Choosing the Best Wood for Woodcarving

Choosing the Best Wood for Woodcarving

Wood comes in many types, it is important to know each woods individual characteristics to know how to use them while wood carving. Each wood type has a different texture and color, you need to know the purpose it will be used to choose the right type.

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Soft Woods


For a hand carver the most popular wood to use is Basswood and for good reason. The wood is relatively soft, yet because it is close

best carving woods

grained it is able to hold detail very well. It is non toxic. The wood is white although there are occasional streaks of brown in it. There is little difference between the sapwood and the heartwood. Basswood has little grain pattern it may look bland, and as a result it is often painted. If, however, one applies a mix of mineral spirits and boiled linseed oil to the finished carving and then wipes off the excess after of few minutes it will seal the carving and bring out the grain.

Basswood is related to lime which is popular in Europe and has very similar characteristics. The best carving basswood is obtained from the northern states such as Wisconsin and Minnesota. Basswood is widely available in hobby shops in small blocks or in cutouts that are available with a pattern. These are good for the beginner to try but the wood is more expensive purchased in these venues. If you enjoy carving, you should find suppliers that will provide good quality wood at reasonable prices. There are many on the internet.

Pine Northern white pine is another good choice. It has similar characteristics to basswood, being relatively soft and easy to carve and widely available at reasonable cost. Sugar pine is also an excellent carving wood.


Available in the Midwest is another good white colored carving wood. Its bark is very popular for carving wooden spirits and whimsical houses. The bark is soft and easy to carve but does have a tendency to split. The bark is very attractive when finished unpainted.


More difficult to find, especially in larger sizes, but also a popular carving wood, butternut has beautiful color and grain. It is related to walnut yet is lighter in color and more easily carved. Butternut is prone to insect problems. Much of the butternut will have wormholes in it. Carvers generally consider this a natural feature of the wood which gives the carving character.

Hard Woods

Walnut is a very popular hard wood. It is difficult to carve with hand tools. You must use sharp tools and a mallet for better results. Walnut is a good wood for the power carver. The rich color and grain has made walnut into a popular furniture wood, but when finished with a clear sealer walnut also makes a beautiful carving.

Mahogany is any of many similar reddish colored woods. It is difficult to know what the characteristics will be a piece of wood labeled as mahogany. A strong lightweight wood with a relatively straight grain, it is easily worked with hand or power tools but does have a tendency to split. Other hard woods that may be power carved with good results are Maple, fruit trees, rosewood and teak.

There are many other woods that can be carved, but a beginning carver should begin with this list and once they have had some success, and then try other woods. So grab some tools, get some wood and start carving.

A beginning carver will often pick up the most convenient piece of wood, maybe a scrap of lumber, or a piece of driftwood and pull out the trusty pocketknife and begin carving. Often the beginning carver becomes frustrated with the lack of progress. The wood is either too hard, which results in a great deal of work with little results, or too soft in which case the wood is quickly cut but no detail can be obtained because the wood crushes under the knife blade rather than cutting.

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.

written by Paul Koch


How to Carve Wood

Fundamentals of Wood Carving

Whittling, Chip Carving, Relief Carving, and Power Carving

Wood Carving Tools

Basic Wood Carving Techniques

Wood Carving Odds and Ends

Resources and Woodwork Plans