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Favorite Carving Wood?

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What is your favorite carving wood? What is your least favorite carving wood? My least favorite today (tomorrow may be different) is southern yellow pine (check out my latest project on my instagram photos) as it creates waves across extremely soft and hard grain. I think Poplar comes a close second to serious dis-like as a carving wood. Spongy and fights you every step of the way.

Favorite wood? For beginners - basswood and butternut. More experienced carvers - mahogany and walnut. Then it goes to cherry.

I don't have more than 10 months experience carving, but I have found that I like carving cherry and oak. I do hate the open grain of oak, but I like the way it finishes. And cherry just looks great and isn't bad to work with either. Of course basswood is fun to rough in since it's so easy to cut!

The only wood I've found I'm not a fan of is Sapele, and I look forward to many years of trying out different kinds. I saw your recreation using SYP, and I can see how that grain can be annoying. I was looking at carving some for a capital I want to make, since I will paint it when finished.

Some sapele can be OK, but so often it ends up being substituted for mahogany and has really crazy grain. Don't do it!

Oak and cherry are very clean, crisp woods to carve, but require a lot of physical effort to carve the details and control the tools (or simply use a mallet).

I love the adventure of trying a new carving wood, but I think I had my fill of Souther Yellow Pine. I did end up filming parts of this latest project for lessons, but I don't like to make lessons where I gripe and complain through a project. I will add it as lessons to show "real world" carving, in that it isn't all perfect and rosy. And there are a lot of good teaching opportunities - even though it really was annoying to carve.

Thomas Danielson has reacted to this post.
Thomas Danielson

I've always liked black walnut and cherry. However I do find for carving realistic human figures and busts that basswood is my preferred wood mainly because the grain doesn't add any strange figures to the face like walnut grain can at times. Mahogany can be good but it tends to splinter. Butternut is easy to carve but once again the grain pattern can cause problems and you can encounter soft spots.

Excluding basswood, my favorite has been walnut.  It was not nearly as difficult to push through as I had thought it would be, and I never encountered any difficult grain leading to tearout.  While I haven't tried to many varieties of wood yet, iroko has been the most difficult for me.  I had found some "shorts" at the store so I picked a few up to practice on.  The changing of grain direction every centimeter from "with grain" to "against grain" forced the entire thing to be carved "across grain"; good thing it was a practice piece!  I now know that woods described as having "interlocking grain" are to be approached with caution, as I now understand what that phrase implies for carving.

Iroko can also have significant deposits of calcium carbonate which can quickly dull your tools. I started working a piece once that did this and I finally gave up on it. It just wasn't worth the time and trouble to constantly have to put a new edge on my gouges.

My favorite carving wood is Aspen and Butternut, with Tupelo being very acceptable.  On the other hand my least favorite is Sassafras; it has

beautiful grain beyond compare, but very hard to carve.  I have had a couple commissions with sassafras, but not again.

Has anyone tried lignum vitae?  If so, please describe the experience.  I've heard that it is very easy to turn.

I have been trying to make a couple of winding sticks from African Kingwood.  This is the WORST stuff for trying to plane straight.  Every three or four inches the grain changes and I can't seem to find a way to make it flat without breaking out huge chunks here and there.  Maybe it would be better for carving, has anyone tried carving in that?  And then again, maybe I need a new smoothing plane ...

Just started a project using mahogany for the first time...so far this wood is great to carve in. Going to have to make it a favorite for sure!

Steven Stevens has reacted to this post.
Steven Stevens
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