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Wood selection

When determining a project to carve are there steps that folks walk through in order to select the best wood to carve in for that particular project?  I have been “winging” it sort of with the wood I use as I continue to learn the art.

I don't have a good answer. I think it largely depends on personal preference, or what particular project you're working on. For example, you might pick mahogany, not because it is an easy wood to carve, but because the piece of furniture the carving is destined to adorn will be mahogany. I am very new to this as well. For run-o-the-mill relief carving, I always hear that basswood is very nice to work with, but I don't have any experience with it.

So far, I've tried poplar, willow, black walnut and butternut. Of those, I found poplar to be kind of stringy, and prone to breaking across the grain making fine cross-grain detail difficult. I wouldn't recommend it. The other three all carved nicely, but black walnut is quite hard, and took a lot of effort to carve into. The wood itself behaved well though. Poplar and butternut were both well behaved and softer, so a bit easier to carve. Of those two, I thought the willow was a little more forgiving when carving against the grain. The butternut really doesn't like that. (Really though, no woods tolerate that all that well).

Bill Sisko has reacted to this post.
Bill Sisko

Thanks much Charles.  I have been working with a lot of different types of wood just to try it out with varying types of projects.  Lately doing a lot of relief.  I did one in black walnut and thought I was going to die...lol.   I actually loved the look of it though way better than basswood.  With basswood I need to figure out how to best finish them.  I love how Mary does it...but so far I have work to do?.  Thanks again for the feedback.

Charles Hubbard has reacted to this post.
Charles Hubbard

Sometimes it's simply determined by what you have on hand. Like most carvers I've got wood in the garage and if I'm starting a new carving I'll look at my stash first to see if something will do the job. It will also depend on the look I'm trying for. I personally like carving walnut. It's a hard wood and can be somewhat difficult to carve but it holds detail well. I also like cherry for the same reasons. I tend to use them for flora and animal carvings. I use basswood a lot also because it's easier to carve and doesn't show much grain. For that reason it's a good choice for human faces since you won't wind up with strange grain patterns on a face.

As I said, it really depends on what I'm trying to do and what I have on hand to work with.

Charles Hubbard and Bill Sisko have reacted to this post.
Charles HubbardBill Sisko

Thanks Jim.  I have not tried working with cherry yet but will go get me some now.

Hi Bill,

I often recommend people carve one design in several types of wood so you can really feel the difference. For example, take the camellia lesson and carve the first one in basswood, then do the exact same design in butternut and then walnut and then cherry. Because you already know the design and the basic process of creating the design, then the difference is focusing on how the different woods react, how much pressure you need to put into the cuts, where the vulnerable places are with each particular type of wood, whether it might be easier to use a mallet or just pushing through. You will learn a tremendous amount about how each wood reacts, and about how you are able to control the tools. Oh... and you might also discover how to sharpen you chisels in the process 🙂 Especially when you get into walnut and cherry.

Charles Hubbard has reacted to this post.
Charles Hubbard

Perfect.  I will do that.  Thank you!