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What is the best wood for carving? Here are 4 of the best ones for beginners

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There are many different types of wood, and it’s important to know their qualities and characteristics. Each type has different textures, patterns, hardness, and other qualities that make carving different for each. That said, your question might be, “What is the best wood for carving?”

While it’s mostly a matter of preference, the best type of wood for carving may also depend on what the purpose will be. Here’s a list of different types of wood along with a description of their qualities:

#1 Basswood

Basswood, also known as Linden, is a deciduous tree that is common in the Northern and the Lake States. The average height of the tree is around 65 feet, with a diameter of 3-4 feet. It’s highly available; the prices are in the lower range, but the larger blocks are more expensive.

  • The wood is soft and light, but it is also close-grained. That makes it an excellent wood for hand carving because the close grain enables it to hold detail very well.
  • Unfortunately, it has poor steam bending quality, and it holds nails just fine. However, it does glue and finish well.
  • The sapwood is creamy or pale white, while the heartwood is light to reddish brown. Sometimes the sapwood and heartwood don’t have a clear definition.
  • Since basswood doesn’t have much grain pattern, it could look plain. That is why it is often painted to accentuate or emphasize carving details.

#2 Balsa

Balsa is a wood common in the tropical regions of the Americas, but it’s also grown in plantations. It can grow up to 60-90 feet in height and 3-4 feet in diameter. Of all the commercial woods, balsa is probably the softest and lightest. Most model airplanes use balsa, and it’s generally in many local craft or hobby stores.

  • Soft and light quality make it a great choice for carving. It’s generally easy to work with, but the low density and fuzzy surfaces can be difficult with dull cutters.
  • It cannot hold nails so gluing is better for joining.
  • Balsa stains and finishes very well.

#3 Butternut

Butternut, also called white walnut, is common in the Eastern United States. The tree can grow from 65-100 feet tall, and 2-3 feet in trunk diameter. Its heartwood is light to medium tan, and the sapwood has a pale, yellowish white color.

  • The wood has a beautiful color and grain, making it a favorite wood for carving.
  • Unfortunately, it’s prone to insect problems, and you will often find wormholes in the wood.
  • It may be a more difficult wood to work with for beginners, but it is also the most distinct one.
  • You can easily use both hand and machine tools to work this wood, but because it is soft, it may give fuzzy surfaces. Use fine-grit sandpaper.
  • Butternut works well with glue, stains, and finishing.

#4 White Pine

Under the pine category is the white pine wood. It is common in Eastern North America, also widely grown on plantations. The tree can be 65-100 feet tall, with a trunk diameter of 2-4 feet. White pine is widely used for construction lumber and is one of the common types of pine.

  • The sapwood is a pale yellow color, while the heartwood is light brown, sometimes reddish.
  • It’s an easy wood to work with hand and machine tools. It also glues and finishes well.
  • You can also use white pine wood for furniture and shelving units. For carving, it is harder than some of the wood above, but it holds detail very well.

Bottom Line

Carpenter Hand Carving Wood

There are many types of wood you can choose from if you want to carve. Basswood, balsa, butternut and white pine are just some of the more common ones. It may take some practices and a few trials before you figure out which one you want to work with more. But remember that aside from the wood, you will also need the right tools.

What did you think about this list? Also, we’d love to hear about your wood carving experience. Use the comment section below.





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