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What Are the Best Species of Timber for Wood Carving?

Wood carving is one of the oldest hobbies we have, yet one of the most rewarding. There’s nothing quite like creating your own unique masterpiece — but what types of wood are the best for the job?

As a leading UK timber merchant, we can help.

For almost all wood carving projects, you can’t go wrong with lime wood. That said, there are many other suitable timber species — you just need to know what characteristics to look for in your wood.

Workability is a key consideration, with different species having different qualities that affect how they respond to carving tools. A good timber for carving or whittling, particularly for intricate work, ideally needs to have a close grain. This tight-knit structure stops the wood splitting away when it’s being worked.

So, will you be carving a delicate design, or a larger piece of furniture (for example)? The type of wood you choose may also be influenced by your level of skill as a woodworker — some timbers can require a more refined carving skill set. Also, bear in mind finished aesthetics, as well as your budget.

Without further ado, here are our top timbers for your next project.

Lime wood — For intricate projects and less experienced carvers

Lime wood (also known as basswood) is the most popular type of wood for carving. Whether you’re a complete beginner or a member of the carving elite, this species should be near the top of your list.

Extremely soft and crisp, lime wood is perfect for intricate carving and works exceptionally well with hand tools. This high workability is down to the wood’s very close grain structure; as we mentioned, species of timber with this are less likely to break away at the edges, resulting in a much smoother finish. With a pleasing light cream colour, lime is easy on the eye too.

If you’re new to carving and learning the ropes, you can’t go wrong with this highly malleable and budget-friendly species; just grab yourself some blanks and start honing your skills. If you’re more experienced, you’ll be able to craft some truly stunning, delicate pieces.

Wood blank being carved.

Oak — For larger projects, like furniture

A classic carving choice. Many species of oak — such as American Oak — take carving tools very well.

Oak’s grain is more coarse than lime wood, which makes variations of oak more suitable for larger pieces rather than highly intricate work. But with strength, sturdiness and good workability in abundance, oak is an excellent choice for projects on the bigger side, like interior or exterior furniture.

If you’re looking for a versatile, beautiful hardwood for carving something more grandiose, oak steps up to the job.

Black walnut — For luxury carving

Black walnut is popular for its gorgeous, rich, dark chocolate-brown colour and outstanding grain and pattern.

As well as looking the part, this stunning wood takes detail and carving tools excellently. Sitting at the higher end of the cost scale, walnut is your ticket achieving a certain display of opulence and splendour in your wood carving.

That’s not all…

If you’re looking to try something a little different from lime, oak or walnut, there’s no shortage of stunning, highly-workable timbers for carving.

  • American Cherry — Cherry is an impeccable wood to carve with, thanks to straight, uniform grain and even texture. Those gorgeous pinkish-brown tones only add to its appeal and suitability for wood carving.
  • American White Ash — If you have a bit more wood carving experience and you’re looking to carve something at the paler end of the colour spectrum, consider ash. Its straight grain and creamy-white-to-light-brown colour make it a solid wood carving favourite.
  • Western Red Cedar — Cedar blanks are easy to come across, and the species is renowned for its excellent natural decay and rot resistance. If you’re working on a very intricate project, however, cedar can require a lot of skill. This species is a good challenge for an experienced woodcarver — just make sure your tools are sharp!

So, all in all, lime wood should be your first port of call for any wood carving project, particularly if you’re just starting out. But if you’re looking to try something different or more luxury, oak, walnut and cherry offer themselves up as brilliant woods for carving.

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.

A blank of wood being carved.

Starting a carving project?

Looking to get your hands on some of these top-notch timbers? As a leading UK timber merchant, we’re guaranteed to have the perfect species for your next wood carving project.

At our Joinery & Woodworking Centre — often described as a ‘timber paradise’ — you’ll find a whole host of exciting woods, including blanks in many shapes and sizes, to get you started on your wood carving project.

Our experienced team of timber experts are always happy to advise on any hand carving queries you may have. Get in touch through our website, give us a call on 01765 640564 or, if you’re nearby, pay us a visit — we’re in Melmerby, near Ripon, North Yorkshire.

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