Wood carving is a popular hobby or craft that dates back to the oldest times. It is a wonderful material because it is flexible yet solid at the same time. This wonderful material can be used to create lots of products such as furniture or decorative pieces. Carving decorative ornaments or furniture is quite rewarding and these pieces can last very long since wood is such a highly durable product.
If you want to start with carving wood, the first question you should be asking is what kind of wood is best for carving. In this guide, we are going to take a quick look at the main types of wood, and we are going to list the woods that are ideal for certain types of carving.
Softwood vs. Hardwood
Wood types fall under two main categories. Hardwood and softwood. Some wood types are hard and soft at the same time such as yew tree wood and balsa tree wood.
Both of these woods can be used for carving and furniture. Here is a quick look at the main differences between these woods.
Hardwood comes from broad-leaved trees. These types of wood are very sturdy and have a good weight carrying capacity. They have a higher density and are often more expensive than softwood because of its strength and the fact that hardwood trees grow slower.
Hardwoods are mostly used in quality furniture, decking, flooring, and construction. While hardwood is mostly used for furniture or construction purposes, some hardwoods are ideal for carving. If you want to make decorative wood furniture, it is best to opt for certain hardwood types.
Softwood comes from trees that usually have needles and cones. 80% of the timber we see in stores comes from softwood because these trees grow much faster and are more affordable. Softwoods are also more applicable in various parts of buildings because the wood is easier to shape.
Softwoods are mostly used in window and door frames, light furniture pieces that don’t carry too much weight, fiberboard, and paper. Softwood is one of the easier woods to use for decorative carvings. The wood is easier to cut into for shaping. Softwood is ideal for beginner carvers because it is easier to work with.
What Kind of Wood is Best for Carving?
Both softwood and hardwood can be used for carving. It is very important to consider the type of product you want to create before you choose your wood. Some wood types are unsuitable for some product types.
How to Choose Between Softwood and Hardwood
To find out whether you should be using softwood or hardwood, you should consider the application of your wood. Here is a quick guide to help you select the best wood type based on application.
Softwoods can be used for carving furniture items that don’t carry lots of weight. A good example is a decorative bedside table. For furniture pieces that endure frequent use and that need to carry a lot of weight, it is best to use a hardwood since these woods are tougher and more durable.
Wood dinnerware and serving ware are very popular right now. These products are also ideal for beginner carvers because they are relatively easy to make compared to highly decorative carvings such as sculptures.
For dinnerware, you need a wood that is hard and strong because these products cannot be treated with varnish since they need frequent washing. These products also need to be tough enough to handle lots of use. It is best to use hardwood types for dinnerware.
Jewelry and Storage Boxes
For jewelry boxes and storage boxes, you can use a softer wood because these items don’t carry much weight and don’t endure as much wear and tear. Softwood is ideal for these products because it is easy to work with and the wood is soft enough for you to add lots of decorative touches to your boxes.
Decorations And Wall Art
Decorations and wall art usually don’t endure much wear and tear and these items are not exposed to water too often. Softwood is ideal for making wooden decorations such as sculptures or vases.
These woods are soft and easy to carve.
It is easier to create delicate carvings in these woods and they can be treated with a varnish to enhance the durability of the wood since you won’t be eating from these woods.
Wood is also used for making small items such as jewelry. For tiny sculptures, you can use softwood that is easy to carve and manipulate. But if you are making items that need to be more durable and water or sweat resistant such as jewelry, it is better to use a hardwood that feels soft. These woods might be harder to carve but it will ensure good durability for your fine quality pieces.
Musical instruments might seem delicate and decorative but these items have to handle lots of wear and tear. It is best to use hardwood for all musical instruments you might want to make.
The Best Hardwood for Carving
If you want to make tougher products such as furniture or dinnerware, you should consider hardwood.
There are quite a few hardwoods that are soft enough for carving yet still strong and durable. These woods can greatly differ in grain, color, and texture.
Here is a quick look at the best hardwoods for carving;
Basswood is one of the best hardwoods for beginner carvers. The wood has a white color and has been used in woodworking since the oldest of times. Basswood has very little grain and is very soft to work with. The wood is quite malleable and it is affordable which makes it a popular pick for low-cost musical instruments.
