When it comes to carving, there are a few different kinds of wood you can use.

But, what is the best wood to carve? Well, that all depends on your desired carving project, skills, wood quality, and the tools at your disposal.

In this blog post, we’ll take a look at the best wood for carving and what makes each option unique.

So whether you’re looking for the easiest wood to carve or the most durable carving woods, we’ve got you covered.

Read along to learn;

  • What kind of wood is good for carving?
  • Top qualities of wood used for carving?
  • The battle of Hardwoods vs. Softwoods for carving.
  • How to soften wood for carving
  • Worst Woods to avoid

Let’s get started!

What is the Best Wood for Carving?

  1. BasswoodBest Wood for Hand Carving
  2. ​​Cherry WoodBest Wood for Power Carving
  3. Butternut woodBest Wood for Relief Carving
  4. PineThe Softest Wood for Carving
  5. Yellow CedarBest Hardwood for Carving
  6. Buckeye – Best wood for carving bowls
  7. Maple Best wood for carving with Dremel

What Makes a Good Carving Wood?

Image of what is the best wood for carving

So, what wood is best for carving?

Well, there are several factors to consider when choosing a good wood for carving. First off, you want a wood type with a dense wood grain pattern for aesthetic value. Otherwise, your carved items may not look very beautiful.

Additionally, you don’t want the carved products to absorb too much moisture once dried, as this increases the risk of warping and loss of shape. This is especially important when carving functional items such as a spoon or bowl.

Three other qualities to consider when selecting a good carving wood include;

  • Ease of carving: Carving isn’t very easy. It takes a lot of manual work and typically a lot of time too. Even a small item, such as a spoon, can take the better part of the day to curve. So, it’s in your best interests to work with a softer wood that’s easy to carve.
  • Fresher is better: Wood has the highest moisture content, thus easiest to work when it’s green and fresh. However, don’t forget to store it away and protect the carved items from rain and direct sunshine. Otherwise, it may crack badly. Alternatively, get kiln-dried wood and chop it into boards for carving.
  • Clean and straight: When you’re carving wood, you’re working with fibers. So, the process is a lot more enjoyable when the fibers aren’t broken by knots or other wood damages. To this end, it’s important to work with straight, knot-free branches or logs.

Top 11 Best Wood for Carving

There are many excellent types of wood for carving. So, which ones are the best? The following are the best choices for different wood carving projects;

1. Best Wood for Hand Carving – Basswood

Considered one of the best woods for wood carving, basswood, also popular as limewood, is the best wood for hand carving. The main reason is that basswood is extremely soft. It’s one of the softest softwoods with a Janka hardness of 410 lbf (1,800 N).

Better still, basswood has a nice interior wood art and absorbs stains well. So, you can easily change the color of your carvings.

The fine, even texture is another major selling point. It makes basswood quite forgiving in case of accidents. Above all, basswood is one of the most affordable woods.

Related Read: Balsa Vs Basswood

2. Best Wood for Power Carving – Cherry

It isn’t easy to pick the best woods for power carving because most woodcarvers use power tools anyway. So, the list would comprise anything from basswood to walnut.

However, if you’re looking for just one wood type that gives the best results when using power tools instead of hand tools, it’s hard to look past cherry, particularly the American Cherry.

American Cherry has a light pink to rich reddish-brown heartwood coveted by experienced woodcarvers and furniture makers worldwide.

Additionally, cherry wood takes stain and paint well, which could be a great feature if you’re looking to create an intricate carved piece.

The only downside is that cherrywood is hard and thus difficult to work with standard tools. However, the experience and final product are magnificent if you use power tools.

3. Best Wood Relief Carving – Butternut

Butternut is almost as easy to carve as basswood. It also has a wonderful wood grain pattern and a very attractive color.

The coarse texture with large straight wood grains makes it easy to work, while the heartwood is light brown, a color admired by most woodcarvers.

It’s another carving wood that takes cuts easily, allowing you to carve intricate figures on flat wood panels.

However, consider pine if you’re not a fan of wood sculpting using butternut.

4. The Softest Wood for Carving – Pine

Pine is yellow or reddish-white and darkens over time to a reddish-brown tone. It’s almost similar to basswood when carving in that it’s soft and carves easily, even with hand tools.

The only exception is that the grains can be a little stubborn. This means you should be alert to prevent splitting and chipping. However, it makes up for the poor wood grain pattern with greater durability.

White pine is particularly enticing. Everything from the color to the texture makes it a great choice for hand carving letters in wood. Above all, it’s very easily available throughout the US. Balsa is another excellent option.

5. The Best Hardwood for Carving – Yellow cedar

Cedar gives some of the best timber pieces for furniture and cabinet making. Woodworkers particularly love it for its weather resistance.

