November 6, 2021

What is the hardest wood to carve? | An Overview with Hardness Rating

Worst wood for carving

What is the hardest wood to carve? This is the question many woodcarvers ask themselves when trying to turn a block of wood into a carving, and the answer is as personal as the wood itself. Working on a hard piece of wood requires patience and good skill. It would help if you were not too forceful, as this can cause injury or damage to the carving. Here are some of the unruly woods you should be aware of.

What is the hardest common wood?

Australian Buloke – 5,060 IBF is an ironwood tree known to be the hardest wood. It is native to Australia and comes from a tree in Eastern and Southern Australia. It has a Janka hardness of 5,060 lbf. 

The species grows across an area of eastern and southern Australia. That is mainly north and west of the Great Dividing Range, within the Murray-Darling Basin, New South Wales, South Australia, and Victoria. It is dense. It is difficult to work on due to its hardness. Sometimes tear out occurs during planning or surfacing. Start by testing a piece of wood before you proceed to your final project.

Wood, as a material, has its hardness quantified using the Janka rating, the industry standard rating. The eating measures the resistance of wood samples to denting and wear.  Depending on the wood grain direction, different woods are tested based on the cut surface of a stump cut from the material. The measure of hardness and strength is pounds-force (lbf).

Australian objects make knife handles, flooring, and fine furniture. It is the strongest wood in the world, which can withstand more than 5,000 pounds of force. Its heartwood is reddish-brown. Somewhat well-defined sapwood is a light yellowish-brown.

What is the most durable wood?

The hardest American wood species is hickory. Hickory is a durable wood species with a Janka rating of around 1820. It is a beautiful and unique wood species with various colors and a ton of grain character. 

It makes better floors for buyers who want a durable surface and a lot of personality in their wood. Some of the most beautiful wood floor patterns use hickory to make them pop. The pros and cons of hickory flooring come from the fact that some people love its unique personality, while others do not mind it. 

It makes beautiful wood flooring. What makes it durable is the strength of a material classified as hardness, resistance to bending or breaking under a load, or how much it compresses. The grain of wood also contributes to its strength. It is a straight, tight, knot-free wood grain. That makes it stronger than wood that is knotty or splits easily along the grain.

Is maple or oak harder?

Maple is harder than oak. However, both Maple and Oak are among the harder wood species. Maple comes with a 1450 rating on the Janka wood hardness chart. That makes it one of the densest wood species and ideal for high-traffic areas. 

Oak is slightly less hard. White Oak has a 1360 rating, and Red Oak has a 1290 rating. Maple is harder than oak. However, hardness does not always mean durability. Harder woods can be susceptible to decay, while softer wood resists it.

Hickory is the hardest of all domestic hardwoods. The grain patterns indicate the wood’s hardness. With its interlocked, tight grain pattern, hard maple resists cracking along grain lines. That influences water penetration. 

The open pores and broad grain of red oak allow moisture to penetrate higher. Maple assembly techniques typically require drilling through its surface, as nails are prone to bend or break in maple without pilot holes. 

Glue is sometimes expelled from the joint, causing a weak joint. Red oak has a porous texture, absorbs glue better than maple, and the joints are reliable. Maple is more likely to twist or warp than oak when cut. 

Hard maple is a flooring material, whereas maple is for bowling alleys, dance floors, and high-end homes. Red oak flooring is durable, whereas hard maple furniture is less likely to split along grain lines. Hard maple cabinets and doors are heavier than the red oak door. White oak is highly durable, resistant to the elements, and suitable for exterior use, but it is not affordable and is harder to work with.

What wood is harder than oak?

Maple is harder than oak. However, harder woods can be susceptible to decay, while softer wood resists it. Where you use the hardwood is more important than its density and hardness. The different species of each variety also play an important role when considering the choices between oak and maple. Hickory is also bolder than oak or maple and is often sold as wide planks.

What is the hardest, densest wood?

Lignum vitae is the hardest, densest wood, and most durable. It is the densest wood traded, with an average dried density: of ~79 lbs/ft3 or ~1260 kg/m3. Lignum vitae ranks highest of the trade woods, with a Janka hardness of 4500 lbf. It sinks in water.

Better Lignum vitae come from Bulnesia Arborea and Bulnesia sarmientoi. The tree is slow-growing and relatively small in stature, even when mature and old. It bears small, purplish-blue flowers, resulting in paired orange dehiscent fruits. The bark is mottled.

Due to the density of the wood, it makes cricket bails, lawn bowls, croquet mallets, and skittles balls. The wood also makes mortars and pestles and for wood carvers’ mallets. Due to its density and strength, it was the traditional wood used for the British police truncheon. Due to the lignum vitae’s toughness, it does a lap in cutting gems.

Is teak the hardest wood?

Yes, teak wood is one of the best-known hardest wood. However, it is not in the top 15 hardest kinds of wood species. Teak trees are native to India, Myanmar (Burma), and Thailand. It is one of the most durable all-natural woods. 

It is resistant to rotting, sunlight, rain, frost, and snow. That makes it suitable for outdoor construction and furniture. It makes better hardwood furniture with a golden color and elegantly distributed grains. It has a high amount of natural oils. It is more stable than most hardwoods. It works on shipping, boat building, veneer, carving, furniture, turnings, exterior construction, and other small wood objects. 

The teak does not need to be protected. It is a unique wood that is better left in its natural state. It is maintenance-free. You can leave it outside year-round, and it survives extreme weather conditions. Depending on weather conditions, one may need to oil the furniture to keep it durable and shiny for years to come. Teak wood is very stable, and because teak wood does not rot. It performs better outdoors.

David D. Hughes
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