Are you looking for the best hardwood for carving? Wood carving is a popular and age-old pastime. For some, this skill has furnished homes, whilst for others, it has become a lucrative business. To carve effectively, it’s essential to know which wood to use as well as the tools to use. 

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There are many wood types to choose from, and yet not all of them are ideal for carving. Hardwood is a common choice for a lot of carving projects. In this article, we take a look at the best hardwood for carving. The specific one that you choose needs to have certain characteristics that we will explore. Let’s dive right in shall we?

List of Our Picks  

Do you need a quick guide to buying the best hardwood for carving? There are a few things that you will need to take into consideration. It’s essential to think about the projects that you intend to carve. Next, choose a wood that will be easy to carve into. If you will require detailing, look for a wood that holds detail well enough. 

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Take a look at the grain of the wood, because this determines the finish. Also, check and make sure that the wood is safe enough to use. If it’s for cooking utensils, then make sure that it’s safe to have near your mouth. Also, look to make sure that the wood does not have defects that can make it challenging to carve. The straighter the grain, the easier it will be to carve.

Round Up of the Best Hardwood for Carving

Butternut

Butternut wood blanks

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Butternut wood is a hardwood that is low in density, especially when you compare with other hardwoods. It’s easy to dry, which is an excellent trait for wood carving because it means that you will not have instances of blue staining. Butternut wood also does not warp much, so you are assured that the wood will maintain its shape.

The great thing about butternut wood is that it is very stable and will not crack under pressure, which is essential when you carve. It has a straight grain and also minimal shrinkage. As much as it’s a hardwood, butternut is still not as strong as black walnut or other hardwoods.

Pros 

  • It’s fast-drying
  • It has low shrinkage
  • It has a straight grain
  • The wood has a pleasant color when it is finished and sanded down. 
  • It’s easy to cut through.

Cons 

  • It is not as durable as other hardwoods
  • It has a little stiffness.

Walnut

Walnut Carving Blanks

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Walnut is one of the more durable and popular hardwoods. It is dark and has a straight grain. It is opaque in color and has a beautiful ability to resist moisture. This makes it a great material to make kitchen utensils such as spoons, that are frequently in contact with moisture. Walnut is a durable material, and once you are done carving, it needs very little attention.

When you carve anything out of walnut, you are almost sure that you are going to have it for a very long time. It’s a stable and durable wood. It is heavy and makes good furniture. It has minimal shrinkage and also resists warping.

Pros

  • It is durable 
  • it resists moisture.
  • It looks good
  • It has a straight grain.

Cons 

  • It’s difficult to cut into
  • You need to make sure that you cut along the grain.

Maple

Maple Wood Blanks

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Maple is a popular type of wood; however, it needs a carver who knows their way around wood. The grain can be wavy. This makes it difficult to carve some projects that require a straighter grain, like spoons. Maple changes its shape a bit when it comes in contact with moisture. This means that it is best used for indoor carvings rather than outdoor. 

Some people are allergic to maple, so before you choose to use it, make sure that you are not one of those people. Maple wood is hard, and hence should be carved only along the grain to avoid cracking the wood. This is the type of wood that needs a level of expertise. You will find it used for furniture, flooring, cabinets, and other indoor furnishings that require a detailed clean look.

Pros

  • It’s durable
  • It’s appealing to look at
  • It stains well

Cons 

  • It changes its change when in contact with moisture
  • It can trigger allergies

Red Oak

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This hardwood lives up to its name. It is hard and needs a level of expertise that a beginner may not have. It is also another popular hardwood, and it comes from the red oak tree. The wood is coarse. The color is intense, but at the same time, it is not universal. Its intensity depends on where the tree was grown. 

Its natural look is pleasing enough so much that it will not need too much work in terms of coloring and staining it. Red oak is exceptionally durable. You can have a red oak carving being passed down generations. If you take care of it properly, it will last you through the years. It is heavy and often used for things such as railway lumbar, door handles, and flooring amongst other carvings.

Pros 

  • It is highly durable
  • It is heavy
  • It has open pores, and this makes it easy to stain.

Cons 

  • It is not recommended for outdoor use. 
  • It is not water-resistant.

Mahogany

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If you’re looking for straight grain hardwood, then you will like Mahogany. It is a sought after hardwood because it looks good and is durable. You can carve both along the grain and across it. Mahogany is a stable wood that stains well. This means that it is a great wood type for a variety of decorative projects. 

You also don’t have to worry about reactions, because it has a weak scent, which is not too overpowering and is not likely to cause an allergic reaction. Because of this, it is considered to be one of the safest woods to use, especially around the kitchen or on indoor carvings.

Pros 

  • It is durable
  • It has a rich color
  • It is affordable even though it is an excellent quality
  • It doesn’t fade easily

Cons 

  • It is difficult to cut
  • The dark color of the wood quickly shows dust.

Buyer’s Guide

Picking out the right hardwood for your project is vital. It can be the difference between a masterpiece, and carving has gone wrong. A particular type of wood may be suitable for one thing but not right for another. You must watch out for specific characteristics in the wood. 

The first thing you need to do is to know the projects that you think you will be carving and what type of wood it will need. Then check out the grain of the wood and ensure that it will give you the desired design once you are done. The wood grain determines the finish. So if the wood has a wavy grain, then that’s what it will look like when it is finished. 

Find out also about the durability of the wood and if it will suit the purpose. Some wood is water-resistant, which makes it a good fit for outdoor furniture. Meanwhile, some wood types do not react well to water, making it a bad fit for kitchen utensils or poolside furniture. You also want to find out how the wood reacts with different elements such as heat and rain. This will help you know where and how you can place the finished product.

You also want to ensure that the wood can be worked with. Experienced carvers can only use some hardwood; others, it ends up being a mess. If you are just starting, you may want to go for a hardwood that is soft and that you can work with such as basswood.

Inspect the wood before you carve. If it has a lot of defects, it may be challenging to work with. Different types of wood look different. Some have a rich color, whilst others are light. This is another determining factor in the wood that you choose. Furthermore, you need to think about the properties of the hardwood in question. 

The wood that you choose to get is a percentage of what you need to get your carving right. Sharp tools are a big part of this. Using dull tools will only frustrate you and give you a warped result. The hardwood that you get may require that you use power tools in addition to hand tools because some wood is more problematic than others and may need you to use extra force. 

Final Thoughts

Picking out the right hardwood is extremely important. It determines the quality of your carving and also how long you intend to have it. Take time to understand the characteristics of the wood that you are considering before you choose it. Pick something that you can handle and also something that is suited to the project that you are working on.

We recommend basswood as the most workable wood, at the same time we like the rich color delivered by mahogany. Personal preference comes into play, choose the wood that best suits your needs.

David D. Hughes
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