September 18, 2020

Best Hardwood for Carving [5 We Absolutely Love!]

Are you looking for the best hardwood for carving? Wood carving is a popular and ancient pastime. For some, this skill is a decoration for their home. For others, it is a lucrative business. To carve effectively, you need to know what wood to use and what tools you need.

Hand holding precision blade carving piece of hardwood for artisanal project

There are many wood types to choose from, yet not all 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!

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 need detailing, look for a wood that holds detail well enough. 

workshop men making guitar

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

Round Up of the Best Hardwood for Carving

Butternut

Butternut wood blanks

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Butternut wood is a low-density hardwood, especially when compared 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 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 most durable and popular hardwoods. It is dark in color, has a straight grain, has an opaque color, and is very resistant to moisture. This makes it an excellent material for making kitchen utensils such as spoons, often in contact with moisture. Walnut is a durable material that requires little maintenance after carving.

If you carve something from walnut wood, you can be almost sure that you will own it for a very long time. It is a sturdy and durable wood. It hardly shrinks and does not warp either. It is heavy and makes good furniture.

Pros

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

Cons 

  • It’s difficult to cut into
  • It would help if you made 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. Maple wood is hard and should be carved only along the grain to avoid cracking the wood. This is the type of wood that needs a level of expertise. It is 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

block of maple wood

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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 that it will not need too much work in terms of coloring and staining. 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 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, 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 various decorative projects. 

You do not have to worry about reactions either because it has a weak scent that is not too overpowering and cannot cause allergic reactions. For this reason, it is considered one of the safest woods to use, especially in the kitchen or for 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 a carving that has gone wrong. A particular type of wood may be suitable for one thing but not right for another. It would help if you watched out for specific characteristics in the wood. 

The first thing you need to do is know the projects you think you will be carving and what type of wood it will need. Then check out the wood grain 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, 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, making 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 determine how the wood reacts with different elements such as heat and rain. This will help you know where and how to place the finished product.

You also want to ensure that you can work with the wood. Experienced carvers can only use some hardwood; others, it ends up being a mess. If you are starting, you may want to go for a soft hardwood 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, while 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 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 correct hardwood is extremely important. It determines the quality of your carving and 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 something suited to the project 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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