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Gluing up basswood or butternut wood

In my experience with gluing up short width boards, it is best to alternate the boards.  If I have three pieces of 6" width and I want to carve

an 18" wide carving, I will alternate the boards to achieve this objective.  The purpose is to give greater strength to the total board, particularly if the carving will be exposed to weathering - like outdoors.

Very true. I remember learning this when taking a woodworking class (nothing to do with carving). Alternate the grain on each board, so the glued-up board does warp in one direction. Several boards glued up with alternating grain direction keep the board much straighter. Just be more cautious when carving near the joint line, as the grain can surprise you.

On another note - one time I carved an 8 inch thick corbel in sapele (would not recommend it) and my client glued up 8, 1-inch boards to bring it up to the thickness. I think he was trying to help, but it was no help at all. Not only was the sapele a challenge, but every inch the grain did some wild chaos. The entire carving of the corbel scroll (36" long x 8" wide x 8" deep) was carved across the grain.

If you can find it, quarter sawn or rift sawn laminations make for a very stable panel.  Lacking that stable grain orientation, ripping the stock into 2 1/2" to 3" widths for laminating alternately is recommended for the most stable panel. Furthermore, if you take a flat sawn plank and rip it into sticks that are as wide as you want the finished panel to be thick, you can achieve the quartersawn-rift sawn effect by turning each stick 90° to laminate.  Makes for more glue lines...