Aspen wood also has a light or whitish color. Aspen is quite strong, yet soft enough for carving. The wood is fairly common and it is quite affordable. It is an ideal wood for making finely detailed items that need to be highly durable such as jewelry.
This wood has a darker or browner color compared to basswood and aspen. It has a beautiful grain and is relatively easy to carve. This is a good wood for beginners since it is quite soft and affordable. The wood also polishes quite nicely and is ideal for making decorative items. The only downside is that these wood pieces are vulnerable to insects which mean you are bound to find some wormholes in your wood.
Black walnut is more expensive compared to basswood and aspen. It is better equipped for skilled carvers because the wood is harder and requires the use of sharp tools. Black walnut offers a rich color and lots of visible grain. This wood is ideal for making decorative furniture or gunstocks that need to be durable.
Oak is one of the most popular woods for carving. The wood is very strong and sturdy and it offers a beautiful grain. Many prefer to use oak for carving furniture because of the natural beauty and durability of this wood. It is however a bit tough to work with which makes it better suited for advanced carvers.
Acacia is a good wood to use if you want to make serving ware. Acacia is very beautiful with its rich colors. It is also water-resistant and strong. The only downside is that acacia is very hard. You do need sharp tools for carving this wood by hand.
Many prefer to use acacia for turning works because the wood can be tough to hand carve.
The Best Softwood for Carving
Softwood is very easy to cut and shape. Many beginner carvers prefer to work with softwood because you don’t need extremely sharp tools or extreme force to cut these woods. Softwoods are also loved for sculpting or for making ornaments.
Here is a quick look at some of the best softwoods to use for carving.
White pine is a common wood used in furniture and decorative pieces. This wood is very durable and relatively hard for softwood, yet still soft enough for easy carving. White pine is ideal for advanced carvers who want to make quality pieces.
Cedar is good softwood if you want to create a decorative object or sculpture that is rich in color. This wood has a straight gain and offers a very aromatic smell. The wood is extremely soft (1 on a scale of 1 – 4) which makes it ideal for beginners or for advanced carvers who love to create highly decorative pieces.
Fir or Douglas Fir has a straight pronounced grain with a reddish-brown tint. This wood is sometimes used for building because it is strong and inexpensive. It doesn’t handle strain too well which means it is only suitable for non-weight bearing furniture. The wood is quite hard for softwood (4 on a scale of 1 – 4).
There are quite a few different types of pine wood. Varieties such as ponderosa, sugar, white and yellow are all great for making furniture.
Pinewood is easy to work with because most of these varieties are quite soft. The wood also handles strain fairly well which makes it suitable for furniture pieces such as chairs or sofas.
Redwood is a red-tinted wood with a straight grain. The wood is easy to work with because it is relatively soft (2 on a scale of 1 – 4). Redwood isn’t the most affordable wood on the market but it isn’t the most expensive either. These woods are commonly available in hardware stores.
While these are some of the best softwoods for carving, most carvers feel that just about any softwood is suitable for carving. As a beginner, you can look into buying any softwood until you master the technique of carving. Softwood won’t dull your tools and these woods are more commonly available and are generally more affordable compared to hardwood.
The most important thing to remember when choosing your softwood is that these woods are generally not the best for making furniture pieces or items that need to endure lots of wear and tear. These woods are best suited for furniture or decorative pieces that are not used every single day.
The Most Popular Woods for Carving
Basswood is one of the most popular woods in the world for decorative carving. This is universal, the most popular carving wood because the wood is soft, yet strong with a straight grain. Basswood doesn’t splinter too easily and it is fairly easy to find.
Here is a quick look at some other woods that are very popular amongst professional carvers.
This wood is very nice and soft. It holds details very well.
This softwood is softer than basswood and is often used for highly decorative or fine detailed cultures such as faces or portraits.
Butterwood has a very beautiful ashy look. The wood is soft and is also very popular amongst carvers. It won’t damage your carving equipment easily and it is a good wood for new to advanced carvers.
The type of wood you use can have a huge impact on your ability to master carving skills, and the final results you get from your product.
Generally, beginners should start with soft wood. Softwood is very affordable, it is easy to cut or carve and these woods hold details pretty well. As you improve with your carving skills, you can move on to a harder wood that is more durable.
For most highly decorative pieces, a softer wood type is ideal. For furniture pieces, it is best to stick to hardwood or all your efforts could be lost when a furniture piece breaks.