It easily withstands damp climates and isn’t affected much by exposure to strong sunshine. Cedar is also naturally insect-repellant and has a pleasant aroma that customers love.

For carving projects, we recommend yellow cedar. Yellow cedar has a nice straight wood grains density and good interior wood art. It also comes in a medium to fine texture and matures with age into stunning wood pieces.

Above all, it takes hand and power tools equally well.

6. The Best Cheap Wood for Carving – Aspen

 Aspens are medium-sized deciduous trees that grow taller than 80 feet, remaining fairly thin with trunk diameters around a foot and a half. Interestingly, the trees can grow for 150 years before reaching the end of their lifespans. 

Why use aspen wood for carving? Many woodcarvers love aspen wood because it’s one of the easiest woods to work with. It is relatively soft, with straight grains that offer little resistance or interference to carving tools.

Moreover, aspen is non-resinous thus lacks the knots that often make options such as pine difficult to carve. Even better, aspen wood is very affordable.

7. The best Wood for Dremel Carving – Maple

Maple is one of the most popular hardwoods on the planet and is regularly used in furniture making, cabinetry, and even building and construction. However, that’s not all. Maple is also one of the best woods for carving, especially for Dremel carving.

Why? Because maple wood has a fine texture with straight grains that form beautiful carvings with different patterns but requires reliable machining to produce the best outcome.

Additionally, who doesn’t know about the durability of maple wood? Maple excellently resists environmental elements like insect attacks, moisture, and direct sunshine.

8. The Best Wood for CNC Carving – Beech

Although not a carver’s choice for working with hand tools, beech can be easily shaped with power tools to create elegant items. It is a fairly cheap strong wood that easily bends to form legs of chairs and tables. (Here’s a guide on how to bend wood with water.)

Beech also doesn’t splinter easily, making it ideal for making goblets and turned products. Above all, beechwood is odorless, hence a good candidate for carving wooden kitchenware, including spoons, plates, and cutting boards.

The only downside is that its hardness can cause occasional chipping during carving. However, you don’t have to worry too much if using CNC carving tools.

9. The Best Wood for Bowl Carving – Buckeye

Cottonwood, soft maple, butternut, river bitch, and buckeye are good candidates for bowl carving. However, if you can only pick one, consider buckeye.

Buckeye is a lightweight but firm-textured hardwood. In fact, the yellow buckeye is one of the softest and lightest hardwoods native to the United States. Unfortunately, it also ranks very poorly in workability.

However, the same qualities make it one of the best for low-cost carving projects, such as bowl carving. It has a “rubbery” and not stiff or crisp feel, making it the perfect wood for carving bowls.

10. The Best Carving Wood for Beginners – American White Ash

American white ash is not as widely used in carving as the other options on this list. However, it ranks top for selected wood carving projects, especially beginner projects.

For one, the American white ash boasts a wonderful texture that makes it easy to work. The coarse straight grain pattern with a coarse uniform texture makes it easy to curve for newbies.

Additionally, it has a beautiful heartwood that ranges from faded brown to a crisp light brown and similarly striking whiting sapwood. These two colors are excellent for wood carving projects.

11. The Best Wood for Luxury Carving – Black Walnut

Why use black walnut wood for carving? Well, Black walnut is reserved for the most luxurious woodworking applications. And two qualities that make it the perfect wood for luxury carving are appearance and durability.

First, it has a naturally rich, dark, chocolate-brown color that instantly screams – luxury! The dense wavy grains pattern complements the wood’s natural color, giving walnut a deep, lustrous look.

Additionally, walnut is extremely durable. It doesn’t warp even in high-humidity or hot conditions and is highly resistant to rotting.

So, walnut carvings, and even furniture, easily last a lifetime. The only downside is that walnut wood comes with a steep price tag.

Best Carving Woods Comparison Table

Janka harness from the softest to the hardest.

Wood TypeJanka Values
Buckeye350 lbf
Aspen380 lbf
Basswood 410 lbf
Butternut490 lbf
Yellow cedar580 lbf
Maple 850 lbf
Cherry 890 lbf
Black walnut1010 lbf
Beech 1300 lbf
American white ash1320 lbf
Pine 1570 lbf
Janka hardness for the wood used for carving

Hardwoods vs. Softwoods for Carving: Which is the Best Wood to Carve?

Hardwoods and softwoods are used almost equally in wood carving. However, both options also present carvers with various challenges. The following section summarizes the pros and cons of working with each wood type, so you’re aware.

