November 6, 2021

Avoid These Woods for Carving: What Wood is Bad for Carving?

Which wood is bad for carving? This question would be easy to answer if everyone knew what wood is bad for carving. But if you ask the same question to woodworkers worldwide, you will get different answers. That’s because some woods are dangerous for carving, while others are safe. When you carve, the first thing that comes to mind is wood. We all know we need to use wood to make our projects look their best, and we buy some to get started. But all wood is not the same, and not all wood behaves the same.

Red Oak

Red Oak has a Janka rating of 1290, which makes it more difficult to carve than mesquite. Janka is the industry benchmark for comparing the relative hardness of different wood species, and it is durable enough to withstand flooring use. 

It works better with proper installation and finishing. It is a native of North America, in the eastern and central United States and southeast and south-central Canada. It grows from the north end of the Great Lakes, east to Nova Scotia, south as far as Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana, and west to Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and Minnesota. Red oak is hard and heavy. 

It comes with medium-bending strength and stiffness and high crushing strength. Exceptional handling and power tools make working with red oak easier. 

Southern Pine

The hardness of Southern pinewood is 690 pounds; however, this is a bit low compared to red oak. The softness of the light-colored wood in each annual ring makes it low, and this strength is ideal for structural components. 

Most Southern pine lumber is all sapwood. Plantations are in east Texas and parts of the Piedmont Plateau. Planted estates are in coastal southeast, central and north Queensland, and inland central and southeast Queensland. 

The wood has a distinctive color and grain. The sapwood is white to yellowish, and the heartwood from yellow to reddish-brown. It is appealing, strong, and has an impressive nail-holding ability. Cut it into small shapes since it is prone to tear.

Chestnut barn beam

The Chestnut barn beam takes 540 pounds of force, which is why it is rated 540 lbf or 540 Janka. The chestnut tree is a native of eastern North America, now known as southern Maine, growing west to the Great Lakes and south to the Gulf Coast.

 In some areas, like the Appalachians,  it makes up almost 100% of the forest. Chestnut belongs to the dicot group, like cherry, oak, maple, ash, and walnut, making them all hardwoods. It is straight-grained and strong, making it ideal for structural barn beams and furniture.

 Chestnut splits easily, so handle it carefully when nailing and screwing the wood. The coarse texture makes it hard to carve.


Janka’s hardness of Bloodwood is 2900 pounds of force. It air-dries fast with little or no degradation unless it has tension wood and becomes prone to warp. The Bloodwood tree grows in sandy ground in the upland rain forest. 

It is a tall tree that grows up to 120 ft. or more and has a straight, cylindrical bole that is clear for 75 ft. or more with an average diameter of 35 inches. It is dense and hardwood, which makes it tough to carve, and it works better with both hand and power tools.

Purple Heart

I have carved a purple heart once and discovered that it is too hard to carve, and its Janka hardness varies from 1,850 to 2,100. Purpleheart belongs to 23 flowering plants in the Fabaceae family, native to Central and South America, from Guerrero, Mexico, through Central America. 

It is stable, hard, and dense, and it is also strong and durable. Because of the hard-to-detect interlocking grain, Purpleheart turns cleanly with sharp tools, and it sands well. Work through a progression of grits to produce smooth results.

Australian Buloke

Australian Buloke is the hardest woods in the world. It has a  Janka hardness of 22,500 N (5060 lbf), and the species grows across 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 difficult to work on due to its hardness. 

Sometimes tear, out occurs during planning or surfacing, and it is dense. Start by testing a piece of wood before you proceed to your final project. 

Schinopsis brasiliensis

Schinopsis brasiliensis belongs to the cashew plant, which originated in Brazil. It is a tough wood with a Janka rating of 4,800 lbf. The ironwood tree is also a native of Australia. The wood is sturdy for construction, and its high value lies in its durability. However, it planes well when cut with an angle of 15°. 

Schinopsis balansae

Schinopsis balansae is one worst wood for carving. The tree is 5060lbf Janka hardness. The tree grows between 10 and 20 meters. Schinopsis balansae is a hardwood tree that grows in the subnortheastern Argentina and Paraguay’spical Gran Chaco ecoregion

It is hard, heavy, and strong but brittle. This tree reaches 24 meters in height and more than one meter in diameter, and the trunk is straight, with a brownish-gray bark. Soak the wood first for easy carving.


Is pine good for hand carving?

Yes, pine is good for hand carving since it is softwood. Cutting is made easier, as well as shaping. It requires simple carving tools such as the carving knife, and power tools damage the pine wood. 

They need extra care so that you keep your wood in its good state. Damages attract more costs, sometimes buying new materials and starting over again.

Is Poplar good for carving?

Poplar wood is easy to work with, get a hold of, and affordable for low-budget users. Poplar is for carving and because of its grain. The grain is uniformly straight, making it easy to cut.

Is Cedar good for carving?

Cedar is soft, and that makes it easy to carve. However, it has a certain degree of brittleness, which makes it prone to cracking and tearing. It is not an ideal wood type for highly-intricate designs.

Is Birch good for carving?

Birchwood makes many carvings and furniture and 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. Even though green birch wood is for carving, the trophy goes to Basswood.

Is Pinewood suitable for whittling?

Pine is ideal for beginning turners, and softwood is easy to shape on the lathe. Cutting with a gouge or skew chisel gives a better finish than a scraper when turning between centers. When turning bowls, use a burnished scraper to produce a good surface.

David D. Hughes

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