8 Best Woods for Carving (Easy to Work With)

Carving wood can be an amazingly satisfactory thing to do, but not all woods are really carvable. However, the woods I would recommend include: Black walnut, white walnut, aspen, maple, lime, oak, cherry, and mahogany.

But getting the correct wood is crucial to the overall success of your project. I know all about that as I’ve tested a range of wood to really get to the bottom of which one is best.

So, I will guide you through the eight best kinds of wood for carving to help you ascertain what you should purchase if your project is calling for some carving to be done. I promise it will make life so much easier as a result, and you will more than likely sit there feeling proud of the end result.

But at the heart of all of this is the knowledge that the wood you are working with is going to be easy to carve. You want to know that the wood will react the way you need it to, or you will run into a brick wall and feel your frustration grow.

However, what you are about to find out is that the wood species I’m going to recommend will not be the ones that immediately spring to mind. You see, a lot of the wood we use for most projects will be carvable, but it will often put up a fight. That’s something I want you to avoid as much as possible, so I will guide you away from those wood species and onto something that’s easier.

Also the wood species I plan on recommending will also be suitable for people of all experience levels. I don’t want a beginner to feel left out just because I’ve only selected species of wood that require a bit more skill.

So, let’s work through the different woods and allow me to explain why they are so suitable for carving.

best wood for carving

1. Lime

lime wood for carving

Lime can also be known as basswood, and I see this as the perfect wood for not only more intricate carving but it’s also highly beneficial for people new to the entire process. It’s just so easy to work with, and as a beginner you don’t want to tackle a wood that will make life even harder than it needs to be. 

The reason why lime is so good is that it’s soft, so there’s no need to apply a lot of pressure to then get the outcome you want. I love this fact because I just think that not having to force anything gives you greater control over what’s going on. Lime certainly helps you out in that area.

But lime is also very crisp as a wood. It has a close grain, which makes a difference when it comes to controlling the carving aspect. This is because tight grain makes it highly unlikely that the wood will then split off or splinter when you least expect it to. That does make it more likely you will be able to create smooth edges because of how you can carve off small sections of wood without leaving it looking too rough.

But I also love lime because it’s inexpensive to get your hands on some. That is one reason why I say it’s perfect for a beginner because you can easily pick up a few planks and then get to work on trying out different techniques and methods.

Yet I would also grab some lime if I intended to get more intricate with my carving. You can create all manners of shapes and styles with lime, and it does then give you the ability to hone your skills before you think about moving onto a wood species that is perhaps not quite so malleable as lime.

Pros

  • It’s inexpensive, so don’t worry if you make a mistake
  • It’s very easy to manipulate and cut
  • The wood will not split too easily
  • You can easily maintain control

Cons

  • It’s not quite as durable as other options

2. Oak

oak wood for carving

I would hazard a guess that oak would have been one of the wood species that you would have thought about when it came to carving. I think that’s for a good reason in that everyone knows how popular oak has been for centuries, and some oak furniture does come with some relatively cool and delicate carving incorporated into it.

But I must point out that the grain with oak is not as good as it is with lime. That does mean it may result in you getting something a bit rougher at the end, so that’s an important point to consider. 

Also, I feel that oak is better when you are carving larger items. It’s not quite as suitable when it comes to the more intricate side of wood carving, and I think you would struggle to get the sort of look you were hoping for.

Yet, even though it’s only suitable for those larger pieces, oak is still a fantastic option to consider. It’s strong, durable, and even though you will be required to put in a bit more effort, it can still look very impressive when you get to work. However, ensure your carving tools are in top condition to make your life easier.

Pros

  • It’s strong and durable
  • It works well when carving large items
  • It’s easy to pick up some oak

Cons

  • It’s not too good for more intricate carving
  • Due to its toughness, it does take more effort to carve

3. Cherry

cherry wood for carving

Cherry is a fantastic wood in general, and it is also pretty easy to carve as well. It’s all thanks to the grain being straight and relatively close together. You should not really encounter any surprises when carving, and it should pretty much react the way you hoped.

But it’s also the appearance of the cherry wood that helps it stand out. The wood tends to have something of a pink and brown undertone to it all, and it just looks different from pretty much any other species of wood out there.

However, I do need to clarify a couple of things here with you. Cherry wood is not ideal for whittling. It will prove to be too difficult to work with, and that’s why I would only suggest using cherry if you plan on carving with larger pieces or even with a chainsaw.

