Is Aspen Wood Good for Carving? Is it a Hardwood or Softwood?

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Aspen wood is indeed a suitable choice for carving, especially for beginner carvers. Its relatively soft and even texture makes it easy to work with, and it can hold intricate details well.

Aspen is commonly used for carving decorative items, figurines, and even relief carvings. Its pale color and fine grain also allow for intricate painting and finishing. So, if you’re a beginner looking to start carving, aspen wood can be a good option to practice your carving skills on.

About Aspen Wood and Its Origin

The aspen tree is commonly found in countries with cold temperatures or cool summers, such as Canada, Europe, and North America. The individual tree ranges from 60 to 80 feet tall, with a trunk diameter of one and a half feet. 

You can quickly identify it, especially during autumn, with the glowing yellow-gold leaves and white bark. Its creamy white color makes it a beautiful wood for carving.

Is it a Hardwood Or Softwood?

So, is aspen a hardwood or softwood? To clarify, aspen is a diffuse-porous hardwood with a Janka hardness of 430 lbf, making it excellent wood for wood. 

piles of aspen wood

Its lumber is an excellent food source for insects and animal species such as seagulls, rabbits, and quails. Its leave can be fed to sheep and goats, while some manufacturers use aspen wood for paper-making.

Due to slow or partial drying, you can use it as firewood. Moreover, you can use it as matches, boxes, wall coverings, and toothpicks. But you cannot rely on it for woodworking that needs more durability due to its being lightweight.

Is Aspen Wood Easy To Carve?

Aspen trees can be carved easily without gaining splinters. You can cut and shape accurately, following the designs and shapes you desire for your carved wood projects. You can nail and screw it without chipping it because it has good stability. 

It’s among the popular wood choices of most woodworkers, given the light brown to white shade or creamy color of its heartwood. The soft wood wool and its accessibility make it ideal for carving aspen wood projects. 

It’s lightweight and affordable, making it easy to stain and paint well. Also, it is one of the wood with excellent finishing properties.

Carving bowl using aspen wood

Is Aspen Good For Woodworking? + Best Projects to Use Aspen

Aspen wood is ideal for woodworking, particularly for carving aspen wood, because it’s soft and more lightweight than oak and walnut. You can use it for small and large-scale furniture and decorative items. 

You can have kitchen fittings, jewelry boxes, and wood figurines for small-scale projects. When carving small-scale projects, you need a few basic chisels. The carver’s tools can handle intricate details and shapes of carved wood.

Aspen is a strong wood suitable for larger-scale carvings and outdoor furniture such as light-duty furniture, garden sculptures, birdhouses, and decorations. It can withstand prolonged and extreme weather conditions.

You can also have aspen wood for carving decorative items such as clocks and picture frames. Other wood decorations are unique characters that can be displayed.

Aspen Wood Varieties for Carving

Because its trees can survive for almost 150 years, many varieties exist. But here are the common varieties of aspen wood for carving.

Piles of aspen lumbers

Quaking or Trembling Aspen (Populus Tremuloides)

This type of plant exhibits trembling leaves that have a remarkable ability to rotate and track sunlight, aiding in the process of photosynthesis, all thanks to its flexible petioles.

Big Tooth Aspen (Populus Grandidentata)

Aspen also has a variety known as American Aspen or Canadian Poplar. These are medium-sized trees with smooth thin bark that turns grey from olive-green once matured after 30 years. 

You can also refer to this tree as “quaking aspen” because of the fluttering sound from its leaves due to the slightest breeze.

European/Common Aspen (Populus Tremula)

Another variety is the Eurasian which thrived in colder parts of Russia, Asia, and Europe. This variety can be distinguished from others with its roughly toothed leaves.

Other Aspen Varieties

Other varieties include Korean Aspen (Populus Davidians), Chinese Aspen (Populus Adenopada), and Japanese Aspen (Populus Sieboldil).

holding aspen wood

These varieties offer the same characteristics as the Western varieties. They only differ in color, size, and lifespan because of the environmental conditions and soil quality.

Advantages of Aspen Wood in Wood Carving

Excellent Finishing Properties

Aspen offers excellent finishing properties because it has tiny wood pores, making a consistent penetration of stain or paint on the surface. Aspen wood stains well and pre-stain wood conditioning is optional to avoid staining mistakes. 

