Determining the right wood for carving involves several considerations, according to The Sculpture Studio. For example, consider if the wood is soft enough for easy cutting using a chip-carving knife. Another consideration is whether you need a mallet and chisel or if the carving is to have a natural finish that shows the wood’s grain. Whether or not you plan to paint the carving is another factor.
Basswood, which is also known as American Lime, is a soft, white-creamy wood that is easily workable. Because this wood carves well, it's ideal for doing detail work. It’s exceptionally lightweight and has a straight, fine and even grain. Besides carving, woodworkers also use basswood for turning and toy making. It is easy to glue into larger blocks.
Yellow cedar or Alaska yellow cedar comes primarily from Alaska and Canada, but is also common in Washington State’s Western Cascade range. This wood is known for its rich aromatic smell and its creamy yellow color with natural oils, according to White Eagle Studios. Yellow Cedar is good for carving decoys or any type of project exposed to dampness. It’s technically a softwood, but is harder than most softwoods. Yellow cedar also does well in accepting and holding details.
Walnut, also known as American walnut or black walnut, is an exceptionally strong wood that works well with relief carving. Although this wood has a medium coarse grain, it’s also straight. Besides carving, woodworkers use walnut in making furniture and in wood turning. The wood can quickly change colors from a deep reddish-brown to creamy white, notes Carving Patterns.
Cherry, just as its name denotes, is a reddish brown wood. Cherry wood has a fine grain and is a hard wood, making it difficult for carving. This wood has a wavy grain and works extremely well for natural-finish sculpture, says The Sculpture Studio.
Mahogany is mostly brown, but has reddish tone. This wood has a distinctive grain pattern and can be challenging to work with because the grain is inconsistent, notes White Eagle Studios. Carvings with mahogany wood mainly originated from trees on Caribbean plantations where people grew it for export purposes. Many mahoganies, coming from other regions, are listed as endangered species and are popular woods for woodworking. This wood is expensive and requires the use of sharp tools.
Pine is a popular soft wood that carves well for whittling. This wood has a nice aroma and is cream-colored. Its prominent growth rings can be hard to cut through, notes The Sculpture Studio. Pine wood has a medium grain.