November 2, 2021

Carving Maple Wood | Bet You Didn’t Know This

Is maple good for carving?

Yes, maple is good for carving. The Internet is full of instructions for carving various types of wood, but few deal with carving maple wood. This is partly because maple is a widely used wood, and the most common wood for homemade instruments such as violins and guitars. There are several ways to do it, but the basic process is to cut the wood into different shapes and then assemble them to create the perfect piece of art. The tools you use are very important because even the slightest mistake can ruin the whole piece.

Tools to use for carving maple wood

Carving Chisel

The carving chisel is 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 square cutting edge 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

A gouge and a mallet carve better than a knife. The carving gouge varies blade curvature degrees that produce all concave and convex shapes and surfaces. The curvature is in number, and 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 must choose a blade shape matching 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, and 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.

What to carve out of maple wood

Maple carving produces great results due to its light, creamy color and smooth grain pattern. What makes users choose it over other wood is durability, and it carves furniture, cabinets, sports equipment, and kitchen accessories. 

The smooth grain and strength make maple a popular choice on multiple items. In its natural state, it still makes incredible carvings. When stained, it suits any preferred style. There are numerous species of maple trees around the globe that you choose from depending on the item you are working on.

Carving shapes of the maple


  1. Leaf shape
  2. Trace out your leaf design on the wood. Carve the background lower and start with the stop cut using a fishtail gouge. 
  3. Make the stop cut deeper using a V-tool. Choose between a V-tool and a chisel. 
  4. Cut the background until you get the desired depth. 
  5. Make stop cuts at the top and follow the basic outline, not the pencil line. 
  6. Follow the outside, hitting the high points. 
  7. Clean out the removed wood. 
  8. Try to reproduce the leaf by cutting down the center of the veins following the lines. 
  9. Make the veins deeper. 
  10. Do not go deeper on the tip of the leaf. 
  11. Clean up the carving using the V-tool. 
  12. Undercut the tool and smoothen it with the chisel. 
  13. Put a finish on it.

Carving maple to make it smooth

During the process, use the random orbit sander to smoothen the maple. Use the 220 grit and the hand scraper. Eventually, you see the pop lacking and Gently scrap the wood until the depth and figure of the wood come out. Run your hand over it so that you feel the level of roughness. Sometimes the scraper creates mini tears in the wood grain, and getting rid of them takes time.

Is maple wood suitable for carving?

Maple is a hard, carving wood that comes with its challenges.  The grain patterns are not as straight as in some other woods, which is challenging with hard maple. It creates a tendency to blotch when finished which shows up as varying density when carving the wood. 

To get rid of this problem,  carefully plan the cuts. Maple has endless grain names, including birdseye, curly, fiddleback, and tiger. These create special effects in your carving. The wilder the grain, the harder the carving. However, It holds detail well and finishes to a high shine.

Is maple easy to hand carve?

Although maple is one of the best woods for carving, you should not carve using hand tools. It is hard and dense, which takes a lot of effort and time.  Sugar maples are better since it comes with straight grain, the potential for waviness, even, and fine texture. 

Maple is a hardwood to hand carve, and it is more suitable for a mallet or power carving. Maple comes in two varieties: hard and soft. Both are harder than other woods. However, hard maple is so hard that you can easily give up carving, and soft maple is a bit easy to work with. 

Hand carving maple also depends on how old your maple is, curing, and cutting method. Differences in hardness make the ease different, and Maple is more carvable with sharp tools. You can also carve it green, although that might not give you your expected results on large carvings, and it might split on you. 

Hard maples such as black maple or sugar maple easily frustrate users when carving them with a knife or hand gouges. It also depends on the hand carving tool, and carving with a knife is more difficult than with a gouge and mallet. 

Carving maple to make it appear aged

When the maple wood is glued upon the end grain, add oil so the board starts darkening. Eventually, it looks much older. If you use it quickly, it also ages. Although it does not take many knife scars, they are self-healing on the end grain.  

For an older look, add a depression, reflecting how much of the board has been cut and scraped away over the years. Impair the function of the board and maple ages to be more amber.  You are allowed to dye the edge grain and cover it with a coat or two of wiping varnish. Mineral oil on the end grain on the top makes it an incredible carving. 

Understanding the grain on a block of wood

Woodgrain represents lines that naturally appear in lumber. They are a byproduct of the sawing pattern used when the mill first cuts the boards of a piece of wood. That concerns the angle of the existing growth rings, and that is why flat-sawed lumber is for internal construction.

Using a mallet

A practical set of tools for carving includes a mallet, sharpening stone, rasp, and individual tools. A mallet is for striking the carving tool, and sharpening stones for honing the tool blades, whereas carving knives are for finishing and detailing work. It makes carving convenient.

David D. Hughes

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