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Best wood for relief carving

There are good discussions and advice on the favorite wood topic, but I would be interested in Mary's and others opinions and experiences with which woods work best for relief carving specifically.  I am familiar with basswood, of course, but I have an opportunity to get some butternut and Honduran mahogany, and I wondered how these two woods work for relief carving.

Ron, both of those would be great for relief carving and any carving. If you can get your hands on it, by all means buy it up. That’s expensive wood to buy where I’m located.

If you can expand a little bit on your question, it would help. When you ask what wood is good for relief carving, is that generally across the board? Or are you more interested in what wood looks best finished, or is easiest on the tools, etc.?

If this is your first venture from basswood tho, grab that butternut...it’s not as demanding as other woods.

Matthew, thanks for the informative response.

My questions about butternut and Honduran mahogany were specific to relief carving.   I've done relief in basswood only, so far, and thought I try some other woods in relief.

I have carved other woods, including butternut and mahogany.  But I've done just stylized, in-the-round projects with them, as well as some other woods: yellowheart, redwood, cherry, walnut, pine, padauk, bubinga, etc.  These have been small, experimental projects mainly, just to get better acquainted with the carving properties of different woods.  And that experiment goes on, including trying different finishes, different tools, etc.

But I wasn't sure of the relief carving properties of butternut and Honduran  mahogany - how well they hold detail, problems chipping or splintering, etc.  I thought there were likely those of you out there who had done relief using these woods.

Ron, butternut carves well, just take care if you happen to go against the grain as it does tear out some. Other than that, it holds detail very well and finishes even better. Being easy to carve like basswood is an added bonus. Butternut has been used forever as a go-to for relief carving. I’m always looking for local deals on that species...if I see it, I snag it up in a heartbeat!

I haven’t carved Honduran mahogany, so I’ll pass that along to anyone else. I’ve carved African mahogany, which was quite difficult if you weren’t carving with the grain the entire time...it did take detail very well tho.


Both butternut and Honduran mahogany are excellent carving wood for any type of carving - 3-dimensional or relief. It's difficult to find original Honduran mahogany these days, but it you do, it holds detail amazingly well, and is relatively easy to carve in spite of its hardness. Other newer types of mahogany (as Matthew mentioned African) has incredible challenges where the grain tends to be very squirly.

Basswood is much softer, holds detail well (but not as good as Honduran mahogany), and is good for beginners because of it's ease of carving.