Does soaking wood make it easier to carve?

Whether you are a beginner or an expert in carving and you come across wood that is hard to carve when using hand tools, what is your next move? The easiest way I’d think of to solve this problem is using power tools and if the carving project is big enough, I’d use a chainsaw.

But what if you don’t have either of the two, do you give up on carving? What about soaking the wood in water? will it make carving easy for you? Today I will share with you the effects of soaking wood for carving and the best way to make wood easy for carving.

Soaking is the act of wetting something thoroughly and in this case, we are talking about soaking wood for carving.

How Does Soaking Affect Wood

Before a tree is cut to lumber, the moisture content is usually 100%. The roots supply moisture and the food it needs and when it is cut, the food and moisture supply is also cut. As time passes, the lumber starts losing moisture to the environment and as it reaches 25 to 30% moisture content, it starts to shrink. Carving freshly cut lumber is easier than carving a dry one because the moisture allows the blade to glide through.

Soaking wood causes it to expand. This is caused by the excess water in the wood and when it dries, it will shrink again causing cracks and checks along the wood grain.

For the ones who wanted to know if soaking wood makes it easier to carve, the answer is No. Using soaked wood for carving could damage your carving or even completely ruin it.

How Do You Make Wood Easier For Carving

Without wasting time, I know when you are thinking of soaking wood for carving, you wanted to solve the hard-to-carve wood problem. So what is the best way you can make your wood easier for carving if a hard wood is the only option of you have?

The best way to make wood easier for carving is using a 50/50 mixture; half isopropyl alcohol, and half water. You will pour the solution into a spray can and as you carve, spray, slice, and re-apply.

The reasons why this method is good for carving compared to soaking are;

  • It only saturates the area you are carving- Unlike soaking wood, the 50/50 mixture will only saturate the area you want to carve and for this reason, the wood won’t expand then shrink avoiding wood forming cracks and splits.
  • Because you are spraying the solution, the wood you are preparing for carving won’t expand causing it to shrink. You can also decide on using alcohol only if you don’t mind. The reason alcohol is mixed with water is to make it a little bit cheaper ad to reduce the alcohol smell because it can be irritating to the nose.

Should You Wait For Wood To Dry Before Carving

Although caving greenwood is easier than carving dry wood, dry wood is the best choice when carving. Greenwood is more prone to cracks because the moisture content is still 100% and for this reason, it might form cracks or shrink your carving after it has dried.

Another reason why you should wait for wood to dry is because green wood is not good for detailing. Detailing gives a carving the finished look and also adds to the aesthetics of the carving.

When carving green wood, it will leave residue to your tools that will make it hard to clean.


Soaking wood does not make wood easier to carve, it destroys the wood by causing it to shrink and crack. The 50/50 solution will do the work and you won’t have to worry about splits and cracks.

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