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Wood carving can be an incredibly rewarding and positive hobby, and it eventually can even become a career. It is one of the oldest crafts in the world and is both functional and artistically beautiful. Nearly every wood on earth can be used for carving, which gives the craft a huge abundance to choose from, and at times that can be overwhelming. A few types are especially popular, however, particularly among beginners. These woods are usually chosen for their softness and beauty, and also for their relative affordability.
Basswood is probably the most popular choice wood for beginners. It's from the Tilia genus and is often known as linden in North America. This is a white wood that grows throughout Europe and the Americas, and it has been used in woodworking for centuries. Basswood has almost no grain and is very soft, making it ideal for new woodworkers, and one sees it often used for small model parts. It is also popular in cheaper musical instruments, making up the bodies of some woodwinds, and electric basses and guitars. Basswood blanks can be found at most hobby supply shops and are a great wood to start learning to carve on, since it is malleable and cheap.
Aspen is another white wood that is quite popular among woodworkers. It's stronger than basswood but is still quite soft, so it is fairly easy to use for carving. Aspen trees grow widely and easily, and so the wood is common and quite cheap. All sorts of low end goods, from matches to packing material, are made from aspen, and cheap blanks can be found at most hobby supply stores.
Butternut is another good wood for beginner wood carving. It is browner than both basswood or aspen, so for those who don’t want to work in white, it can be a good option. This wood is also sometimes referred to as white walnut, because it is still much paler than the deep hue of black walnut. Like black walnut, butternut polishes quite nicely, and so is a good choice for furniture. It is also quite resistant to most rots and is lightweight when compared with black walnut. At the same time, it is a much softer wood, so beginners will find it much easier to work with.
Black walnut itself is a very popular choice, although it is much more expensive than the other three woods mentioned. It is fairly easy to carve, but is very sturdy and quite heavy, although not as heavy as oak. Walnut is used in all sorts of things, from furniture to gunstocks to coffins, and because of the relatively rarity of the trees, it can be extremely expensive.
Oak is probably one of the most popular woods for carving, with a range of features that make it almost ideal. It is an incredibly strong and sturdy wood, and is almost impervious to most rots and insects. The grain of oak is considered very beautiful, and it is one of the favorite woods used for making furniture.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best type of wood for beginners to start carving?
For beginners, basswood is often recommended due to its fine, even texture and minimal grain. It's soft enough to carve easily but still holds detail well. According to the Woodcarving Illustrated community, basswood's workability makes it a favorite among novice carvers looking to practice and refine their skills.
Which wood is preferred for detailed carving work?
For detailed carving, hardwoods like walnut or mahogany are highly prized. These woods have a fine grain that can hold intricate details well. As noted by the Woodworkers Guild of America, walnut's density and tight grain allow for precise cuts, making it ideal for detailed work, although it requires sharper tools and more skill to carve.
Are there any softwoods that are good for carving?
Yes, softwoods like pine and cedar are also used for carving, especially for larger pieces where a softer material can be easier to shape. Pine is widely available and affordable, but its grain can be tricky to manage. Cedar is known for its aromatic scent and resistance to decay, as highlighted by the Arbor Day Foundation, making it suitable for outdoor carvings.
What wood species are best for outdoor carvings?
For outdoor carvings, woods like cedar and cypress are excellent choices due to their natural resistance to rot and insects. The U.S. Department of Agriculture notes that cypress, in particular, has a natural preservative oil, making it durable in outdoor conditions. Redwood is also a good option, known for its longevity and resistance to warping.
How does the hardness of wood affect the carving process?
The hardness of wood significantly affects the carving process. Hardwoods like oak and maple offer durability and can hold fine details, but they require more effort and sharper tools to carve. Conversely, softer woods like basswood are easier to shape but may not withstand wear or hold details as well over time, as explained by the Janka hardness scale used in the woodworking industry.
Can exotic woods be used for carving, and what are their characteristics?
Exotic woods like ebony and rosewood can be used for carving, offering unique colors and grain patterns. Ebony is known for its deep black color and fine texture, making it valuable for small, intricate pieces. Rosewood is dense and can vary in color, often used for high-quality carvings. However, these woods can be expensive and require advanced skills to carve properly, as detailed by the International Wood Products Association.