Different wood carvers have different preferences on the type of woods they will pick for carving. Some prefer soft woods like white pine while others prefer mahogany due to its straight grains. Others will go for woods without difficult grains or knots and those that are able to hold details.
Before wood purchase, it is important to note the most obvious problems that might interfere with wood working e.g. loose or large knots, cups and wanes not forgetting shakes, twists or any sort of warping. Consequently, wood affected by fungi and with stains might not be appropriate.Unless considering enhancing twisted or interlocked grains when carving, straight grains are always easy to work with and produce shiniest, smoothest cuts.
Whatever the choice, below is a summation of the best five woods that will offer extra satisfaction to any wood worker.
Bass wood is the best wood for hand carvers. This is because of its relatively soft nature. It is closely grained for well holding of details and is non-toxic. Although it is mostly white, it sometimes contains brown grains and its sapwood and heartwood can easily be differentiated.
With the brown grain patterns not fully developed, basswood may sometimes look bland and this often calls for painting. To bring out the grain and seal the carving, it is usually advisable to mix boiled linseed oil and mineral spirits then apply to the finished carving.
In Europe, most wood carversuse lime wood which shares similar characteristics to basswood although Northern states e.g. Minnesota and Wisconsin produce the best basswoods. For beginners, basswoods with patterns are the most recommended and proper research should be done before purchase to ensure quality wood is obtained at a reasonable price.
Another type of wood called Northern white pine is soft and has similar characteristics to basswood. The same applies to sugar pine which is consequently cheap.
Another good wood for carving is butternut though extremely difficult to find. What makes it popular is its beautiful light colour, grains and ability to be easily carved. Though prone to insects, it contains wormhole features that make it a natural wood for carving.
Butternut is white walnut and is generally softer than black walnut. They both contain similar grain patterns with almost dead narrow sapwood, light brown heartwood, pink tones and sometimes dark brown streaks which are very effective for carving when done by a professional. Butternut wood is preferred for its light weight and course texture. It again holds details well and is very easy to work with making it appropriate for beginners.
Compared to basswood, butternut is browner and therefore the best option for carvers who do not prefer white from Basswood. Consequently, it offers a nice polish making it good for furniture. Despite the fact that this type of wood is prone to insects, it is resistant to rots. Its lightweight nature also makes it comfortable to use.
III. Cherry (Prunusserotina)
Also called Prunusserotina. Even though basswood and butternut is easier to work with compared to cherry, it produces attractive carvings due to its gentle figure and reddish brown colour. It also shrinks a lot when drying but thereafter it becomes very stable.
Cherry is most appropriate to use with hand tools since power tools, if not utilized we can burn it. With age, it darkens with the colour eventually getting lighter.
Cherry wood holds up well in terms of detail and as at now, it is the highest priced in America curving woods making it very popular for overall wood working.
IV. Maple (Acer saccharum)
Maple wood is of the Acer saccharum species. Compared to other woods, maple contains grain patterns that are not as straight. When finished, they have a tendency of blotching (which comes up in different densities when carving). With numerous grains i.e. the tiger, fiddle back, Birdseye and curly among others, maple needs special planning before being worked on since the grains sometimes make carving harder but ultimately complement the general carving outlook. Maple holds details well and produces high shine quality products.
V. Mahogany (Swieteniamacrophylla)
Mahogany (Swieteniamacrophylla) is also called Honduras mahogany. Most of this type of wood comes from Central America and has heartwood colour that varies from dark reddish brown to light or deep red grain. With its majorly straight grains that may be interlocked and medium to course texture that vary according to the rate of growth, mahogany is considered among the best carving woods. It exhibits resistance to shock loads and is of low stiffness nature. It is consequently not distorted with drying and offers stability during use. The fact that it is easy to work with makes it appropriate for use even for long hours. Apart from carving it is also suitable for making furniture and decorative woods.
The type of carving is likely to influence the type of wood to be used. Wood workers who use power tools often consider different woods to their counterparts who use hand tools. For small hand held objects, basswood is recommended due to its softness and easy to curve nature. For sculptures, most wood carvers prefer mahogany, butternut or cherry. Butternut is soft and easy to curve; cherry has dense grains and is rich in colour while mahogany is lightweight.
It is also important to note that when air dried, wood dries slowly thereby releasing tension slowly. Drying in kilns require close monitoring so as not to add stress to wood. Therefore, for better and quality carving results, wood should be air dried in ambient environmental conditions. Wood for carving should also be allowed to adapt to the surrounding for approximately eight weeks before utilisation