Hardwoods for Carving Pros

  • High density
  • Great fire resistance
  • Extremely decay-resistant
  • Easy to maintain

Hardwood carving Cons

  • Grow slowly
  • Difficult to cut
  • Expensive

Softwoods for Carving Pros

Softwood for Carving Cons

  • Low density
  • Not resistant to fire
  • Advantages
  • Drawbacks

How to Soften Wood for Carving

If you insist on using hardwood or one of the harder softwoods for carving, you should at least know how to soften the wood for carving. There are four ways to do so;

  • Spray it with an alcohol-water solution
  • Spray it with WD-40
  • Dip the wood in cold or boiling water
  • Treat the wood with denatured alcohol

Carving Tips for the Best Results

Selecting the best wood for carving and softening the lumber are the first (and easy) steps in wood carving. Hard work begins when actual carving starts.

The following are several tips to help you along;

  • Understand the strengths and weaknesses of the chosen wood type
  • Keep your tool sharp, including power tools
  • Learn proportions
  • Learn wood pyrography at the same time
  • Make sure you have enough space
  • Understand that perfection only comes with practice
  • Wear the best gloves for wood carving when using knives.

Worst Wood to Carve

If you’ve ever tried to carve a piece of wood, you know that some woods are much easier to work with than others. Here are the top 3 kinds of wood to avoid.

Carvable Wood FAQs

Is oak good for carving?

Yes, oakwood is an excellent choice for wood carving project. It is strong and sturdy wood with fine, well-defined grains. All these features are critical when selecting wood for carving.

What is the best hardwood for carving?

Basswood, aspen, butternut, and black walnut are, by far, the best hardwoods for carving. Just keep in mind that not all these hardwoods are the same. For instance, some only carve wood well with power tools.

What is the best wood for carving figures?

Basswood is the most popular choice used for carving figures. This is due to its close grain, making it easy to carve without splitting or splintering. Plus, basswood is a very soft wood, so it’s easy to work with hand tools.

What is the best wood for carving signs?

One of the best woods for carving signs is pine. Pine has a soft, easy-to-carve texture and produces a pleasant, slightly sweet aroma when carved. It also has a relatively short grain, which makes it less likely to split when carved.

What is the best wood for chip carving?

The best wood for chip carving is basswood. It’s a straight-grained, unfigured wood that carves beautifully. it is an excellent choice for detailed work and can be easily found at most craft stores. Basswood is also relatively soft and easy to work with, so you can carve intricate designs without fear of damaging your tools.

Related: The best wood for tomahawk handle

What is the best wood for spoon carving?

If you’re looking for the best wood for spoon carving, you can’t go wrong with silver maple. This type of wood is extremely strong and durable, yet still easy to carve. It’s also one of the most beautiful woods out there, so your spoon will be sure to stand out from the rest. Here are other woods for cooking spoons.

What is the easiest wood to carve?

Balsa and pine are considered the softest woods to carve. Balsa, for instance, only has a resistance of 400 Newtons, making it very easy to shape into intricate patterns.

What’s the best wood to whittle?

Silver birch, willow wood, sycamore, alder, and lime are considered easiest to whittle. However, if you must pick just one, silver wattle takes the cake. It whittles effortlessly. Remember to use the best knife for whittling for exceptional results.

Read about: Is sycamore a hardwood type?

Is basswood good for carving?

Yes. In fact, basswood is one of the most popular woods for carving universally. It’s a softwood that makes carving easy while allowing the woodcarvers to emphasize the fine details.

Where can I get wood for carving?

Buying wood for carving can be done from offline and online hardware stores. You can get a block of wood for carving from Amazon, Lowes, Woodcraft and Home Depot. (Check out our other article, “Will Home Depot cut wood for you?”)

Is pine good for carving?

Yes. Like most softwoods, pine carves with minimal effort. In fact, it’s one of the few wood types that you can easily carve with hand tools. It’s best suited for carving in the round, relief carving, and whittling. With the right whittling kits for beginners, like the best paint pens for calligraphy on wood, you can create beautiful and useful objects from pinewood.

Is poplar good for carving?

Yes, poplar, especially yellow poplar, is an excellent choice for carving. First, it is among the softest hardwoods, making carving easy. Additionally, it has a uniform, straight grain pattern that makes the wood easy to cut.

Is balsa good for carving?

Yes, balsa wood is excellent for carving, especially for beginners who want to start whittling a piece of stick. It is soft enough to carve with most basic tools. Balsa wood is also very lightweight, which makes carving even easier.

Is limewood good for carving?

Yes, lime is a good choice for wood carving. It’s one of the easiest hardwoods to work on as it easily takes details. Lime also has straight grains that make carving easy.

Final Thoughts on the Best Type of Wood for Carving 

There you go! Now you know the best wood to carve. Generally, basswood, butternut, and yellow pine are the best woods for carving.

However, maple, oak, ash, and walnut can prove excellent choices for specific wood carving projects. In case you are a beginner and want to learn about carving, here’s how to commence wood carving.

Because you now know the best wood for carving, you might also want to check out our article on “Can I put wood in recycle bin?” to learn more about proper wood disposal.

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