But you can get a flat finish without wood conditioning with no streaks and blotches. For the best result, apply a primer to your wood projects to keep your piece in good condition. 

Free from Splintering

Aspen is chip free or does not split because it has excellent dimensional stability. You can use different chiseling and whittling tools but ensure it is sharpened to achieve a sharp and smooth edge. 

Attractive (Natural Lighter Color)

The natural lighter color of aspen wood makes it attractive, especially if you stain it with a transparent finish. In carving [1] projects, appearance is essential, particularly white to light brown. 


Aspen is inexpensive yet a quality carving wood. But despite being affordable, these are the best woods because it is easy to sculpt and durable at the same time.

Aspen wood texture


Aspen is a fine and softer wood than oak and walnut, which is essential when making intricate designs or delicate details.

Straight Grain

Aspen has a fine and straight grain and is considered a non-gum wood, which offers a good absorption of stains or paint. 

Good Scent

Aspen wood offers a good scent or unpleasant odor, not ideal for handmade children’s toys, bowls, and baskets used for food. Also, a carved piece from Aspen does not taste foul or bad.

Disadvantages of Using Aspen For Carving

Not Very Durable

You can carve almost anything using aspen wood, but there are limitations because it has poor bending strength and shock resistance.


The softness of aspen could be a disadvantage for large-scale projects requiring excellent stability and strength. It’ll be challenging to carve some intricate details or if your desired results contain complex shapes and cuts.

cleaning aspen wood

Is Aspen Wood Good For Whittling and Spoon Carving?

Aspen is not ideal for spoon carving for daily use because it has low gravity and is highly flammable. This wood contains oils and food particles, which may turn rancid once it goes inside and is frequently washed.

However, you can use aspen wood as long as for decorative purposes. If you carve a wooden spoon, you can use maple, birch, cherry, walnut, and apple.

When it comes to whittling, you can use it but ensure to use sharp tools to cut and shape the wood. Although it’s soft than other hardwoods, it does not split easily. Apply proper sealing and finishing. This will avoid the early decay and rotting of the wood.

Carving Tips When Using Aspen Wood

Tools Should Be Well-Sharpened

You can achieve your desired wood carving results if your tools are well-sharpened before cutting and shaping the wood. This prevents unnecessary splinters and wood chipping, although the wood is splinter-free.

Understand the Wood Proportions

Successful carving of aspen wood includes a complete understanding of the proportions required. This will save time and give you focus on the parts of the wood you will carve.

Carving edge bowl using aspen wood

Preserve Aspen Wood Properly

If aspen has been properly preserved, it can tolerate harsh elements causing it to rot and decay. You can apply a high-quality paint, sealer, or stain to your wood. 

This will make your wood resistant to moisture, insect attacks, and extreme weather conditions, particularly outdoor uses.

Don’t Bend Aspen Wood

The bending strength of aspen is 8,400 psi which is lower than other hardwoods. So, refrain from excessive bending to prevent cracking. This wood has poor shock resistance making it easier to shape with lighter force and a few sharp carving tools.

Aspen Wood Alternatives for Carving and How They Compare


Aspen wood is known for its smooth texture and light color, making it a popular choice for carving projects. However, it’s important to note that Aspen wood is highly combustible and can be prone to cracking if too much force is applied during carving.


Butternut is another perfect choice that can be your alternative for wood carving. You can easily sculpt this wood because it has softwood fiber. It has a darker brown color than aspen wood.


Black walnut wood can be challenging to carve, but its color offers a more profound and attractive appearance. You can produce a creative wood piece using this wood.

Walnut wood texture


Another alternative to aspen for carving is basswood. Basswood is known for producing high-quality wood pieces, and it is an affordable option. This wood is commonly used for making musical instruments like guitars and woodwinds due to its favorable carving properties.

Oak Wood

Oak is generally considered to be more challenging to carve than aspen. For beginners who may make mistakes during carving, working with tougher wood like oak can result in less wasted material.


All things considered, it’s evident that aspen wood is an excellent choice for wood carving. With its favorable characteristics and versatility, aspen wood can be a top pick for your carving projects. 

Choosing aspen over other wood types can provide you with distinct advantages and help you achieve superior results in your carving endeavors.

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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