carving cedar

Is Cedar Good for Carving?

For many beginner whittlers, or any carver looking to experiment with new wood types, selecting the right wood is crucial. I did some research and consulted a few colleagues and many agree that carving cedar wood is a fantastic idea for wood carvers.

However, not all cedars are created equal. There are specific characteristics that make different species of cedar more appropriate than others for woodcarving and whittling.  Read on to learn more!

Can Cedar Wood Be Carved?

Yes, absolutely! Cedars are coniferous trees; by definition they are a softwood, but also practically speaking cedar’s have soft wood.

Cedar wood types are not only suitable choices for carving but also a favorite among many woodworkers and wood carvers.  Cedar’s fine grain, nice workability, soft nature, and distinct smell and coloring make it an excellent canvas for bringing your designs to life.

Whether you’re a seasoned carver or a beginning whittler, cedar wood welcomes your chisels, gouges, and carving tools!

How to Get Started with Cedar Wood Carvings

Diving into carving requires a blend of passion and preparation, Cedar is a good wood to begin your hobby with. It’s readily available and affordable for most, while being easy to work with for both hand tools and power carving tools.  

Begin your new carving hobby by assembling a toolkit of carving essentials, including chisels, gouges, carving knives, and protective gear. Study foundational carving techniques and explore carving patterns and designs to spark inspiration. Start carving cedar on smaller projects to build confidence and refine your skills before progressing to more complex creations.

Benefits of Using Cedar for Wood Carvings

Cedar has been a very versatile wood type for wood carvers, wood workers, craftsmen and craftswomen for a long time.  Cedar offers excellent resilience to rot and decay, has a beautiful aesthetic and smell, while being easy to find and relatively inexpensive.  I’ll discuss more about these benefits below:

Ease of Carving Cedar Wood

In my opinion, the greatest benefit of carving cedar for your wood projects is it’s softness and easy-to-carve nature.  Your knife or other hand tools will glide through most cedar species with ease.  It is soft, yet still has a nice ability to maintain finer details and workability.

Natural Rot Resistance Of Cedar Carvings

One of the standout features of cedar wood is its remarkable resistance to both rot and insects. This makes it an excellent choice for projects that require longevity and exposure to the outdoor elements.

When you’re carving cedar, you’re not only crafting intricate details; you’re also investing in pieces that can withstand the test of time, whether they adorn your indoor spaces or grace your garden. The natural preservatives in cedar wood ensure that your carved creations remain structurally sound and visually stunning for years to come.  

Decoy carvers like to use cedar for actual duck decoys, they perform well for many years and have a fantastic buoyancy in the water!

Aroma and Color of Cedar Carvings

Imagine the joy of working with a wood that not only feels good under your tools but also smells amazing as you carve. Cedar wood’s subtle yet distinctive aroma adds an extra layer of pleasure to the carving experience.

Additionally, its warm, reddish hues and appealing grain patterns lend a touch of elegance to your creations. As you sculpt and shape, the wood’s color and aroma contribute to the sensory satisfaction that comes with transforming a simple piece of wood into a true work of art.

Availability and Affordability of Cedar for Carving

Accessibility is key when it comes to choosing the right wood for your carving projects. Cedar wood boasts wide availability, making it a practical choice for woodworkers of all levels.

And here’s the exciting part: despite its exceptional qualities, cedar wood remains affordable, ensuring that you can embark on your carving ventures without breaking the bank. So whether you’re a professional carver or a hobbyist, cedar wood offers you the best of both worlds: quality and cost-effectiveness.

Challenges With Using Cedar Wood for Carving

While cedar wood has numerous advantages, like any wood, it does present some challenges too.

​Strong Knots in Cedar Wood

Knots in cedar can be a bit of a hurdle during carving. These areas of denser grain can lead to uneven carving results and require careful consideration and adjustment of your carving techniques. However, with a bit of practice and the right tools, navigating knots becomes a manageable aspect of working with cedar wood.

Splintering of Cedar Wood

Another aspect to keep in mind when carving cedar is its tendency to splinter if not handled properly. The softness of cedar wood can lead to small splinters forming as you carve (especially when carving dry cedar), potentially affecting the smoothness of your work. However, using stop cuts and other carving techniques, sharp tools, and a bit of patience, you can minimize splintering and achieve clean, polished results.

Taking your time and paying attention to wood grain direction can go a long way in mitigating this challenge.

Durability of Cedar Wood

The softer nature of cedar wood lends itself to carving, whittling and general handling of the wood.  However, this softness means that cedar is a less durable wood than some of the other harder wood types that are available to carvers and woodworkers.  

