best wood for carving figures

Best Wood for Carving Figures

Best Wood for Carving Figures: Top Woodcarving Guide

Understanding the Best Wood for Carving Figures

As wood carvers, it is important to understand the different types of wood and their properties. This knowledge will help you choose the best types of wood for carving figures. In this article, I will discuss the different types of wood, wood grain and texture, and the difference between harder woods and soft wood when it comes to carving figures.

Different Types of Wood for Carving Figures

There are many different types of wood that can be used for carving figures. Some of the most popular woods include:

  • Basswood: A soft wood that is easy to carve and has a uniform texture and is fairly easy to find.
  • Butternut: A softer wood that is similar to basswood but has a darker color.
  • Cherry: A hard wood that is dense and has a fine grain.  Cherry is one of my favorite harder woods to carve.  It offers a challenge for carving figures, but not so much that you’ll want to give up!
  • Pinewood: A soft wood with a straight grain.  Pine is not all that durable, but it is very easy to find and quite cheap.  Pine wood is a good choice if you’re just beginning carving figures.
  • Walnut: A hard wood that is strong and has a rich brown color.  Black walnut really adds great depth and color to your piece.

Each type of wood has its own unique properties that make it suitable for different carving projects.

Wood Grain and Texture

The grain and texture of the wood can also affect the carving process. The grain refers to the pattern of the wood fibers, while the texture refers to the smoothness or roughness of the wood surface.

When carving figures, it is important to pay attention to the direction of the grain. Carving against the grain can cause the wood to split or chip. It is also important to choose wood with a consistent texture to ensure a smooth carving surface.

Hard Wood Vs. Soft Wood

Another important factor to consider when choosing wood for carving figures is the hardness of the wood. Hard wood is denser and more durable than soft wood, which makes it suitable for fine details and intricate carving projects.

Soft wood, on the other hand, is easier to carve and is often used for beginner projects. However, it may not hold up as well over time. For figure carving, I usually look for woods with a Janka Hardness rating between 350 lbf and 900 lbf.

Understanding the different types of wood, wood grain and texture, and the difference between hard and soft wood is essential for choosing the best wood for carving figures. By taking these factors into consideration, you can ensure that your carving projects are successful and long-lasting.

Recommended Kinds of Wood for Carving Figures

When it comes to carving figures, choosing the right type of wood is crucial. Not all woods are created equal, and some are better suited for carving than others. Here are some of the best woods I’ve used for carving figures:

Basswood (Lime Wood)

Basswood is one of the most popular and easiest wood for carving figures. It is a soft wood that has a fine, even texture. Basswood carving blocks are widely available and come in a range of sizes. This wood is also affordable, making it a great choice for beginners.  Basswood is not as soft as balsa wood, but that’s a good thing as basswood will hold detail better than balsa wood.

best wood for carving figures
Figure carving in basswood by Jonathan Creason

Butternut Wood

Butternut wood is another popular choice for carving figures. It is a softer wood that is easy to carve and has a beautiful grain pattern. Butternut wood is also lightweight, making it a great choice for larger carvings.

Cherry Wood

Cherry wood is a hardwood that is known for its beautiful color and grain pattern. It is a bit harder to carve than some of the other woods on this list, but it is still a popular choice for carving figures. Cherry wood is also durable, making it a great choice for carvings that will be used or displayed for a long time.

best wood for carving figures
“First try of a wee wizard using cherry wood and finished with Boiled Linseed Oil.” by Ronnie-min

Soft Maple

Soft maple is a hardwood that is similar to cherry wood in terms of its grain pattern. It is a bit softer than cherry wood, making it a good wood for ease of carving. Soft maple is also affordable, making it a great choice for beginners.

Oak

Oak is a hardwood that is known for its strength and durability. It is a bit harder to carve than some of the other woods on this list, but it is still a popular choice for carving figures. Red oak is preferred over white oak, since it is not quite as hard. However, both oaks make result in beautiful finished carvings. The harder the wood, the more patience you’ll need!

Walnut

Walnut is a hardwood that is known for its beautiful color and grain pattern. It is also a bit harder to carve than some of the other woods mentioned, but it is still a popular choice for carving figures. Black walnut and white walnut (butternut) are both good choices for carving.

Overall, the best wood for carving figures will depend on your skill level, budget, and personal preferences. However, these woods described above are all great choices for carving and are widely available.

