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Wood Carving Tutorial

Types of Wood for Carving

Choosing the appropriate wood for carving can depend on many factors. Is the wood soft enough to cut easily with a chip-carving knife, or do you need a chisel and mallet? Will the carving have a natural finish that shows the wood's color and grain, or will it be painted?

Some carvers choose interestingly shaped sticks or logs. A freshly cut log can present problems since it is still filled with a great deal of moisture. If the log dries too quickly it may check (crack) badly. It is best to let the log air dry for an extended period of time until it reaches an acceptable level of moisture content to prevent unwanted cracking.

The alternative is to purchase kiln-dried wood that has been cut into boards. If a large block is required, the boards can be milled with a planer and joiner to give flat surfaces that can be glued together. An advantage of gluing is that large, unusual shapes can be created, unlike the confining shape of a log.

For carving small hand-held craft objects, such as duck or shorebird decoys, character figures, or chip carving, basswood is an excellent choice. It is soft and easy to carve, the close grain holds small carved detail, there are few knots or blemishes, and it is stable when dry. However, basswood is soft and absorbent which makes it difficult to apply a stain evenly on carved surfaces or attain a glossy finish. Most basswood carvings are painted.



For sculpture with a natural wood finish, walnut, mahogany, cherry, or butternut provide rich color with an attractive grain pattern. Butternut is very soft and the easiest to carve with hand tools. Walnut, mahogany, and cherry are rich in color, moderately difficult to carve, but they take finishes well and are worth the effort. Gouges and a mallet will be needed for these harder woods.

The Sculpture Studio does not sell wood.  Prices vary greatly depending on the vendor and your location. Boards are sold by the board foot. (Board foot: 12"x12"x1") The dimensions are expressed in quarter inch. (For example: 8/4" is 2" thick, 12/4" is 3" thick)

Type Sample Characteristics Ease of Carving Grain Price Comparison
Basswood Cream colored,
easy to carve,
excellent for
whittling and
Nice to carve

(Wood prices vary
depending on your location)

Butternut Light brown, distinct grain
pattern, good for
sculpture, soft
(dents easily),
very easy to carve,
quickly dulls tools
Nice to carve
Course Moderate
Cherry Reddish brown,
wavy grain can be
difficult to carve,
excellent for
natural-finish sculpture.
Very hard Fine Expensive
Mahogany Dark reddish brown,
excellent choice
for natural
finish sculpture.
Nice to carve
Medium Expensive


(Sugar Maple)

Creamy, very hard,
difficult to carve,
finishes well.
Very Hard Fine Moderate


(White Oak)

Light yellowish brown,
very hard when kiln dried,
difficult to carve,
finishes well
Very hard,
carves easier
when green

(Sugar Pine)

Aromatic, cream colored,
soft, good for whittling,
the prominent growth rings
which may cause problems
can  make
it more
Medium Inexpensive

(Black Walnut)

Dark brown,
excellent for
natural-finish sculpture,
finishes well
Nice to carve
Medium Expensive

Note: The Sculpture Studio does not sell wood.

Tools for Wood Carving

See some of the tools used for wood carving.

How to Carve Wood Sculpture

Techniques for carving wood.