Best type of wood for wood carving

Published On: March 12, 20240 Comments on Best type of wood for wood carvingTags: Last Updated: March 12, 20245.6 min read

Wood carving is a very popular and very satisfying hobby with millions of enthusiasts all over the world. You don’t need a big workshop and expensive tools to become a wood carver. All you need is a basic set of wood carving tools and appropriate block of wood to get you started. First you need to sharpen your wood carving tool and learn what is the best type of wood for your wood carving technique.

carving wood with chisel

We already covered different types of wood for woodworking but not all types of wood are suitable for wood carving. The first decision you must make is to choose hardwood or softwood.

Hardwood or softwood

Hardwoods are generally much harder than softwood and they’re harder to carve. In most cases you need to use the mallet to carve hardwood because it’s very hard to use palm tools with hardwood. On the other hand, carved pieces made out of hardwood look and feel much better then pieces carved out of soft wood.

Softwood, on the other hand can be easily carved with palm tools and you generally don’t need a mallet at all. Also, detailing is much easier on softwood. If you’re a beginner in wood carving then we recommend that you start with softwood and then make a transition to hardwood when you’re confident in your skills.

Softwood types of wood for wood carving

Lime wood

Lime wood, also, known as Basswood is most probably the most popular type of wood in wood carving. It is creamy, white in color, and extremely soft and crisp which makes basswood easy to work with and perfect for intricate carvings and small details. It is also the best type of wood for beginners in wood carving because it has tight grain making it less likely to break at the edges. This type of wood gives a clean and smooth finish. It’s easily available and very affordable making it a great go-to option for beginners and perfect for practicing and honing your skills.

carving basswood


A type of poplar, cottonwood is also known as Tulip wood. Cottonwood is another popular choice for beginners in wood carving. It has a light color and straight grain and is easy to work with. It is known for its lightweight and softness, perfect for carving detailed projects.


Butternut, also known as white walnut, is a soft wood that holds small detail well. The butternut sapwood is white, while the heartwood, or the inner wood, is light brown, with occasional dark brown streaks. It has a medium coarse texture, with a distinct, straight pattern. White walnut is easy to work with palm tools, but be aware it can dull tools quickly, so you have to sharpen your tools more often.

carving butternut


Aspen is technically a hardwood but it is a very soft hardwood, so we’ll consider it a softwood. It’s a white colored wood with straight grain. It’s easy to carve and detailing. It’s cheap and available making it one of the most popular choice for beginners in wood carving.

Hardwood for wood carving


Walnut is a hardwood and its magnificently rich, dark brown color is very attractive. One of best feature of walnut is that it shows beauty on its own without the need to apply wood stain. It has a fine but still open grain making it easy to carve beautiful objects emphasizing the wood’s natural, beautiful movements. It is a very popular choice of furniture makers, wood turners, and wood carvers. Details on walnut can be done with palm tools as well but they must be very sharp.

carving walnut


Oak is also very popular among furniture makers and wood carvers. The oak grain is more coarse than basswood, which makes variations of oak more suitable for larger wood carving pieces rather than highly intricate work. Oak wood is an great choice for projects on the bigger side, like interior or exterior furniture because of its strength, sturdiness and good workability in abundance. Oak is versatile, beautiful hardwood for carving and it must be your choice when you master the basics of wood carving.

Olive wood

The olive wood is a very decorative wood with a dark and grainy core and the dominant colors of olive wood are brown, red, yellow and green. Olive wood is very hard and does not swell in contact with water. It can be machined or carved by hand and must dry slowly over a long period of time so that it does not break later. Olive wood is a perfect choice for seasoned wood carvers because finished carving in olive wood look simply amazing.

olive wood carvings


Maple is also a popular wood among furniture makers and wood carvers. Maple is a very hard wood ans if you enjoy a little challenge, maple can be a good choice. Despite its structure, many woodcarvers choose maple for its exceptional properties. This type of wood has coarse, asymmetrical wood grains, and it requires careful planning before starting. Maple is ideally carved along the grain because carving against the grain is almost impossible. Maple wood doesn’t handle moisture well and it can lose it’s form in high humidity.


Cherry is probably the best wood for seasoned wood carvers especially if you can get a hold on wild cherry wood. Cherry wood is also known for its beautiful reddish-brown hue and amazing durability. This type of wood has a tight grain pattern which makes it well-suited to detailed wood carving projects. It’s doesn’t loose shape and it requires a very little oil to make your wood carving really shine.

horse carved in cherry wood

Other essential things in wood carving

  1. You must learn all about the types of wood carving tools before you start with wood carving.
  2. You must choose wood carving tool set that is best suited for your skill level.
  3. You must learn how to properly sharpen your wood carving tools because you can’t carve with dull tools.
  4. You must learn some basic wood carving techniques.


Every woodcarver has his ideal wood for carving but the mentioned types are generally the most popular ones. Each wood has its own benefits and you must choose your wood according to the type of carving you’re planning to do. As you advance in wood carving, try a few different types of wood to get a sense for what you prefer, and what works best for which project.

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