What is the Best Wood for Carving? — Discover Different Types of Wood for Your Projects (2023)

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Woodcarving seems to be a challenging task. This negative opinion makes aspiring woodcarvers anxious when starting. It demands time and energy, and when you are not using the right wood for the task, it can be even more difficult and frustrating. 

Considering the significance of selecting the right types of wood, I’d like to share some insights on the best wood options for carving. This information will hopefully help you master this craft more quickly.

Best Types of Wood for Carving

1. Basswood

One of the best wood for carving that can be used to create projects is basswood. Some even claim that this is the Holy Grail for woodcarvers and even for beginners. When I discovered that this particular type of wood is the favored choice among woodcarvers, it didn’t come as a surprise to us. Being seasoned experts in the field, I understand the unique qualities that make this wood highly sought after for carving purposes.

Basswood is a good woodworking material. It is easy to carve with. It gives off an aesthetic finish that would make wood designs look better. When I tried to carve a simple utensil design to test its softness, I was surprised to discover that it almost had no grain detail. Basswood is also odorless, so it’s very comfortable to work with. 

2. Oak

Oak is also one of the finest woods. This sturdy wood features very defined wood grains, making it ideal for making furniture. If you opt for oak, which is classified as a hardwood, I would recommend using power tools rather than hand tools for carving. Drawing from my extensive experience, I can assure you that leveraging more advanced tools will significantly ease the process of carving designs into this particular wood type.

Oak wood

Oak wood is highly resistant to water and absorbs moisture effectively, making it an ideal choice for crafting barrels and wine caskets. It is renowned for its durability and is favored by experienced woodworkers for its appealing aesthetics. However, it may not be the best option for ornamental pieces due to its specific characteristics.

3. Butternut

Butternut is another excellent wood for your wood carvings. It features a lighter color than walnut, maple, and mahogany but has a browner color than lime, aspen or basswood. Butternut also has a nice grain detail, making it an ideal choice for carving. This softwood takes stains well, so it’s an excellent option for producing kitchen items like spoons. Butternut is also suitable for whittling. 

4. Black Walnut

Black Walnut is also considered a hardwood like maple. However, this type of wood is more popular among woodcarvers. It is most commonly used for whittling because it features natural straight wood grain patterns. The direction of the grain patterns serves as a guide for an easier cutting process. As a result, this wood is one of the best for creating desks.

Black Walnut also comes with an excellent finish when carved, so it saves you time because you won’t have to do any post-processing after carving it. This wood is also waterproof and only produces a tolerable odor, ideal for any wood carving.

You might want to check out: The Best Wood Types for Making Bows 

Black Walnut

Factors to Consider In Choosing & Preparing Wood

Wood carving is one of the oldest types of art. When choosing and preparing wood for your woodworking projects, you need to consider a few essential factors. 

The experience and ability to choose the type of wood for your carving projects is as important as choosing your carving tools or instruments. Especially, if you are a beginner trying wood carving projects for the very first time. 

Carvers use wood carving equipment or instruments such as a special carving knife, a gouge with a curved cutting edge, a straight-edge chisel, mallets and hammers. 

And some carvers prefer to use the best electric wood carving tools.  

Determine the benefits of the wood

It is always best to choose the finest wood for your carvings. It is always best to determine the essential features and benefits it could give a carver. I suggest that you find durable, waterproof wood, moisture absorbent, and has a defined grain like maple wood.

These features must always match the project you intend to use them for. It is recommended to determine if you are going to use power tools or hand carving equipment. Also, consider the materials you intend to use for your wood projects. For instance, if you intend to use oil, don’t use oak because it could stain the wood.

hands on wooden table

Determine the items you intend to carve

From my years of expertise, I can tell you that furniture and decorative pieces have different demands. For those aiming to craft furniture or sculptures, I’d recommend hardwoods. On the other hand, if you’re looking to carve decorative items or smaller pieces like spoons, softwood is typically the better choice.  

Also, consider the types of tools that you would be using in carving your project. Choose a wood type that suits your intended design. Also, consider its color and other characteristics like growth rings. You can choose woods with white, reddish-brown, dark brown, or light brown.

Ensure the wood’s safety

If you’re a beginner, you shouldn’t only focus on the wood’s aesthetic finish or wood grains. I cannot stress enough the importance of choosing safe woods. Many woods can emit potent odors, which might be harmful. Always pay attention to the quality of the wood. An exterior flaw often hints at potential internal defects as well. Your safety and the quality of your work go hand in hand.

Wood has both advantages and drawbacks as a sculpture medium. Its fibrous strength can be carved more thinly and precisely than stone or animal bone. For large compositions, two or more pieces of wood may be carved then joined. Hardwoods are more difficult to sculpt but possess greater luster and endurance. At the same time, softwoods are easier to shape but less durable [1].

walnut wood


Is Pine a good wood for carving?

White Pine is a good wood for beginner carvers because it is soft. White pine also has a soft, straight grain texture, ideal for relief carving, whittling, and carving in the round. While most Pinewoods are so soft that they could only resist force less than 500 pounds, a Radiata Pine Wood can resist up to 710 pounds. Would you like to learn more about Pinewoods? Read my article to determine whether pine is a hardwood or a softwood.

What is the easiest wood to carve?

The easiest wood to carve is the basswood. It is the easiest wood to work with for carvers because of its fine grain texture. No wonder it’s a popular choice for your carvings. Like aspen, you can easily produce domestic utensils and decorative pieces using these malleable and inexpensive woods.

How long should wood dry before carving?

Before carving, you should air-dry the carving wood per inch of wood thickness for at least a year. Allowing the woods to air-dry in the prescribed time increases its usefulness and durability. Depending on the thickness, texture of the grain and wood species, the air-drying process must be done properly.

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Having conducted thorough research to identify the finest woods for carving, I’ve concluded that the choice of wood is pivotal in ensuring ease of use. Several viable options merit your consideration, including white oak, aspen, basswood, limewood, black walnut, and butternut. As an expert, I recommend selecting your wood based on the specific projects you have in mind. Each type offers distinct qualities and advantages, so aligning your choice with your carving intentions is crucial.

Robert Johnson is a passionate furniture maker & carpenter, sought after for his knowledge on the craft.
You've probably seen his down-to-earth wisdom in USA Today, Bobvila, Family Handyman, and The Spruce, where he has shared commentary and guidance on various woodworking topics.

Robert is the brain behind Sawinery, where he aims to share tips, tricks, and a passion for all things carpentry.
Robert Johnson
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