Best wood for whittling and carving


When you’re just getting started with whittling, you want to make sure you start things the right way with the suitable materials and tools. It would be a nightmare trying to whittle too hard a wood. It’s even dangerous; one wrong slip and you sustain a severe cut. With so many types of wood available to a whittler, what is the best wood for whittling?

The best wood for whittling that’s readily available is basswood. Basswood is soft, and not much force is needed when slicing it with a sharp whittling knife. This makes it very ideal for whittling.

That said, there’s a need to understand wood better as a whittler. The primary whittling material is wood. Whittling is a three-legged stool, the three pillars being: design, material, and tools. To understand whittling is to understand all three. Carvers need to understand wood differently, say as carpenters do.

Where to buy the best wood for whittling

Once you know that what you need is basswood where do you buy it?

You can buy wood for whittling from your local lumberyard. They will mostly sell it as blocks. If there are non in your locality you can order from Amazon or eBay.

Another place you can buy wood for whittling is Treeline USA. they will usually have blocks of 1.5″ x 1.5″ x 12″. You can also buy ready roughouts to start directly. Roughouts are ideal for people who cant access a band saw or jigsaw.

best wood for whittling and carving

Characteristics of good wood for whittling

Not all wood was created equal. Basswood might be ideal for whittling but not all of them received the same conditions while growing. Since all wood is not the same as a whittler we need to treat each piece of wood with its specific uniqueness. Chris Pye has a very good book where he goes into detail on the characteristic of wood you can purchase it on Amazon here.

In this article, we will specifically look at some characteristics of a good piece of wood for whittling.

Visual characteristics of good wood for carving

Visual characteristics of interest to the woodcarver include; overall color, relative width and local color of spring and summerwood, and grain texture of the finished surface. Colors run from the almost dead white of English hardwood through the typical yellow poplar and greenheart; the infinite shades of brown, gray, black, and red of manzanita and padauk, to the true purple of amaranth.

Figures and color patterns can vary from the almost featureless quality of basswood through the fine pin-stripe figure of quarter-sawn mahogany, the intricate flamboyance of walnut stump or burl; to the wide stripe or swirl of flat-out fir or Scotch pine,

Surface textures of the finished woods run from the waxy smoothness of lignum vitae, the silky smoothness of ebony, basswood, and hard maple, through the increasingly open grains of mahogany, walnut, teak, ash, and oak,

With few exceptions, sapwood is lighter in shade and often a different color than its natural heartwood. Since heartwood is the most desirable portion of the tree, its color is considered representative of the wood.

Walnut sapwood may be darkened to an almost heartwood color by extended steam treating and is often done commercially. The use of the contrasting colors of both sapwood and heartwood in a single carving calls for good judgment if the appearance of gimmickry is to be avoided but can be very effective when well done.

Physical characteristics of good wood for carving

Physical characteristics of particular interest to the carver are: weight and hardness; nature of the grain (homogeneous or stringy, straight or curly, close or coarse); workability; and resistance to splitting under
hand and power tools.

Weight and hardness are usually related, affect the amount of force necessary to carve, and roughly indicate the rate of penetration of chemicals such as PEG

Grain character affects the ease of tool control while carving. Homogeneous, straight, close grains allow easy management. Stringy, curly, coarse grains present obstacles to reasonable control.

Workability and resistance to splitting are related to hardness and grain and are indications of the work required to obtain a good surface and of the ease with which material can be removed by gouging.

Carving Hardwoods

Carving hardwoods unlike the name suggest is fun. It may require some patience and good quality tools that hold an edge, But other than that they are quite nice to carve. Basswood is a favorite among many whittlers this is because it is a very soft hardwood. It can hold details pretty well and is easy enough to carve with knives. Some other hardwoods that are nice to carve include;

Carving Softwoods

Carving softwood is not exactly easy but with the right technique and very sharp tools, it is easy. Softwoods don’t share the structural integrity hardwoods do so they tend to crash if the tool is not sharp enough while being cut. This is why softwoods easily dent. Some softwoods have the right properties for carving with hand tools and some you better switch to power tools. Most softwoods especially the conifers have a knot problem that can be a pain in the neck if not well mitigated.

Some softwoods good for carving include:


The best wood for whittling is probably the wood that is locally available for you. Wood is expensive understanding it will give you the flexibility of using locally sourced wood. This focus will save you some money. We have linked resources related to wood carving check out more to understand the wood for carving better.

Hadwin Fisher

I'm basically a "Hobby Whittler." Everything I make is for Personal use, gifts for others, or other Items for charity auctions or other "Causes" i.e. "Local Hospital" Etc. Some health issues are interfering with me doing any large-scale projects in my workshop at this Present Time. That said I can't stay idle, whittling, and writing about whittling with my Friend ken Read keeps me sane and happy!

2 thoughts on “Best wood for whittling and carving

  1. I am in the stage of just starting to think I would like to try and learn how to carve. I am not looking for a business, instead, I would like to be able to accomplish something I can pass to my grandchildren to remember me. I would appreciate any and all help and guidance you could provide.
    Thanking you in advance.

    Gary Caputo

    1. Dear Gary,

      It’s great to hear that you are interested in learning how to carve and passing on your creations to your grandchildren. Carving can be a rewarding and fulfilling hobby, and I’m happy to offer you some guidance.

      Firstly, I suggest doing some research on the different types of carving and the tools required for each. You can start with simple projects using basic tools and work your way up as you gain experience and confidence.Spoon carving is a craft i would recommend for a beginner.

      You can also look for instructional videos or online tutorials to get a better understanding of carving techniques. It may be helpful to join carving groups or attend local carving workshops to learn from experienced carvers.

      When it comes to materials, there are a variety of options available depending on the type of carving you are interested in. You can start with inexpensive materials like soft woods or even soapstone, which can be found at craft stores.

      Lastly, don’t forget to have fun and enjoy the process of learning and creating. With time and practice, you will be able to create beautiful pieces that your grandchildren will cherish.

      I wish you the best of luck on your carving journey.


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