The Best Wood for Carving — A Tree for Your Thoughts

Posted by Angelica Macalalad on

Like humans, wood comes in many varieties so choosing which type to carve into your next masterpiece can be pretty challenging.


Regardless of whether you're whittling spoons, carving kitchenware, designing a motif, or coming at it with a chainsaw, you need the right kind of wood.

Otherwise, your project is going to either get really messy, really quickly or go nowhere!

As you know, nature has made it pretty tricky for the likes of us to figure out which exactly to choose. Luckily, you've stumbled upon us! We're going to let you into all of the insider wood-picking secrets. 


Even if you have just dipped your toe into the wood carving world, you will have heard about basswood since it's the most popular option for beginners. Why? Well, it is incredibly soft with very little grain (essentially no grain at all) which allows people who are just starting out to have an easier time. 

It is widespread across both the United States of America and Europe which makes it easy to acquire (for the most part).

Basswood is used in many musical instruments like guitars, those from the woodwind family and electric basses. However, you'll only see it featured on the cheaper ones since it is such a basic wood. 

With that being said, it will come as no surprise that this type of wood is inexpensive (again, another plus side for people who are just starting on the path to master carving). You can even buy basswood blanks in sets that include tools so you can really kickstart your journey.


Much like basswood, aspen is also a white wood and also popular in the wood carving community. Even though this choice is stronger than the above, it is still relatively soft (easier than some to utilize in your carving journey).

Again, you can get hold of this quite easily and for a bargain price too!


Similarly to the aforementioned basswood and aspen, butternut is fantastic for beginner woodcarvers. 

It is a darker choice than the other two but with a lovely grain. Think walnut but with a lighter tan color and much easier to carve. When it comes to polishing, you will adore how it scrubs up, making it a wonderful choice for furniture. 

One thing to keep in mind though is that wormholes will be present. So, just be prepared for that. 


Fruitwood seems kind of vague, doesn't it?

In truth, the term fruitwood is rather ambiguous but what we are trying to say is that wood from fruit trees (pear, apple and cherry) works well for carving. 

It is somewhat porous but each pore lies very close to one another making it free from any leaks. Typically, fruitwood is used when whittling spoons and other kitchenware items thanks to the texture. 

When working with this species of wood, ensure you start when it is slightly green otherwise it will dry out and be hard to carve. Not to mention that it is more likely to crack and spoil your creation.


Okay, we know that you have heard that pine is hard to carve however white pine is actually rather nice. Typically, it is used for lumber but you will also find many carvers working with it to create furniture due to the fact it holds well. 

For those of you who love a bit of chainsaw carving, white pine is definitely the one for you.

Chainsaws (as you know) are extremely powerful which white pine can withstand without a problem. 

As with fruitwood, you'll want to make sure it is on the greener side for the best results. Plus, you'll need to keep it well moisturized — trust us, you don't want this drying out halfway through your project.


Oak is one of the top strongest woods in the entire world. It is highly regarded for its amazing durability; so, it comes as no shock that it is great for furniture. 

In terms of color, it is gorgeously rich with a distinctive grain which adds a majestic element to your masterpiece. 

There is another strain of this species of wood known as white oak which has a close texture. This is utilized for barrel making which is then used to ferment wine and whiskey. 

If you are into relief carving and not much else, you probably won't want to attempt using oak since it is very hard. 


You can create magnificent works of art with black walnut, even though it is pretty dark, thanks to the gorgeous grain. 

Usually, expert carvers will utilize it for reliefs, despite it being incredibly difficult because it is incredibly aesthetically pleasing. Bear in mind that you will need good quality tools (like these, for example) and make sure to regularly sharpen them so you don't strain your hands. 


For those who love a bit of whittling, balsa wood is the one to use

This kind of wood is really soft, cheap, and light so it is quite a good choice for those who are just starting out in wood carving.

Typically, you should use it for making models and dollhouses.

However, it is pretty versatile so you can try crafting ornaments and statues with it too. 

Keep in mind that balsa can splinter pretty easily if it is too dry. To combat this, ensure you sand the edges down enough so take care of the wood.


You’ll find that cherry wood has a lovely, wave-like grain with a gorgeous pinkish brown color. Even though you might be swayed by its beauty and want to use it for whittling, we advise against this since it is incredibly hard and dense. However, for chip carving cherry is fantastic.

It's a relatively good all-round wood to work with but it can get blotchy when you stain it. If you must use stain, make sure you apply a sanding sealer first.


Much like cherry wood, you should use sugar maple for chip carving but not for whittling since it’s dense and hard. In terms of its grain, you should expect a straight grain, however, it has been known to have slight waviness in some circumstances.

Its typical application is for baseball bats, instruments, veneers, and other types of wooden items.


For those of you who want to experiment with all sorts of carving techniques, mahogany is a great choice due to its medium hardness and density. Anything this gorgeous wood is used for turns out to be aesthetically pleasing thanks to the sheer beauty of its characteristic red hue. If you aren’t a fan of tinting materials or applying veneer, mahogany is the best and only choice for you.


Cedar should only be handled by intermediate carvers.

If you are ready for the challenge, we guarantee that you will adore its beautiful pink hue. In some cases, you might get lucky and find a bit with purple shades in it!

Moreover, this wood smells so good. It is crisp yet sweet and incredibly rich. Your workshop will have never smelt quite like it.

Keep in mind though, that you should not add a finish to it. Why? Because you will be dampening the delicious aromas and taking away the natural color which would be rather disappointing.


Dating back hundreds of years, black cherry has been utilized by woodworkers to make amazing furniture. If you have ever carved with walnut, you will notice how similar black cherry while you are working. Much like cedar (eastern red) you probably won’t want to stain this type of wood since its natural coloring (light red to almost pink) is beautiful enough as it is.


This species of wood is found commonly throughout Asia, America and Europe. It is heavy and durable yet it displays beautiful straight, fine texture.

Many carvers adore the creamy color and gloss that beechwood naturally presents as it adds a certain air of professionalism to your work (even if you are fairly novice in your carving ability).


Although birch is pretty hard, you can use it for your carving adventures.

It produces a natural shine and is usually has a fairly light color. However, it can crack and distort if you don’t put it through the right drying procedure so be mindful of this before you start.


Depending on what you plan to create, the wood you need will be different. However, this guide has covered every piece of vital information you will need to make your masterpiece. 

Don't worry, we won't keep you any longer. We know you're probably super excited to get started. So, be safe, have fun and buy the wood that's right for you.


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