Tools for Wood Carving Figures

Hand Tools

When it comes to carving figures out of wood, having the right tools is essential. Hand tools are the most traditional and widely used tools for wood carving. Here are some of the most commonly used hand tools for your carving figures wood carving project:

  • Carving knife: This is the most basic and essential tool for carving figures. It is used to make cuts and shape the wood.
  • Gouges: These are chisels with a curved cutting edge. They are used to carve concave shapes such as bowls, spoons, and other curved surfaces.
  • V-tools: These are chisels with a V-shaped cutting edge. They are used to carve grooves, lines, and other decorative details.
  • Chisels: These are straight-edged tools used to make straight cuts and shape the wood.

Power Tools

Power tools have revolutionized the world of wood carving. They allow carvers to work faster and with greater precision. Here are some of the most commonly used power tools for carving figures:

  • Angle grinder: This is a handheld power tool that uses high-speed rotary discs to carve and shape the wood. It is ideal for carving intricate details and for working on larger pieces of wood. We have a very popular article that discusses the different types of discs to use with carving.
  • Rotary tool: Dremel is the most popular brand in this category. This is a versatile power tool that can be used for a variety of carving tasks. It is small and easy to handle, making it ideal for working on smaller pieces of wood.
  • Jigsaw: Use the reciprocating blade of the jigsaw to make curved cuts in the wood. It is ideal for cutting out the basic shape of a figure before carving it in detail.

When it comes to choosing between hand tools and power tools, it really comes down to personal preference. Some carvers prefer the traditional feel of hand tools, while others prefer the speed and precision of power tools. Ultimately, the best tool for the job is the one that you feel most comfortable using.

Choosing the Right Wood for Your Project

When it comes to wood carving, choosing the right wood is crucial to the success of your project. Different types of wood have different properties that affect how they are carved and how the finished product looks. Here are some things to consider when choosing the right wood for your carving project.

Beginner Projects

If you are just starting out with wood carving, it’s best to choose a wood that is easy to work with and forgiving. Basswood, also known as linden or lime wood, is a popular choice for beginners because it is soft, lightweight, and has a fine, even grain that makes it easy to carve. Other good choices for beginning hand carving include butternut, pine, and cedar.

Advanced Projects

If you are an experienced carver looking to tackle larger or more complex projects, you may want to choose a harder, dense, wood that is more durable and has a more interesting grain pattern. Hardwoods like oak, cherry, hard maple, and black walnut are popular choices for advanced carvers because they are dense, strong, and have a beautiful natural color and grain. However, these woods will be more challenging to work with and may require more advanced carving techniques.

When choosing the right wood for carving figures, it’s important to consider the size of the carving you want to create. Larger projects may require a harder wood to provide the necessary structural support, while smaller carvings can be made from softer woods that are easier to carve and more forgiving.

Overall, the right wood for your carving project will depend on your skill level, the size of the project, and the desired finished product. By considering these factors and choosing a wood that is appropriate for your needs, you can ensure that your carving project is a success.

Tips for Best Results in Wood Carving

Maintaining Your Carving Tools

To achieve the best results in wood carving, it is essential to keep your tools sharp and in good condition. Dull tools can make carving more difficult, can be a safety hazard, and they can also damage the wood. To maintain your sharp tools, you should:

  • Sharpen your tools regularly using a sharpening stone or a honing guide.
  • Clean your tools after each use to remove any debris or sap that may have accumulated.
  • Store your tools in a dry place to prevent rust and other damage.

By following these practices, you can ensure that your tools remain in excellent condition and that you achieve the best results in your wood carving projects.

Choosing the Kind of Wood

The type of wood you choose can also have a significant impact on the results of your carving project. When selecting wood for carving, you should consider:

  • Dryness: Greener wood is easier to carve than dry wood, which can be more challenging to work with. However, as the moisture leaves green wood it can have a tendency to warp or split, so use caution with unseasoned woods.
  • Hardness: Hardwood is typically more difficult to carve than softwood, but it can also produce more detailed carvings and is more durable. I like a wood with a Janka Hardness of 350 lbf to 900 lbf.
  • Grain: The direction of the grain can affect the ease of carving and the final appearance of the carving. Remember to carve WITH the grain direction.

By choosing the right type of wood for your project and ensuring that it is dry and of good quality, you can achieve the best results in your wood carving.

What’s Next?

While the word “best” in “best woods for carving figures” may be relative, there are some advantages that figure carvers may enjoy in some woods that are absent in others.

Basswood is our favorite wood that we recommend to figure whittlers. However, it does have two drawbacks – its a plain and uninteresting grain and the price point can get a bit high, but there are other options like pine and cherry that can easily fit in the best woods for whittling figures conversation.

If you’re looking for other project ideas, check out our list of best projects for beginners. Even seasoned pros will find a few fun ideas to consider.

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