Softening wood for carving is one of the most searched topics in wood carving. Two of the reasons that might lead to seeking this knowledge are; either the wood is too dry for carving, or you are a beginner who has hardwood at your disposal.
As a beginner woodcarver or whittler, it is faster and easier to learn the art with softwood like basswood for example. But if you only have wood at your disposal, there is a way you can soften the piece for carving.
There are a couple of ways you can soften your wood for carving and all these ways will include contact with water or alcohol or even sometimes both. The best way I came across to apply any on your dry wood is by spraying it from cross proximity
I gathered 5 different ways that you can use when softening wood for carving.
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How To Soften Wood For Carving
1. Softening carving wood with Alcohol-Water Solution
Spraying 50/50 alcohol-water solution in equal proportions is a very effective way and this is why this method is so common to carvers when they want to soften the wood they want to carve.
It gives you instructions and they are so simple to follow. You mix 70% of isopropyl alcohol with water in a spraying bottle. 60% or 91% can also work too just fine. Personally, I prefer the 70% solution because it makes wood wet for a longer period of time.
This alcohol-water solution should be even because they both play an essential part. Water makes the wood less dry and alcohol decreases the rate at which the water is leaving the wood avoiding you to keep on spraying the alcohol-water solution on the dry wood, and you’ll notice It is easier to whittle the wood when the blade gets in touch with alcohol
Spraying the 50/50 alcohol-water solution to wood from a close distance is the best way I can recommend that works best, but then again you should not apply a lot of the solution on the wood because it will make the wood crack which will lead to a lot of repairs.
2. Soaking The Wood In Water
Some carvers prefer this way of softening wood for carving if the projects they are carving are fast to complete. Soaking your wood in water does the work of softening your wood but the thing that some would not like about it though is that after soaking, the wood changes color. But if you have no worries about a little change, this is the cheapest way to soften your wood.
All you have to do is immerse your dry wood in water and then leave it for around 2 days to be soft enough to carve. An important detail to note is that wood absorbs water best from the ends of grains, meaning you should make sure that both edges of the wood are underwater.
Because there is no alcohol to reduce the rate at which the water leaves the wood, I can’t say the method solves the situation completely. It’s like any other cheap method, it will do the work but not with efficiency than a more expensive method.
If you decide to use this method make sure that the projects you are doing require little time to finish carving because soaked wood will dry extremely quickly and when it dries it becomes harder than before.
Carving a hardwood after soaking it in water is not quite the same as carving it green, but it is also much easier to carve it when soaked because when it gets too dry you can feel like you are carving a rock.
3.Utilizing a WD-40
WD-40 is a water-displacing spray that really works well although a big percentage of carvers rarely know about it.
This solution is under 10$ and you can find it on Amazon or local shops around you.
It works similarly to the alcohol-water solution and the difference comes in the time the solution reacts to the wood you are preparing to carve. WD-40 takes longer after spraying it on the wood and you will have to wait for at least a day before you start carving.
This solution has a very strong scent, and it is advisable to use it outside or use it in a well-ventilated space. Make sure your knife is sharp to get the best experience carving and I believe this solution will soften your wood and make it enjoyable when carving.
4. Denatured Alcohol
Denature alcohol is also similar to the alcohol-water solution method, the difference is you leave out the water. This will work efficiently too and it will make you enjoy carving your wood after softening it.
To use denatured alcohol, spray or soak the wood in the solution before carving and try carving it with a sharp knife and see how easy it is to cut through the wood. Make sure you always make sure your wood is soft.
Another important piece of information is, denatured alcohol is also known as methylated spirits, and it is usually 94% alcohol which is stronger than the recommended in water-alcohol solution.
To be sure whether this is the best solution to use, do some experiment with a small piece sample of the wood you want to carve by applying the solution on it before applying it on your main workpiece.
5. Soaking Wood In Boiling Water
This is an artificial way to make a wood wet, both outside and inside and as you know by now is that moisture softens wood and it will be easy for you to carve your projects. A lot of questions have been asked about this method whether it works.
This method of softening wood for carving for sure works if you follow the instructions and execute them the right way. You will be happy that you managed to soften your wood.
Make sure what you use to boil the water is large enough to fit your wood piece. fill it with water and heat it till it boils and leaves the wood inside to soak in water. As the wood heats up, it opens up letting the fibers of the wood absorb the water.
The amount of time required for the wood to absorb the water depends on the size of the wood, and this method of boiling may trigger a color change in your wood so I would not advise you to use this method if the wood you are using in your carving project is expensive.
Conclusion on softening wood for carving
Maintain good condition to your knives by applying oil after. No matter how you try to soften dry wood, some wood retains the hardness and it might not work and you might get disappointed. When working that is hard to cut through your advantage is making your tools as sharp as possible.
Tools like gouges and V-tools have a high chance of breaking when carving dry wood. At times when the wood has not softened enough and you still find it hard for carving, give it an extension of an extra day and it might be soft enough the next day.
These are the 5 ways I have reviewed for you and I hope you find them helpful because carving softwood is better and easier.