Used in the wrong application, cedar can gouge, dent, and show scratches rather easily.  So, use cedar for projects that are for aesthetics and looks, rather than high traffic areas around your home.

3 Common Types of Cedar for Carving

Not all cedar wood species are created equal, check out the three types of wood below that I’ve found to be relatively common and also make a good canvas for cedar wood carving projects.

​Western Red Cedar

western red carving cedar

Botanical Name: Thuja plicata

Other Names: Giant Arborvitae, Pacific Red Cedar

Sources: Western Canada and Pacific Northwest of the United States

Characteristics: Straight grain, fine texture, reddish-brown hues, soft and lightweight.

Uses: Detailed carvings, chainsaw carving, outdoor carvings and applications.

Workability: Great workability due to its lightweight combined with fine, straight, grain pattern.

Finishing: Accepts finishes well.

Density: Average: 23 Ib./cu. ft.

Price: $$ (2 out of 5)

Notes: Western Red Cedar’s soft and lightweight nature makes it an excellent choice for intricate detailing, while its natural resistance to decay and insects ensures the longevity of carved pieces, even when used for outdoor projects like sculptures and garden ornaments

​Eastern Red Cedar

carving cedar eastern red cedar

Botanical Name: Juniperus virginiana

Other Names: Aromatic Cedar, Tennessee Red Cedar, Juniper, Eastern Cedar.

Sources: Canada and the Eastern United States

Characteristics: Straight grain, fine texture, reddish-brown and rustic appearance, boards often have knots and bark inclusions.

Uses: Relief and detailed wood carving, linings of closets and chests, veneers, and pencils.

Workability: Generally good, but brittle – may split or splinter especially near knots and heartwood/sapwood threshold.

Finishing: Accepts finishes well.  Great resistance to rot and insects.

Density: Average: 26 Ib./cu. ft.

Price: $$ (2 out of 5)

Notes:  Eastern Red Cedar, often referred to as aromatic cedar, is valued for its soft nature, rich reddish hues, and also for the fragrant scent it emits when carved.   Its distinct aroma and elegant appearance have made it a favorite for crafting delicate boxes, intricate panels, and even decorative carvings within home interiors.

Yellow Cedar

carving cedar yellow cedar

Botanical Name: Chamaecyparis nootkatensis

Other Names: Alaska Cedar, Pacific Coast Yellow Cedar, Nootka False cypress, Yellow Cypress.

Source: Pacific Coast of North America.

Characteristics: Straight grain, fine even texture, pale yellow coloring, dimensionally stable, high resistance to decay.

Uses: Carvings of all types, Furniture, Exterior house siding and architectural detail, boat building, and house walls.

Workability: Very good; even texture and soft nature make it a pleasure to carve.

Finishing: Accepts finishes well.  Great resistance to rot and insects.

Density: Average: 28 Ib./cu. ft.

Price: $$ (2 out of 5)

Notes:  Alaska yellow is a very durable species of cedar. it has ideally been used in outdoor projects. Like most members of the cedar family, it has a distinct aroma that fades gradually with time. Yellow is a bit lighter than cedar aromatic but will still be carved with ease.  Carving cedar for an oar for your canoe or boat is a fun project to use Yellow Cedar on.

Maintaining and Preserving Cedar Carvings

Ensuring the longevity of cedar carvings demands a mindful approach to preservation. Regularly dust and clean your carvings to prevent the accumulation of debris.

Applying protective finishes like sealants or oils can enhance cedar’s natural rot resistance and safeguard against moisture and environmental factors. Placing carvings away from direct sunlight and humidity-prone areas also helps maintain your piece’s look and integrity.

What’s Next?  Carving Cedar

With its incredible resistance to decay and insects, cedar wood ensures that your creations remain both sturdy and visually stunning for years to come. The enchanting aroma and captivating color of cedar add an extra layer of joy to your carving experience, making every moment at the workbench a sensory delight.

And here’s the best part: cedar’s widespread availability and budget-friendly nature make it an ideal choice for carvers of all levels, letting your imagination run wild without stretching your wallet. While challenges like knots and splintering might pop up, they’re just stepping stones to honing your skills and mastering the craft.

In the end, carving cedar wood means immersing yourself in an enriching journey that produces pieces reflecting the exceptional beauty and character of this remarkable wood. So, whether you’re shaping a small ornament or using a chainsaw on a large sculpture, rest assured that carving with cedar wood will be a fulfilling adventure blending creativity and skill in perfect harmony.

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