In those situations, cherry will prove to be a fantastic choice. It will also work well if you plan on indulging in some chip carving, and yet again, it will act in the way you want it to without encountering too many problems.

Pros

  • It’s perfect for chip carving
  • The color of cherry is gorgeous
  • It’s easy to carve thanks to the grain

Cons

  • You cannot use it for whittling
  • It’s difficult to use it for smaller projects, so I would avoid that

4. Black Walnut

black walnut wood for carving

If you plan on indulging in some luxury, then black walnut is one wood species I would recommend you try out. I have to admit that this is one of the most gorgeous woods out there, thanks to its dark, chocolate-like color. Also, black walnut has one of the best grain patterns around, and it all results in a fantastic piece of wood that just looks luxurious.

But it’s not all about the looks here. Instead, black walnut is also capable of being carved with absolute ease, and it doesn’t require much in the way of effort from you either. Sanding it down is also a breeze, and it leads to some stunning end results.

You should find that walnut will respond well to more intricate carving, and it will not splinter or leave you with edges that are too rough. This is clearly important when you consider the wood. It’s hardly going to look as luxurious when you have rough edges.

But I admit that there is a problem. Black walnut is more expensive than most of the other kinds of wood out there. However, when you see the end result of the finished article, then I think you will start to believe it was well worth the added cost.

Pros

  • It works exceptionally well with intricate carving
  • It doesn’t splinter
  • It’s easy to carve with little effort

Cons

  • Its cost can put people off using it

5. Butternut

white walnut for carving

This is another one of those woods you may not have thought of or even heard of that much, but it’s actually white walnut. Now, I know I just mentioned black walnut, but even though this does share some characteristics, it’s also vastly different when it comes to how it looks, and even how it acts. 

I see this as another wonderful option for people starting out with their carving hobby. The wood is very responsive to what you are doing, and it puts up little resistance when using your carving tools

Also, the wood does polish up beautifully, and you can get a stunning finish with minimal effort. This is fantastic because there are clearly times where you want the finish to come across as pretty plush. Butternut certainly gives you that option, and it does so with absolute ease. 

However, it’s undoubtedly the fact that the wood is so easy to work with, thanks to it being pretty soft, that has led me to include it on my list. I also appreciate the color as it means you can easily add some stain after it and completely change its appearance in no time at all.

White walnut is very versatile, and you do have the ability to become quite intricate with your carving with this type of wood. However, the grain is slightly more coarse than you get with other types of walnut, so pick and choose your plank of wood carefully to ensure the grain does not take attention away from your carving.

Pros

  • The wood polishes and shines with ease
  • It’s highly responsive to carving making it easy to use
  • It doesn’t resist leading to better end results

Cons

  • The grain is rough, so don’t expect an initially smooth result

6. Maple

maple wood for carving

Maple can work well as a wood for carving, but it’s not something I suggest you use if you are a beginner. In fact, it would be pretty difficult for you to achieve anything if you have little in the way of experience.

The main issue with maple is the structure of the wood. It makes life more challenging for you, but I have a tip that may make a bit of a difference.

If you do plan on carving maple, then make sure that you always do so with the grain and not against it. If you try to carve against the grain, the resistance you will get from the wood will make it almost impossible to actually get your intended result.

But that does then mean I would work my way up through other kinds of wood before I even attempted to do some carving with maple. I feel the risk of making a mistake is too high with this wood, and it’s just not worth the stress that comes with it. 

With maple, you need to clearly understand what you intend to carve before you start. You must study the wood piece in advance and have everything marked out. Doing this will make the entire process so much easier, but even with this approach, I think you should only tackle it when you have a firm understanding of carving in general.

Pros

  • It looks beautiful when finished
  • You can create some intricate from maple
  • When you work with the grain, it’s easier to use

Cons

  • It’s best for people with experience of carving

7. Mahogany

mahogany wood for carving

Out of the different options, I think including mahogany may be the one that surprises people the most. This is thanks to mahogany having this reputation for being such a solid and sturdy wood, so the idea of trying to carve it may seem like an alien concept.

Yet, that’s not actually the case. Yes, mahogany is a hardwood, but you can easily carve it with some hand tools, and it doesn’t even require that much force or power from you. Also, mahogany is not as hard as people think. It certainly does not come in anywhere near the top end of the hardness rating. 

