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What Are the Best Species of Timber for Wood Carving?

What kind of wood is good for hand carving? That’s a fair question. The answer? Depending on your project, usually lime wood or oak. But, in truth, you’re spoiled for choice. With so many suitable timber species, deciding on the perfect one for your needs can be surprisingly difficult.

Will you be carving an intricate design, or a piece of furniture (for example)? The workability, aesthetics and durability of the wood are usually the key considerations. The type of wood you choose may also be influenced by your level of skill as a woodworker — many timbers can require a more refined carving skill set.

We’ve listed the main two, as well as a few other top timbers for your wood carving project.

Lime wood — For smaller, intricate carving projects

Lime wood (see European Lime), also known as basswood, is the most popular timber to carve with — for good reason. Although it doesn’t take stain particularly well, it is most commonly used for detailed carvings as it works extremely well with hand tools.

Lime wood’s high workability is down to its closer grain structure; species of timber with this are less likely to break away at the edges, resulting in a much smoother finish. With a light cream colour, lime wood is extremely soft, making it perfect for beginner wood carvers.

Oak — For larger projects

A classic carving choice. Many species of oak — such as European Oak — are incredibly durable and easy to work with, making them perfect contenders for larger projects such as outdoor use or furniture. As a woodworker, you can’t go wrong with oak. It’s an all-rounder.

Unlike limewood, oak has a coarser grain. This makes variations of oak more suitable for larger pieces rather than intricate work.

Wait — there’s more…

Perhaps you’re looking for a timber that’s durable, without compromising on workability, but want to try something different to lime wood or oak?

Luckily, there are plenty of strong, resilient species that can also be easily carved. Check these out:

  • American Cherry — Cherry is a dense hardwood with a pinkish-brown colour. This species has good workability with a fine, uniform grain pattern.
  • American White Ash — Ash is a good choice because of its straight grain, with a creamy white to light brown colour.
  • American Black Walnut — At the premium price end, walnut is popular for its rich, chocolate-brown colour.
  • Western Red Cedar is also a good choice because of its fantastic workability. This is down to its straight grain and consistent texture.

So, overall, lime wood and oak are two traditional carving choices that will never let you down. With solid characteristics and aesthetic qualities, you should never overlook them. But if you’re on the lookout for something slightly more exotic, fear not!

Staining or painting your finished piece can give your timber a certain desired aesthetic, but bear in mind the effect finishing may have on the timber.

Not found the answer you were looking for?

Duffield’s team of timber experts are always happy to advise on any hand carving queries you may have.

Why not stop by our Joinery & Woodworking Centre — the world’s largest — to see the mindblowing range of wood on offer? You’ll be guaranteed to find the perfect species for your carving project!

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