Conifers are a very common softwood. They grow relatively fast, making them an attractive choice in the construction industry.
It is worth noting that what we call conifers is a group of broad species of trees all of which are cone-bearing. How do conifers respond to carving? can you carve conifer wood?
Generally, conifers vary where some species are generally good for carving and even whittling. However, some are quite frustrating to work with mainly because of the wood either being too knotty, splintering easily, or having lots of sap pockets.
In this article, we take a look at the conifers. Which conifers are good for carving and which ones you should probably approach with caution. If your conifer is not mentioned worry not.
We have prepared tips for working with conifers successfully.
What species of conifers are good for carving
conifers trees are made up of over 600 individual species. This makes them vary widely given the species and condition of growth that affects the annual rings. But among these species what are some that have the right qualities that allow carving?
For the most part pine, we are good for carving especially Sugar pine which has a pleasing smell. To successfully carve pine as a rule of thumb tools must be very sharp with a low bevel angle.
The pine fibers tend to crush instead of being cut if the tools are not sharp enough.
Selecting a block of pine for carving make sure it is as clear as possible. Avoid the pine pieces that have many knots as they are problematic to work with.
Pines are really great for beginners to practice with since they are inexpensive.
Cedar is a common conifer that grows in many parts of the US. This wood is very durable and has in the past been utilized for outdoor wood like fence posts.
Cedar Is one of my favorite conifers to carve. The wood does not require much finish as it is already durable due to the oils it releases called polyoxiphenols.
Eastern Red Cedar, Port Orford Cedar, Incense Cedar, Yellow Cedar, and Eastern White Cedar are considered the best types of cedar for carving.
Redwoods are without a doubt one of the oldest tree species with fossils dating back to the Jurassic period. Their wood just like some of the conifers is rot resistant. Carving redwood is not exactly easy but that is expected with conifer woods.
Redwood still finds itself a favorite to many carvers, especially chainsaw carvers. When working with redwood try not to get too detailed as they are not compact enough to hold details as hardwoods do.
All the above mentioned will be easier to carve than the other conifers. However, This is not to say that the rest of the conifers cannot be carved. The above conifer woods is what I have personally used.
Are there ways to salvage the conifer wood you have if it’s not on the above list? Sure there are ways you can identify if a piece of conifer wood is worth carving.
check out other woods here
Tips for carving conifers successfully
1. Choosing a conifer with Fewer knots
Most conifers will have this issue of having too many knots. Ideally, you would want to choose a piece of wood with very few knots.
The reason we avoid knotted wood for carving is the difficulty that arises. Working knots is tedious work and if you’re not careful you may ruin the whole carving.
If you have the option of power carving then knots will not be so hard to workaround. But still, knots may leave undesired unevenness in the wood. Therefore, unless the imperfections caused by knots are incorporated into the design it is good to avoid them entirely.
2. Seasoning your conifers
Though some species of conifer may be hard and are better carved green, for most conifers, it’s better to season the wood before carving. Seasoning your conifer before carving ensures that the wood is as stable as possible.
Its also recommended to leave your piece of conifer at your workshop for a few weeks before carving. What this does is, stabilizes the moisture content of the wood and the workshop.
3. Bevel for your tools
We have said this before when talking about carving common softwoods. A lower bevel angle that really accounts for a sharper edge is vital especially if you plan to carve conifer wood.
Conifers have sap pockets that really gum up your cutting edge. To combat this you not only need a low bevel angle but also regularly stropping your tools.
How often should you strop? I would say around 20minutes but that would to miss lead you. The best way to know how often you should strop when carving conifer is by feeling your tool at work and being keen.
If you’re keen enough you should be able to notice when your tool is not at peak performance and that’s when you strop.
4. Finishing conifer carvings
Finishing is quite important not only in woodcarving but the entire woodworking craft in general.
For conifers, it’s best to forget about staining. It is hard to get an even tone with most conifers. A better finish for conifer carvings is painting. Painting offers protection from moisture and also UV rays.
Summing up: Can you carve conifer wood
Conifer woods can be carved, Technically speaking all woods can be carved. The question then is how hard is it to carve a particular species of wood. In the case of conifers, they are not the most preferred given their softwood nature.
If you have a piece of conifer and have been in a dilemma whether to carve it or not, fear not. Carving is a collaboration of design tools and materials. We have definitely done the part by learning how to use and sharpen our tools.
We must take it upon ourselves to understand the material as well and what better way than to carve it and see how it responds? Our observation of the carving process will tell us the limitations and most importantly the possibilities!