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Basswood Versatility

At this point I am going through the lessons here to learn, not necessarily to produce a quality carving.  Only basswood is reasonably available to me where I live, but several of the intermediate lessons call for mahogany or cherry.  For now, I do not care about durability, looks, or other features but just suitability for carving.  Can I substitute basswood for other woods when doing the lessons.


One of the more interesting aspects of working with wood is the different qualities of each species and traditional woodworkers used those qualities to their best advantage. Basswood has been recognized for being an excellent carving material and can obviously be used for carving lessons where other factors are not a concern. As a matter of fact, I recommend any beginning woodworker to practice with whatever wood is cheaply available in order to acquaint themselves with the nature of individual species, however, that does not mean that all woods are equally suitable for carving just as all species are not equally suitable for musical instruments or carpentry. Basswood can be considered as the "go-to" wood for most beginning wood carvers because of its qualities and relative availability but the carver should keep in mind that it is a natural material that can vary somewhat between individual pieces. Save the expensive wood for those times when the qualities of that species are appropriate to the project and then deal with the carving nuisances of the material during the carving process. It is my belief that Mary chose the wood involved in her lessons because it is appropriate to the project and to broaden the carver's experience beyond the familiarity with basswood. I think Mary's core lesson is to be flexible in your work and learn what works for you.


Got it, thanks again Michael.

Great answer Michael!

Steve, I would encourage you to carve the same lesson (camellia for example) is several different types of wood. Start with basswood, then maybe do one in butternut, then try walnut or mahogany. It is fascinating to get to understand the difference in technique (such as using a mallet or not) with the same design. Then after you have carved a couple, you will have a camellia bouquet! And it's amazing how each one get a little better...

Thank you Mary.  I really like that idea.  I need to spend some time shopping for wood.

I think another thing to keep in mind as you advance in your carving career is the grain of the wood and how it will look on your finished carving. For instance, I once carved a human figure in butternut which had a pronounced grain swirl  The figure's face wound up having a zebra-like appearance which I was able to tone down a little with wood stain. It would have been much better if I'd carved the figure in basswood which has a much more subdued and sometimes even non-existent grain pattern. I have a couple of pieces of walnut that I'd love to use for figures but I think the grain pattern would be too strong and leave me with a strange looking figure.

But this is all part of the learning process so enjoy your journey.  Each piece you carve will teach you something.