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Favorite Carving Wood?

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Has anyone used English oak to carve? I have heard that it is a better choice than our red or white oak but I have no idea if it available,expensive or worthwhile to give it a try. Any thoughts?

Haven't carved it. just white oak.  did gooogle search  Hearnehardwoods.com  English Oak @ $15.50 BF,  $300. min order.

Out here in Port Townsend, WA,  Edensaw Woods our regional supplier has most hard woods at @$12.  to $16. BF.  Cherry is @ $8. BF.  Haven't seen English Oak there.

Rick, I had a chance to carve English Oak when I was studying at the City and Guilds college in London. It truly is a much nicer wood to carve than American white or red oak. It's really a different world. It's easy to get fine, crisp details, and is considerably softer and easier to carve. I don't know where you would find that in the US, however.

I’m guessing the majority of members are from the northern hemisphere. So wanted to show Red gum from the Southern Hemisphere. It grows mainly along creeks and rivers. The grain can sometimes have a real wave. It’s not the easiest wood to carve but it is my favourite. The stubby I carved is Red Gum sandwiched with a common beige coloured gum. The timber from eucalyptus trees where I live often has a yellow colour through it.

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Of all, genuine mahogany.  I still have some Honduran and I hoard it closely!!  The stuff is like polished metal after the tool cuts it and it seems to glow.  You can see why the Goddards and Townsends used it for all that wonderful Newport style furniture with such crisp carving.

In 1990 I  landed a job to redo some signs for an office building in Oak Brook IL. The original owners were a physicians group and the 2 panels  were each 16' x 3' of 8/4 Honduran  mahogany. I was able to flip them, cut and carve the backside for the new owners - the Herman Financial Group. This held up well until 3 years ago when they changed their logo... Sadly, there were no more sides to carve! I carved new panels out of  SignFoam (HDU - high density urethane - most all of current signage is now made from this - carves like butter and will never rot or warp. So what was I to do with all this mahogany? 😉 I did give some to my son and son-in-law but I still have more than I can possibly use for the rest of my life - I do actually get tired of it 😉  Once the carved sides are re-sawn  the thickness is still about 6/4... some pieces from the original glue-up are 11-12" wide and the rest are long and good for book matching...  I love Walnut as well and oak and some maple occasionally for sign jobs.

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Jim Tambs has reacted to this post.
Jim Tambs


I'm Barry from Nottinghamshire England. I hope this is of interest in the discussion on favourite woods. In England Bass wood is hard but not impossible to source. Butternut on the other hand is virtually impossible. In the Design and Technology classes in our Primary and Secondary schools we regularly use Jelutong. This is because it is easy to work and has a close even grain. The idea being that it is amenable to the kids. As a beginner carver I have found this very forgiving and good to work. I have used it to  follow Mary's lessons as well as having bought the Acanthus book. Has anyone experience of Jelutong and what are your feelings about it?

Hi Barry.

I've never used jelutong but from what I've read it carves a lot like bass wood, which I have carved a lot of.  Have you tried lime? From what I understand lime is quite a lot like bass and is readily available in the UK. I'd really like to try it myself but it's difficult to source in the US. If I ever run across any jelutong I'll have to give it a try.

I was surprised that you put basswood and butternut in the same category, Mary. I really know very little about this, but I've always heard that basswood is very forgiving. I've been using butternut for the last many weeks, and, although I find that end-grain cuts are surprisingly easy in butternut, it is extremely unforgiving on grain direction, and, in my pieces of it anyway, the grain changes direction frequently across the piece, sort of like ribbon mahogany, and nearly unpredictably. I have to pay attention to what is happening at the gouge edge constantly and never assume just because I was with the grain here, I'll still be with the grain 1/2 an inch away! It's manageable, but painful. I found willow to be easier to carve and, at least as far as grain goes, black walnut to certainly not be worse. The issue with black walnut though, is the wood itself is hard, so I tend to take a lot more passes, removing much less wood with each slice. Worth it though. Black walnut is pretty!

Charles, I put basswood and butternut in the same category because of the "softeness" of the wood. Grain is another story. I would say start with basswood, then go to butternut to get a more challenging grain, and then to walnut. As a beginner, the softness of the wood is important because if you need to put more effort into the cuts because of the hardness of the wood, it simply adds that extra challenge. It sounds like you did get a pretty squirly grained butternut, and usually that isn't the case. I would suggest getting another piece that is straighter grain and trying it again. But yes... be aware that the grain is more challenging than basswood, but should be (if grain is straight) easier than walnut. And keep your tools sharp! oh yeah - and pay attention to the donut, especially with butternut. It will not be as forgiving as basswood.

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