Mahogany is a gorgeous wood both to look at and to use. Also, it’s perfect for any kind of carving method, from those hand tools all the way up to chainsaw carving. I love this versatility that comes with mahogany, and I know it’s something that then surprises people as we do have some pre-conceived ideas about this wood. 

I do think you would be surprised by the quality of the end product when it comes to carving mahogany. The grain works well and leads to smoother results than you would anticipate, and then you have the natural coloring of the wood that really makes everything look even more stunning.

Pros

  • It can be used for almost any carving method
  • You can actually carve it with hand tools even though it’s hard
  • You can achieve smooth results
  • The natural coloring is stunning

Cons

  • Some people may be put off due to the potential cost

8. Aspen

aspen wood for carving

Finally, I’m going to mention aspen, and it’s yet another wood that may have been overlooked by most people. This white wood is fantastic to carve, and it’s highly responsive to what you want it to do.

As a wood, aspen is relatively lightweight and strikes the right balance between soft and hard from a carving perspective. It is stronger than lime wood, but I still see this as a wonderful option for people new to carving because it is very malleable and easy to work with.

I also appreciate the fact that aspen is pretty resistant to the idea of splitting or cracking. That gives you more confidence when carving, and it also has relatively few knots in the grain. That lack of knots also makes it easier to carve, as you don’t have to spend your time trying to avoid those weak points when working with the wood.

I love that aspen should be easy enough to get your hands on, and it’s also not radically expensive either. It’s very easy to grab a plank and even use it to master a new technique. Also, it glues together exceptionally well, and that can make it a great option for a range of projects you may wish to work on.

Pros

  • It doesn’t really split or crack
  • It’s relatively inexpensive to buy
  • It’s a lightweight wood, and is straightforward to carve
  • It’s very responsive to your touch

Cons

  • It can be tough to cut off unwanted pieces thanks to the natural resistance

How to Choose the Wood

best wood for carving

The eight options listed above are all fantastic in their own right when it comes to carving, but you are still left with the problem of knowing how to choose the correct wood. Well, it’s honestly not that easy to do, but with some thought and planning, I think you can do it.

But to help, I have a few tips.

If New, Start with Softwoods

My first tip is to only start with softwood if you are new to carving. Softwood will offer no resistance to your carving tools, and it makes it easier to then work at developing your technique and method. 

Also, softwood takes less effort to get some sort of result from it. I see this as adding to your confidence, and so much about carving is having the confidence to carry out the actions in the first place. 

Understand the Purpose of the Project

I would also seek a clear understanding of the project’s purpose and what you are carving. This may seem obvious, but it also influences the wood you should use.

For example, oak is not suitable for intricate and delicate carving. It’s just not going to work at all. However, lime or aspen is perfect for the more intricate side of things, so you already see how knowing what you plan on doing could change the material you work with.

Also, keep in mind that some kinds of wood will be harder to work with compared to others. Maple is not something a beginner should seek to carve as it will just prove problematic, and there’s a greater risk of you making a mess of things.

The Grain

I would also pay attention to the grain. You want it to be pretty uniform and relatively tight. This should mean there’s a reduced risk of the wood either splitting or cracking as you work on it. You have no idea how annoying that can be when it happens. 

Also, it’s often best to carve with the grain rather than against it. You get a tidier end result, and the carving aspect should work out to be smoother. 

Wider grain can sometimes be less predictable, and that’s not something you want to encounter. 

Color

Finally, we have the wood color, and you will notice that I’ve covered almost every color you can imagine on my list. 

Of course, you should be aware of the color before starting and whether it will then fit in with your desired project. This is the easiest part to do, but it’s also very important, as it is with any project.

But overall, I think the key point is to know how easy or difficult a wood is to work with. That should be your main deciding factor when it comes to selecting the best wood to carve with. 

Overall Conclusion

And those are my eight best kinds of wood for carving, and I feel that any one of them will be perfect, no matter the project you have in mind. Getting the correct wood when you plan on carving something out of it is perhaps the most essential part of this project. It’s the one thing that will either make your life easier or harder.

But I would also suggest checking out these other articles on the site to make your entire wood carving experience significantly better than it may have otherwise been.

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Barry Gray

Hi, I’m Barry. I’ve loved woodworking and bringing things back to life for more years than I care to remember. I hope my passion for tools comes across loud and clear in everything you read here on The Tool Square.