Wood carving refers to the practice of carving an ornamental or scriptural figure out of wood using specific tools and skills.
There are hundreds of species, out of which only a few are suitable for carving. Timber species that are considered best for carving usually have a closed or dense grain and do not split or crack easily. These include hardwoods like oak, black walnut, aspen, and basswood and some softwoods like white pine and cedar.
Whether you’re looking for the best wood for carving or want to know about the things to look for in a carving timber, here’s everything you need.
Note: Cameroon Timber Export SARL is a leading provider and exporter of hardwoods, softwoods and timber around the world. We deal in various kinds of timber species. Check out our website for details.
Key Characteristics for Optimal Carving Wood
Wondering what to look for when buying carving timber? Here are the most common properties of wood that can produce amazing results.
Hardness – Timber intended to be used for carving must have a moderate hardness so that they can be cut and carved easily. Closed and straight grain are preferred. Softwoods are easier to carve and shape and are preferred by beginners.
Durability – Durability is an important factor. The timber must be strong and stable and able to withstand intricate work without damage.
Resistance to insects, splitting and cracking – The timber should ideally be resistant to insect attack so the wood doesn’t damage for a long time even when used in the open.
Workability – It should be easy to work with and open to intricate details. It should not split or crack easily.
Density – Carving woods with hands and chisels must be softer with low to moderate density. Wood with higher density may require the use of power tools.
Attractive colour – Finally, the timber should be attractive with colours ranging from dark brown to black. Light-coloured woods should be easy to paint or stain.
Many carvers and woodworkers choose green or fresh lumber, because green wood is soft and easy to carve. But it also has some disadvantages which you should know about before using green timber.
Green Wood Vs. Dried Wood Carving
Green wood refers to timber that has been freshly cut from a tree. It has not dried yet. Due to the high moisture content in the green wood, it is rather soft, which makes it easy to carve.
Should you use green lumber for carving?
Well, yes and no. There are both advantages and disadvantages to using freshly cut timber.
In terms of pros, green wood is easier to carve than dried wood, is somewhat resistant to splitting, has great workability and enhanced grain visibility, and is easily and readily accessible.
In terms of cons, it might be weaker and less durable due to the higher moisture content, takes a long time to dry, is prone to cracking and checking, and might decay sooner than expected.
Which are the Best Wood for Carving?
Whether you are doing wood carving as a hobby or as a profession, it helps to know about the various properties of different kinds of timber. While almost all woods can be carved, not all are easy or convenient. Here are some of the best wood types perfect for carving:
African Blackwood is one of the hardest and densest woods in the world. It is known for its outstanding strength and stability, which make it suitable for carving. It has a fine texture and a beautiful dark appearance, which make African Blackwood carvings look incredible even without painting. It can be polished to a smooth, attractive finish. The examples include statues, bowls, wine glasses, utensils, tool handles, sculptures, spoons, and more.
The wood is however difficult to work with due to its high density. African hardwood is also very expensive and difficult to find because it grows slowly and only in limited regions.
Ebony is another very hard and high-quality wood that produces outstanding results. However, like African blackwood, ebony wood is also very hard to work with and may need power tools for efficient carving. It is also an expensive timber due to high demand and low availability and is used only in premium works. It is a smooth and beautiful timber, almost fully black with a stunning texture, which works well even without polishing.
Butternut, also known as white walnut, is another popular hardwood for carving. Despite being hardwood, it’s rather soft and has a low density with typically straight grain. Carving blanks are easily available and inexpensive. It is most commonly used by beginners. It is brownish-coloured and shares properties with walnut wood. It’s only moderately durable and prone to attack by worms. The timber is fairly easy to work with and carves nicely. It also polishes rather well.
Oak is a well-known hardwood used mainly for furniture. But it’s also commonly used for carving because of its incredible strength and sturdiness. Oak is a durable wood with a beautiful appearance and a well-defined grain, which makes it a fine wood for carving. Oak timber is usually carved into furniture, kitchen items, and tool handles.
Black walnut is a popular hardwood and a common but expensive choice for wood carving. It’s a strong and durable timber and has an awesome dark appearance that goes nicely with any interior design. It’s a really hard and dense wood with good resistance to splitting and cracking when being carved, but it can be difficult to work with and may require sharp tools or power tools for carving. Black walnut is used for everything, from furniture to interior, millwork, & cabinets. The carved timber looks awesome, even better with polishing.
Basswood is a hardwood that is soft with a fine texture and is fairly easy to work with, which makes it perfect for carving. The dried timber is strong and stable and also very light to handle. Its pale, light colour makes the wood easy to paint and colour. Basswood is considered one of the best choices for wood carving beginners because it’s easy to work with, cut and carve. It has been used for wood carving for ages. It is also less expensive than alternatives like ebony and also easily available. Basswood is mainly used for making the carved parts of musical instruments, guitars, and electric basses.
Aspen is a soft hardwood just like basswood and butternut. It’s easy to carve with beautiful detailing. The white colored timber has a straight grain, which makes carving easy and prominent. The timber is also favoured by beginners because it is cheap and easily available. Aspen wood blacks can be found at your local hobby shop easily. If you want to buy in bulk, look for a wholesaler.
Softwoods are favoured over most hardwoods because they being soft are easier to carve and work with. However, not all softwoods are ideal for carving because carving wood must also have good stability and some durability. A number of softwoods, including white pine and cedar are considered the best carving wood.
White pine is particularly suitable for beginners. It is soft with a light cream colour and a medium grain. The timber holds details well, which is crucial for carving. It’s particularly preferred for round carving, relief carving, and whittling. Chip carving is not recommended. Cedar is a strong and durable softwood used for carving. It has good workability and is easy to handle.
Conclusion – Choosing the Best Wood for Carving
The right type of carving wood also depends on the carver and their method of carving. There are so many options available that you can try multiple woods in order to find what best suits your style and needs.
If you want to buy timber online at the best price, please visit our official website to explore our wide range of softwood and hardwood species. All our wood is sustainably-sourced and available in various sizes and is ready to ship worldwide. Contact us today for a free quote.