3 Most Beautiful Woods to Carve


When searching for the most beautiful woods to carve, you’re sure to find a plethora of options. The question that remains is, which of these are top tier?

Once you begin scrutinizing the list, you’ll realize it isn’t just about beauty alone. Strength and workability play huge roles in ensuring that you get the best results.

To ensure you don’t have to go through that load of stress, we made it our duty to ensure that you get all the information you need at the tip of your fingers. So, What is the most beautiful wood to carve?

The most beautiful wood to carve is the Cocobolo. Its warm appearance, easy workability, and optimum strength earn it this spot. The Cocobolo packs a high oil content that confers a unique natural luster and resistance to outside elements. It is rare, highly valued, and perfect for carving small decorative items.

At the end of this article, you’ll find out that you don’t need to apply stain, paint, and other finishes to improve the aesthetics of these three woods. Their natural luster, color, and overall beauty remain unrivaled.

Cocobolo

This is the beautiful hardwood you see at the top of the article (Dalbergia retusa), is native to Central America, is a genuine tropical rosewood. It is unarguably the most beautiful wood for carving, and woodcarvers who’ve had the opportunity to carve attest to its natural aesthetic properties.

The Cocobolo heartwood surrounded by sapwood is a warm, rich palette alternating between dark red hues to reddish/dark brown ones. Sometimes they appear to have streaks of black or purple in between. These colors appear lighter when freshly sawn or sanded and darken with age. 

The Cocobola grain can either be straight or interlocked. It is finely textured and very rich in natural oils. This natural oil gives it a characteristic natural luster and protection against degradation by moisture. It is also resistant to damage caused by insect attacks and so is very durable.

Difficulty

Cocobolo is easy to work with. You can drill, saw, turn, plane, and mill it easily without worrying about chipping. However, it doesn’t accept glue well due to its high oil content. Also, its color can smear surrounding wood and non-wooden pieces, so you must take adequate care to prevent this while working.

You’re sure to notice the Cocobolo’s spice-like scent that is quite distinct, although this is unpleasant to some people. It is a labeled allergen with asthma-like symptoms and has been linked with skin, eye, nose and throat irritations and nausea.

Rarity and Pricing

This wood is rare due to over-exploitation making it highly valued. For this reason, also it is listed as one of the many vulnerable species and protected to ensure preservation. Its unique color also adds to its comparative edge over other wood types, and it is priced at $65 or more per board foot.

Best Projects

It is ideal for making furniture and cabinetry and fine inlay work. Woodcarvers will also enjoy carving knife handles, jewelry boxes, musical instruments, art pieces, chess pieces with the Cocobolo.

Bocote

Native to Central/South America, we have the Bocote (Cordia spp.) at the #2 spot. It features a heartwood that alternates between shades of yellow and orange with distinctive dark stripes. Over time, these colors darken, losing their warm, vibrant hues yet maintaining their sharp contrast.

The heartwood is also demarcated from the surrounding sapwood, which appears greyish yellow.

Like the beautiful Cocobolo, this wood also contains natural oils that add to its waxy feel and look. However, the oil content doesn’t affect gluing; this wood accepts glue and stains well. But why add stain when it is beautiful already? A simple coat of finish is sufficient to enhance its natural appeal.

Difficulty

For better results, scraping works better than planning because of the nature of its grain. It is prone to tear-outs, and you may encounter some hitches when drilling. But generally, this wood works well with manual and power tools with minimal difficulty.

This species is resistant to rot but prone to damage by insects. Additionally, Bocote also has a distinctive smell, like dill pickles. It can be allergenic, especially for people who have reacted to Cocobolo and other rosewoods.

Rarity and Pricing

Unlike Cocobolo, Bocote is not rare and isn’t endangered, but its one-of-a-kind beauty makes it highly valued. A 4/4 Bocote can cost around $39 to $74 per board foot.  Whether light or dark, the Bocote remains beautiful and appealing. Such that, even the run-of-the-mill type is yet spectacular.

Best Projects

The Bocote works perfectly when making small decorative items such as jewelry boxes, pens, knife handles, brushes, cabinetry, and much larger furniture pieces.

Olive

Olive wood needs no introduction as we are sure you must have encountered olive oil from olive fruit that grows on olive trees. This fine hardwood is from the Olea europaea trees native to the Mediterranean Basin. It’s a favorite of the woodwork community, who have devised unusual ways to use this solid and dense material.

The olive wood is highly valued for its showy color, density, straight grain and fine texture. Because of its fruits, slow growth rate and small lumber sizes, this wood is relatively more expensive than most wood types.

It also has a striking yet appealing appearance, and the wood contrasts yellow and light greenish-brown hues, often finely streaked with darker tints. This showy color makes it excellent for carvings.

The trunk of Olive trees twists irregularly as it grows, making the process of extracting sizeable straight lumber quite tricky. The wood is often cut into smaller pieces and adapted for small decorative items.

The grain of this wood ranges from wild, straight to interlocked, making it prone to tear-outs while working. It is not as stable as other wood types but has a fine uniform texture. Olive wood is not easily cut, but it accepts glue and polish well.

Rarity and Pricing

Olive wood goes for $22-$40 per foot. However, we can’t speak to its rarity since the wood originally from Italy can easily be grown in several parts of the world.

Difficulty

Since it is absent of natural oils, this wood is prone to damage by humidity and insect attacks. For this reason, Olivewood has to be treated so it can resist damage and last longer. It is also hard to dry and prone to warping. This is why it is cured slowly in kilns over low heat.

It has a characteristic sweet fruity scent that remains in the finished product for a long time. Although it lacks natural oils, it still has some luster and appeal.

Best Projects

Olive wood is not suitable for outdoor projects like structural constructions, as it cannot survive the outside elements for long, especially if untreated. It is also rarely used for flooring and paneling projects. However, it is an excellent choice for indoor projects such as high-end furniture, veneer, turning, tool handles, art pieces, and carvings.

Final Thoughts

Aesthetics is an important factor in the wood carving business. This is why woodcarvers look for wood species with natural aesthetics and impressive mechanical properties. You can’t miss the Cocobolo when you see it. It isn’t crowned the beauty queen for nothing. So, the next time you want to explore, try one of these most beautiful woods to carve and let your creativity run wild.

Martin Swizz

Hi! This is Martin, I like to research, experiment, and learn new things related to wood carving and other kinds of woodworking.

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