Sometimes when a hardwood dries too much it becomes too hard to carve even with the sharpest of tools. In this article, we will go over the top 6 ways that you can soften the wood with the smallest chance of splitting it.
There are many different ways to soften wood before carving, all of which include exposure or contact with water, alcohol, or both. The best way to apply any on your wood is by spraying it from close proximity.
Now we can look into more details of how this is done as well as some alternatives to the above method. Keep reading if you want to know more about the effects each method has and some tips and tricks we have learned to keep the wood in the best condition.
1. Alcohol-water Solution
Spraying a 50/50 alcohol-water solution is a very effective and easy way which is the reason why this is by far the most common approach for most carvers when they want to soften the wood.
The instructions for this method are simple. Mix 70% alcohol with water in a spraying bottle. If you don’t have 70% alcohol, 60% or 91% also works just fine, however, from experience, most carvers prefer the 70% as it makes the wood wet for the longest time.
The proportions of alcohol and water should be about even. The way this solution works is with water making the wood less dry and the alcohol preventing the water from leaving the wood and therefore drying it out again. You will also notice that it is easier to cut through the wood when the blade gets in touch with the alcohol.
After you mixed the two ingredients it is important to apply it in the right way. Spraying the wood from a close distance works best, however, it is important that you do not spray too much as it will cause the wood to crack and require a lot of repairs.
This is a water-displacing spray which surprisingly works fairly well for how uncommon it is.
WD-40 can be found in any local store or on Amazon usually for under 10 bucks per piece.
The way it works is similar to the water-alcohol solution, except this takes much longer. After spraying the workpiece with WD-40 you should wait about a day before you start carving.
Be aware of the very strong small that WP-40 has, most likely want to do it outside or in a room with very good ventilation.
3. Boiling Hot Water
A pretty old fashioned way and by far not the most recommended way. Does it work? Yes, and actually it works pretty well…
The idea behind this method is to artificially make the wood wet, and not just on the outside but also on the inside. The instructions are easily explained but not so easily executed.
First, you must find a pot large enough to fit in your wood piece. This is not too hard if you are working with a small branch but for bigger projects, you may find this part a problem.
After you sorted out how to start cooking, you must fill the tank with water as much as it is possible, heat up the water preferably to boiling temperature, and leave the wood inside to soak in the water.
As the wood heats up, it opens up letting the fibers of the wood absorb the water. Keep in mind, larger wood pieces will need more time to absorb all the water.
It is important you know that boiling wood is very likely to trigger color change in your wood.Warning
If you are working with very expensive wood, boiling it is not a very good idea as the color of the wood may significantly change. Usually, the color difference after boiling wood is paler than the expected result.
4. Denatured Alcohol
This method is also quite similar to method number one. Except for this one, you leave out the water.
Denatured alcohol is also called methylated spirits, it is usually 94% alcohol which is stronger than we recommend in our water-alcohol solution.
The way this works is fairly simple, spray or soak the wood in denatured alcohol before carving. Then using a sharp blade notice how much easier it is to cut through wood.
Different types of wood react differently to such large quantities of denatured alcohol. Therefore be sure to experiment around a little before applying this on your main workpiece.
5. Keeping The Wood “Green” In The First Place
If you would like to think more long term in order to avoid this problem in the future you could store some of your wood in a way that would make it dry slower and keep it a little more wet and green.
Keeping greenwood in a plastic bag is not such a good idea. While it may maintain the wood in good condition for a short period of time, after some time the wood will start covering in fungiTIP
A good way to do that is by throwing the green unfinished workpiece in the freezer. Although this will not solve the issue with all the wood being fresh, you will not have the pressure of finishing the project you are working on ASAP before you need to look for a way to soften the wood again.
6. Soaking Wood In Water
This is not the most popular way of softening the wood before carving. However, there is not a good reason for that. Most people just find this to be too easy and don’t expect the best results.
While it will not solve the situation completely, it will certainly help to carve dry wood.
Carving the wood after soaking it in water is not quite the same as carving it green, but it is also much easier to carve than if it was rock solid and dry.
For this method, all you have to do is leave the wood in water for 2 days and wait for it to be a little softer. Keep in mind that the wood absorbs water best from the ends of the grains, therefore make sure both edges of the wood are underwater.
This will only work for projects that you can complete fairly quickly as soaked wood will dry extremely quickly making it even harder than it was before within a few daysTIP
In case you were wondering the effect it will have on your tools, the answer to that is that it is worse than carving soft dry wood but it is also not too bad. Just try to keep good care of the tools and apply some oil after you carve.
Tips For Working With Hard Dry Wood
No matter how much you try to make the wood softer some old dry wood will just stay as hard as a rock.
When working with wood that is hard to cut through it is so important that you have your tools as sharp as they can possibly be.
Keep in mind that there is a much higher chance of gouges and V-tools breaking when cutting dry wood, so just as you usually would, stay careful and aware at all times.
Finally, at last, we would recommend to you that you do not rush to carve dry wood. If it is too hard to carve, try to soften it for an extra day even though it may not have been a part of your plan. You will find this much better than breaking your tools and getting tired over carving stone hard wood.
Good Luck Softening Your Wood
This was our complete guide on how to soften your wood for carving. We hope you found this article useful and that you manage to get your wood to a possible to carve density.