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8 Best Types of Wood for Carving

Ben has a love of woodworking and loves to share his knowledge and skills with others.

Wood carving is a fun and interesting pastime. Learn about different woods for wood carving and gain insights into choosing the best wood for you!

Wood carving is a fun and interesting pastime. Learn about different woods for wood carving and gain insights into choosing the best wood for you!

Wood Carving

Choosing the best wood for carving can be difficult. Some types are too soft, while others such as pine can be full of knots. With all the natural options we have, you might be wondering which woods are best for your carving needs. In this article, you will learn some insights into how to choose the ideal wood for carving. We will discuss the following types of wood:

  • Basswood
  • Butternut
  • Walnut
  • Maple
  • Cherry
  • Red Oak
  • Mahogany
  • Tupelo

Choosing Your Wood

Firstly, we need to consider the ideal type of wood for our needs. Some people might wish to carve kitchenware, such as spoons or bowls. In this case, you will need a hardwood that does not absorb moisture, is durable, and will not break easily.

If you choose oak or ash for your kitchenware and dinnerware, you also need to be aware of the fact that while these types are resistant and they do not absorb moisture, they become stained quickly if you place oils on them, so oak and ash carvings are better suited without much oily contact. On the other hand, if you enjoy making decorative carvings, any type of softwood or hardwood can be used.

The most common hurdle of not choosing the correct wood type is when your weapons become dull. If you have an expensive carver’s tool, you should focus on using softwood rather than hardwood, as it preserves the life of the tools and knives.

If you want high-quality carvings with little effort, basswood and pine are ideal. White oak, on the other hand, is more challenging to work with, and it can quickly dull your tools if you do not handle it properly. Dense, hard materials such as white oak can also favor slippages, which will result in injuries to the carver.

Best Wood for Carving: Basswood

Our first choice is basswood, which is perhaps the most popular choice for carving wood. It is a softwood that is extremely easy to work with. Basswood is great for creating wood art, from bowls and decorative plates to spoons. It has almost no scent, and it can handle oil stains well.

Basswood can be carved both along and across the wood grain, and it is most often used for kitchenware. It is food-safe, so you can make spoons, bowls, and plates. It is allergenic-free, and the odor is almost imperceptible.


If you are on a budget, you might want to check out butternut. Similar to basswood, butternut is extremely easy to work with, it does well with stains, and the odor level is low. Raw butternut can be very affordable and has a natural pink finish, with coarse wood grains. It is a favorite choice for any wood art.

Wood gouges lying on a table.

Wood gouges lying on a table.

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For a denser, sturdier option, walnut is a great option for carving. It is dark and has straight wood grains, and due to the harder texture, it is best to cut with the grain, using a mallet. It has a natural, clean finish, which is easy to achieve. Wood art made of walnut is durable and resists moisture. The odor levels are higher than the other two options but very manageable.


If you enjoy a little challenge, maple can be a good choice. Despite its trickier structure, many woodcarvers choose this wood for its exceptional properties. Maple has coarse, asymmetrical wood grains, and it requires careful planing before starting. It is ideally carved along the grain.

It is best used for interior wood art and kept away from moisture, which can cause it to change its form slightly when it dries up. Some people can have mild allergies when using maple objects.



A balanced option, cherry is the ideal compromise between softwood and hardwood, but it is best recommended for more experienced woodcarvers. It can slightly change its form when dried, but once it does, it is a sturdy, stable wood that lasts for a very long time. Cherry is often used to create commercial decorative items, it is stain-resistant, and the odor is negligible.

Cherry is versatile, and it can be carved both along or across the grain, with decent tools and skills. Cherry is definitely the best option if you are planning to sell your decorative items.

Red Oak

Red oak is a true challenge to work with. It is a porous wood and requires a quality mallet to carve. Red oak objects should be kept away from water and moisture. It is a wood type for some of the most experienced woodcarvers who know how to handle this tough wood. However, if you manage to carve the long, large wood grains and maintain your objects well, red oak carvings can even last for centuries.

A small wood gouge being used to create an intricate facial image in wood.

A small wood gouge being used to create an intricate facial image in wood.


Mahogany is a new trend for some woodcarvers. The reddish-brown texture with straight wood grains makes it an interesting choice for many objects. And even though it is a hardwood, it can be carved with ease. The scent is very faint, and you can use both hand carving and power tools to carve this wood. Once it dries up, it retains a reddish, pleasant finish, and it is incredibly stable and durable for a long time.


Lastly, tupelo is a finely grained hardwood that poses moderate challenges to carvers due to its toughness. Tupelo is not the first choice of many carvers since it requires power tools to shape it, but the best feature of this wood type is that it will not burn easily or char when it becomes in contact with power blades. Additionally, it can be quite affordable to purchase in bulk.

Try Out a Number of Woods

Choosing the best wood for carving depends mostly on your skills, tools, and what you are planning to create. Each wood type is ideal for a different project, and they all feature different characteristics. For a beginner, basswood and butternut are great options to start with, but if you want durable items such as furniture, hardwoods are more suitable, including oak. To find out which works best for you, we highly recommend to try out different ones!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Ben Martin

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