November 2, 2021

Carving Manzanita Wood

Carving Manzanita Wood is a very popular woodwork project that is often referred to as “the wood carving project that everyone can do.” Manzanita wood is a type of cactus that grows in brackish water in the coastal areas of California. The wood is very fine-grained, which makes it ideal for carving since it is relatively easy to carve. The wood is also very soft, which makes it difficult to carve, but very easy to finish.

Jim Hart, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Selecting Manzanita wood

As you gather your Manzanita wood, you should know how to select high-quality wood from low quality. Collected wood looks sun-bleached and dry with a red or a darker color. Collecting wood comes with things you should keep in mind. The drier the wood, the fewer chances it has moisture or sap that causes problems. 

The definition of dry wood is traced back to lack of moisture. Wood that comes with more moisture brings a lot of problems. That means wood with more water is likely not to cause desired results. There are black water tanks to be avoided. 

The dryness of the wood differs, and you should go for the one that makes your project easy and perfect. Some wood comes with the sun-bleached dry look, and that means no leaves left. Take your time to make sure it is dry. 

Jim Hart, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

If you want to know what is inside, cut a stub off the larger end and look at the colors as the wood dries from outer to inner layers. Uniform color is a sign that the wood is dry all the way through. There are portions around knots in most cases where things are still a bit different. However, the fewer and less color, the safer.

Selecting Manzanita wood is a risk on its own, but there is no other option. Pay attention to the color of the wood. The moment your wood starts losing color, it is undergoing the drying process.  You can have it wet again by dipping it into the tank and getting wet again.

Characteristics of Manzanita wood

Manzanita wood comes in small and irregular sizes that make it a bit difficult to work with. However, it has unique properties and is becoming a prized material for some crafts and pet supplies.

Although it is small, it has beautiful grain patterns and colors. Sometimes it grows burls with unique grain patterns. Both Manzanita burls and straight wood make small woodcraft products. Manzanita is a durable wood but works well when green.

The bark is smooth and makes a good gripping surface. Its twisted, irregular shapes make it a habitat for reptiles, fish, and other aquatic life. The bark is a smooth, beautiful dark reddish color. It grows in abundance in areas where it is native.

What you need to carve manzanita wood

Carving Chisel

The carving chisel is, specifically, a flat-bladed carving tool. Carving chisels differ from ordinary woodworking chisels in that they are beveled on both sides of the blade instead of having a bevel and a flat back. 

The standard chisels have a cutting edge that is square to the sides, but chisels are also available with a skewed edge, which is particularly useful when cleaning out tight corners with little clearance. 

Carving Gouges

The carving gouge varies degrees of blade curvature that produces all concave and convex shapes and surfaces. The curvature is in number. The higher the number, the tighter the curve. A #2 sweep is flat, whereas a #9 is semicircular. Higher numbered gouges are good at cutting channels and deeper details.

Carving Knives

The versatile tool is for whittling, chip carving, letter carving, and detailing. It is available in different blade shapes, and each blade is for a specific purpose. That is why you have to choose a blade shape that matches your needs. 


V-tools are named after the V profile of the blade as they make a V-shaped cut with a crisp angled bottom. V tools are ideal for detailing and adding decoration. Standard V parting tools, V-tools are available in 30 and 45 degrees. 


The veiner has a tight U-shaped profile that adds fine details such as veins and stems on leaves. It also cuts deeper grooves. Veining tools are represented by sweep #11. 

Is Manzanita a hardwood or softwood?

Jim Hart, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Manzanita is a hard and durable wood that works well when green. Manzanita branches are for bird perches and bird stands. It has a smooth bark that makes a gripping surface, hard enough to resist chewing, and is non-toxic. 

However, it is considered a softwood due to being an evergreen shrub. This type of softwood is denser and more durable than many others, and it takes longer before it starts to rot.

Is Manzanita wood poisonous?

Manzanita is beautiful because of its unique shapes and colors. It is chemically inert and resists decay. It is a non-toxic wood that you can use on food contact items. It is not a threat to the health of your aquarium in any way. What you may not like on the wood is the tannins that change the watercolor, but there are ways to solve that.

How do you prepare manzanita wood?

Clean the wood to avoid algae. Cleaning also prevents the change of color into a more gray or dark brown, or black color. Soak it before putting it in your aquarium, and that keeps it appealing.  

The wood is heavy, but it floats when it is still dry. There is no need for saturation before it sinks. Whilst you are soaking it to get rid of tannins, to be saturated enough to sink. Manzanita wood has a bark, you should have peeled. 

It is not ideal for aquariums. Wait for the tannins to be out, so that the wood does not sink, before adding it to the aquarium. When you soak your Manzanita wood, the water changes in color. That shows the tannins are getting out. That takes five days.

How to use a chainsaw to cut manzanita

Using chainsaws to cut manzanita comes with its advantages and disadvantages. They are heavy, and you have to get low and crawl under the manzanita to get to the base. Since manzanita wood is hard, sharpening chainsaw blades has to be done frequently, and that is time-consuming. However, it is a powerful tool that gives a professional look to your projects. 

Chainsaws are well maintained and simple to operate. Using top professional chainsaw brands can be the best thing to do. Follow the safety and operating instructions and the operating procedures. Chainsaws cut down trees, trim bigger branches and make light work of cutting up firewood. 

How to use a lathe to shape manzanita

Using a lathe to carve hardwood such as manzanita is dangerous. There are high chances of the wood flying apart when spun. However, you can still use it with precautions. Wrap tape around the piece in the areas not currently being worked on, and keep the speed low.

How to stain and seal manzanita wood

  1. Cut 2×4 boards to size.
  2. Sand the boards lightly.
  3. Stain the boards.
  4. Arrange the boards and attach backboard supports.
  5. Nail in your backboard supports.
  6. Trace out your design and start painting.
  7. Finish with wax.

A dark wood stain with light lettering, like white or cream, brings out a beautiful carving. You can stain your item any color under the sun instead of staining, you can paint it too. Always put some wood sealer on the ends.

David D. Hughes
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