November 4, 2021

Carving Birch Wood | A Grandfather’s Guide

I was carving birch wood recently. It was not my first time trying it out. I find that it to be easier to carve the wider end of the log. Once I get the basic shape of the log, I carve out the interior. I was surprised by how easy it was to carve the interior once I got the basic shape. It was quite the experience carving this beautiful piece of wood. My late grandfather loved Birchwood, and he was an incredible woodcarver. Let’s discuss this wood and what you can do with it.

Properties of Birch Wood

Birchwood has a yellow-white or reddish-white to light brown coloring, and it darkens with time. It has a fine to medium-pore structure, a wavy grain, and satin surface shine, making it beautiful. It also comes with different densities and fat content that leads to attractive light effects. 

Birchwood is a medium-weight wood with good strength properties. Its elasticity and toughness keep it soft, and the shrinkage depends on its strength. However, it is not durable, and it is light and easy to work on. 

Turn, profile and carve the birch wood. It suits peeling and cutting activities, and it stains and polishes well. It comes with good bending properties, although the splitting properties are not so good.

Types of birch wood

Does Birch Wood Rot Easily?

Birchwood bark is impressively watertight, and that is more than most hardwood bark. It comes with an extra water-resistant bark, meaning the wood fibers below have to work extra hard to soak up moisture and hang onto that water.

When you cut birch wood down and expose its inner grain to the elements, that is when it takes on rot. You will be preparing it for decay and burrowing insects with little resistance. Unlike other wood types, a pile of birch wood barely lasts a few months before it becomes rotten wood. 

To prevent Birch from rotting, keep it stored in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area only until you are ready to use it. When you use it for a woodworking project, bear in mind that it only works indoors.

Funny enough, it is waterproof. Birch is a natural for keeping out water, and it comes with a rough-textured bark that makes a 100% watertight seal around the tree. However, the moment it gets cut, the grain inside shows little resistance against fungus and rot.

Is Birch Wood Good for Whittling?

Yes, it is, but it works better with green Birch. Green Birch is Birchwood freshly cut from the tree, and it comes with higher moisture content, which is high enough to make the Birch branch easy to cut. 

Regardless of the easy cutting, keep your cutting tools sharp to avoid mistakes. As Birchwood dries out, the moisture content falls, and that is how it becomes more difficult to whittle.

Is Birch good wood for carving?

Birchwood makes a wide variety of carvings and furniture, and it is stronger and more durable than Pine or Oak. However, green Birchwood carves better than dry Birchwood, and the high moisture content in greenwood makes it easier to cut and work with. Even though green birch wood is good for carving, the trophy goes to Basswood.

Carving with Birchwood comes with its shortcomings. It tots and decays quickly even when the grain gets little moisture. You can still use Birchwood to make bowls and spoons but be ready to replace the items in no time. 

You can make use of it as training lumber, and that makes it ideal for beginners. Even if you are a pro, you can still use it as an experimental wood to try your carving techniques. It gets difficult to work on when dry, and the grain pattern is too simple to make sophisticated carvings compared to other classy-looking patterns such as Cherry wood.

Birchwood is not ideal for time-consuming, intricate carving because you need to work on it quickly. The moment it dries out, it hardens and eventually becomes very difficult to carve it with your whittling tools.

Do not try to soften up hard Birch by soaking it in water. Avoid that at all costs because any added water or moisture causes it to rot away fast. Birchwood is good to work with since it is food-safe. Amongst endless carvings, you can make spoons and bowls. It comes with a wintergreen flavor and smell.

It carves better with a knife. When cutting boards, it is a bit hard for whittling projects. You can use white birch branches into canes and save the tree branches for sticks and small carvings. They also make great ornaments and spirit faces.

Things to carve with Birch Wood

  • Bowls
  • Utensils
  • Furniture
  • Longboards
  • Plywood

Birchwood is easy to use and affordable, and that makes it an excellent craft wood. Use of power tools for easy cutting since it is hard and heavy when dry. It comes with good shock resistance. The wood makes toys, tongue depressors, toothpicks, paper pulp, and high-end furniture.

Birchwood is fine-grained and pale in color with a satiny sheen. These features make Birchwood beautiful. Although it is strong, it remains lightweight. However, it cannot make outdoor carvings. Its saleability allows it to make speakers and musical instruments. It gives resonance to both higher and lower frequencies, giving a fuller sound than woods such as maple.

Is birch wood hard to carve?

Birchwood is hard to carve when dry. For easy carving, work on it when fresh from the tree. Make use of power tools for easy cutting. 

How do you dry birchwood for carving?

Steps

  1. Cut the wood into your preferred sizes. For more miniature carvings, cut them up into smaller sizes. When working with branches, cut horizontally across the grain and save the vertical cuts for later.
  2. Remove the bark, although some trees have tight bark to the wood that is hard to remove, while on others, the bark falls off with ease. Removing the bark allows the moisture to escape through the sides of the wood.
  3. Coat the end of the wood using a sealer like paraffin or shellac. Bear in mind that paraffin is flammable and should never be left unattended on the stove.
  4. Store the wood in a sheltered area where it will be out of the rain, and it should not tightly stack together for good airflow between the pieces.
  5. Dry the wood for a minimum dry time of 6weeks. With the temperatures dropping below freezing, the moisture freezes in the wood. During this time, allow the wood to dry inside your basement or garage.

How long should birchwood dry before carving?

It has to dry for a minimum of six weeks. After eight weeks, it should be dry enough for carving. That is standard time set in perfect conditions. The time required depends on the humidity and temperature of the area where the wood is drying. However, there are ways to speed this process up.

David D. Hughes
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