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Air dried Vs kiln dried

I carve with a woodcarving club and the conventional wisdom there seems to be that air dried wood (at least as far as Basswood and Butternut is concerned) is superior for carving.  I've briefly tried carving kiln dried Red Oak and found it very difficult.  Or perhaps I'm simply not getting my tools sharp enough?

Comments from more experienced carvers would be appreciated.

Air dried wood is always easier to carve; kiln dried lumber is tighter and more brittle. But first and foremost, your tools need to be super sharp. Try them out on some basswood - they should glide smoothly if they're sharp enough.

Thanks Autumn.  I sharpen using a Tormek system and believe I'm getting them sharp but don't, of course, have any kind of objective measurement, which I find irritating.

Have you carved any of the harder air dried woods ( Oak, mahogany, etc?)  You didn't actually say which you prefer to carve (air of kiln dried?)


Bruce, I've carved kiln-dried oak a few times. I felt the same way about it being difficult and wondering if my tools were even sharp enough. The tools would fly through basswood, but when I got to oak, it was plain hard as hell.

2 things helped me, and I'm sorry if it's not much help to you! I found I was just trying to carve too much of a bite in my work. I made smaller cuts, and about that time I discovered the technique of slicing cuts. Small, slicing cuts help out tremendously for oak.

Another weird thing for me was when I switched to using an electric leather wheel to strop, as well as by hand, my tools cut a lot better in all woods.

Sorry so long...another thing you can try is using "green" oak. It's much easier to carve, and as long as your projects aren't really big, you shouldn't experience warping or splitting that bad.

Matthew, you are correct about the slicing in hard woods. I have made some small carvings in very hard exotics and they have to be sliced very thin to not break the knife or completely wear your hands out in short order.

I enjoy air dried wood most of all though I can't always get it. Down here in So. Louisiana we can get fresh out of the swamp-sinker cypress which, after some air drying, carves "like buttah!" I have a couple of reclaimed chunks of holly from our clan castle in Scotland that has been drying in log form for several years. Haven't cut into it yet but when I do I'll let y'all know.

Air dried!!! when you can get it, by far is the best.  In violin making, boatbuilding, and gun stocks air dried wood is the only thing used.  Kiln drying "case hardens" the wood, the outside 1\4 in. or so is much harder than the inside and the wood splinters more.  If you can get green lumber, cut it or have it cut close to the sizes in thickness you will want, paint the end grain with some old latex paint, date it and put in the garage or shed and forget about it for awhile. One year per inch of thickness. It can seem like a long time but it's easy to cut more than you'll use and time does fly! I've got walnut, mahogany, curly maple and spruce that's 15 to 20 yrs. old, where did the time go!  but still buy kiln dried wood from time to time to carve some of Mary's projects.  i can only get cherry in kiln dried,  keep tools SHARP and don't pry out chips.  It's actually "fun" collecting locally sourced wood, old and dangerous trees removed, storm damage and downed trees from wind storms, ask around and keep and keep the word out your looking for wood, it will come!

In the mean time Don't forget to carve!  The BEST wood to carve is what ever is on your bench at the time!!!


I can attest that building furniture from air dried wood vs kiln dried is a night and day difference with air dried being far superior. The only problem being finding a good source for air dried wood close to home.