10 Best Types of Wood for Carving (Spoons, Bowls, Walking Sticks & More)


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Wood carving is a specialized field of woodworking that involves crafting wood into different shapes by hand. It is an art that every woodworker may not be able to master. Woodcarvers may only use hand tools or take the help of power tools. You can learn more about different types of woodcarving chisels in another of our informative posts.

You can create decorative objects through whittling, or you may want to carve useful objects like kitchen items such as wooden spoons and spatulas. Or, you might be more ambitious and churn out sculptures by wielding a chainsaw.

You need to use suitable wood for any carving that you want to do. Here, we highlight the best types of wood for carving.

Wooden bowl carved from Elm tree
Wooden bowl carved from Elm tree (Image: Neil Cummings)

Types of Wood for Carving

Fruitwoods

Cherry wood bowl
Cherry wood bowl (Image: Joe Nestlerode)

Fruit tree woods like apple, cherry, pear, and apricot are all fine-grained woods. They make excellent carved bowls, dishes, and spoons. The close grain of fruitwoods also makes functional waterproof vessels like vases, pots, and urns. If you use this category of wood for carving, you would be well-advised to carve it when it is still a bit green. The reason for carving green fruitwood is because it tends to become harder and it may crack as it dries.

European lime

This wood serves equally well for amateur or professional carvers. European lime has a pale white or cream color, and its subtle growth rings make it a popular choice for carvers. With suitable tools that are sharp enough, you can create some intricate carving work. We can see examples of European lime Windsor Castle and St. Paul’s Cathedral among other famous buildings.

Oak

Spalted oak bowl
Spalted oak bowl (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Oak is an all-time favorite amongst woodcarvers. The reason for its popularity is its strength, durability, and vibrant color. The fine uniform grain stands out when the wood is polished due to its close pores. White oak is used to make whiskey barrels for fermenting whiskey and wine. Hence, it is also commonly referred to as whiskey barrel wood. Although you may get good results, oak is considered as one of the most difficult woods to carve because it is so hard.

White Pine

Pine is considered as a difficult wood to carve, but white pine is softer and relatively easier for making carvings. We know pine more as lumber for construction as well as in furniture making. However, the softer variety of this wood, white pine is suitable for carving as well, because it retains its shape adequately. It is also a popular choice for chainsaw carving. However, for best results, as with fruitwoods, white pine needs to be a bit green when worked. It should also preferably be wet for best results.

Mahogany

Mahogany bowl
Mahogany bowl (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

This wood has a medium hardness and is suitable for different carving techniques. Whatever technique you use, mahogany always brings satisfactory results. It is common to use mahogany as a base material. The reddish shade of mahogany gives it an attractive finish, and you don’t need to work much in finishing it.

Basswood

Basswood carved spoon
Basswood carved spoon (Image: eileenmak)

Basswood is among the easiest types of wood to carve with, and if you are a beginner, you could start with this type of wood. The wood is soft and forgiving, meaning that there will be less wear and tear on your tools. The wood takes stain pretty well, and you can quickly whittle with it or bring out the most exquisite details in relief carving. Basswood is one of the few kinds of wood where you can carve against the grain, although you would do well to carve along the grain.

Butternut

Butternut ladle
Butternut ladle (Image: inlandcoast)

This wood is also called white walnut or oil nut. The vibrant, tan color of butternut wood makes it ideal for beginners in carving. The soft, straight-grained texture makes it easy to carve and gouge without fear of cracking. Butternut also takes stains beautifully and is almost as easy as basswood to use. However, because this variety of wood tends to develop fungus quickly, it is becoming difficult to find nowadays.

Black Walnut

Black Walnut condiment server
Black Walnut condiment server (Image: Mad Mod Smith)

The rich grain and dark color of black walnut make it popular among woodcarvers. However, black walnut is a difficult one to carve due to its hardness and thereby its tendency to crack. We use this wood a lot in relief carvings, but it is not wood for beginners. You need to use tools of good quality, and keep them well-sharpened and properly maintained to reduce the strain on your wrists and hands.

Balsa

Balsa wood carving
Balsa wood carving (Image: Creative Tools)

This lightweight, softwood is suitable for whittling. Balsa wood is another wood that is good for beginners. You can do crafting and modeling with this wood and dollhouses, and ornaments turn out quite nicely as well. Balsa wood splinters easily, so you need to sand the edges to round them off to avoid splintering.

Aspen

Aspen wood bowl
Aspen wood bowl (Image: Kathy Knorr)

If you are looking for another softwood to carve with, aspen would probably be a perfect fit. Aspen is very soft has a Janka rating even softer than basswood. This wood has a straight and fine-grained wood that doesn’t split easily. You need to keep an eye on your blades while carving aspen because it tends to fuzz a bit if you use blunt blades. Aspen has a light color, so if you are looking for a darker wood, then you may have to go in for mahogany or walnut. It is readily available all over the United States.

Conclusion

You can find wood in a variety of colors and textures. Whether you use it to make furniture, use it on construction sites or for carving, the wood may vary. Different types of wood behave differently in various applications. Hence, it would help if you know how the wood will be used. Wood that is suitable for one application may not serve well for another purpose.

With carving, if you are a beginner, it is best to start out with the softest woods like basswood, butternut, or balsa. Of course, if you are going to be making carved furniture, then you should use harder wood like oak. By the time you start working on sculptural furniture, you should be quite accomplished in wood carving. Keep trying out carving with different types of wood to discover the best types of wood for carving.

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