choose from, and at times that can be overwhelming.

Basswood is the most popular choice wood for beginners. This is a white wood grows throughout Europe and the Americas. It’s been used in woodworking for centuries. Basswood has almost no grain and is very soft, making it ideal for new woodworkers. It is also popular in lower cost musical instruments, making up the bodies of some woodwinds, and electric basses and guitars. Basswood blanks can be found easily and are a great wood to start learning to carve on, since it is malleable and inexpensive.

Aspen is another white wood that is quite popular among woodworkers. It’s stronger than basswood but is still quite soft, so it is fairly easy to use for carving. Aspen is readily available and inexpensive.

Butternut is another good wood for beginner wood carving. It is browner than basswood or aspen and has a nice grain. It is related to walnut but is lighter in color and can be carved easier. Like black walnut, butternut polishes quite nicely, and is also a good choice for furniture. It is a much softer wood, so this wood is also friendly for beginners. Be prepared for wormholes when working with butternut.

       craftsman carving wood with a gouge


Black walnut is a popular choice. It is more expensive than basswood, aspen and basswood. It should be carved using sharp tools and a mallet for the best results. Walnut has a rich color and grain that has made it popular for a wide range of products, including furniture and gunstocks.

Oak is also a popular wood for carving, with a range of features that make it almost ideal. It is a strong and sturdy wood. The grain of oak is very defined and is also a favorite woods used for making furniture.

The type of carving you do will influence the type of wood which is best to use. A power carver will often use different wood than a hand tool carver. With power you can more easily carve a hard wood and get great detail while the same hard wood might be very frustrating for a hand carver. So choose accordingly.

Basics of Hardwood Finishing: Part One

Finishing wood allows you to showcase the uniqueness of the wood you are using for a project. As you know, finishing can make or break a project.  Hardwood products are finished to enhance or alter the natural beauty of the wood, and to protect the wood from damage by moisture and handling. A quality finish must offer acceptable performance and also meet the project’s aesthetic requirements. A good finish prevents swelling and cracking, protects against stains and enhances the appearance of the wood.

Before finish ever comes in contact with wood, there is a great deal of preparatory work to be done.

PREPARE THE SURFACE PROPERLY  It should go without saying that almost no coating or finish can overcome a poorly prepared surface.  Prepare the surface with the desired finish result in mind. If an extra smooth surface is specified, then sanding, grain filling, and defect filling of some sort is indicated. The best finish cannot overcome an ill prepared surface.SandingWood

KNOW YOUR WOOD and how it accepts stain. Unlike metal or plastic surfaces, wood presents a substrate that varies in density, porosity, and stability. Not sure? Check our species guide for guidance. Some woods like hard maple and poplar have a tendency to stain unevenly and blotch. For those woods it is recommended you use a wood conditioner before applying any stain. Other woods readily accept stain and have to be carefully wiped off almost immediately after application.

DETERMINE THE TYPE OF FINISH   Although at least 10 varieties and more than a dozen brands of finish are available, all can be divided into two categories: penetrating finishes (those that dry inside the wood) and surface finishes (those that dry on the surface of the wood). Penetrating finishes are easier to apply and leave a more natural look. Surface finishes are more durable but don’t look as natural. Determine the look you want for your final piece and identify the finish that works the best for that application.

In our next blog – determining the right finishing process for you.

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