9 Best Woods For Carving For Beginners (+How to choose one)

It is never too late to pick up woodworking as a hobby or profession. With a little guidance, anyone can start off their path to wood carving. When you are new though, you will need to know woods that are easier to work with. We are here to help you out with that so you don’t have to waste resources by experimenting with different woods. So, what is the best wood to carve for a beginner?

Softer woods that rank low on the Janka hardness test are the best for carving for beginners. These woods include Aspen, White Pine, Basswood, Butternut, White Willow, Alder, Silver Maple, and Box Elder. Since these woods are softer, they do not damage your tool and require less force to carve into. Many of these woods are also great for power carving.

The Janka hardness scale of each wood is pre-measured and can be found if you search for it online. This scale represents the durability of wood against scratching and denting and is measured by embedding a steel ball into the wood by force. The amount of force required to embed the steel ball in any wood is its hardness rank.

Many hardwoods rank low on this scale because they are relatively softer, more pliable, and can be cut easily. But keep in mind that even though some woods rank low on the Janka hardness scale, they are not all great for carving as they do not hold details very well.

Carving Woods for Beginners

Above we have listed the name of the woods in the ascending order of the Janka hardness scale. However, knowing their pros and cons is also important so you can decide which wood is most suitable for your projects so let’s focus on that and more in this section:

1. Aspen

Aspen is a white wood widely sought by woodworkers. It is relatively inexpensive and has many traits that make it the perfect wood for beginners. It is soft, does not splinter, is non-resinous which means it cuts easier. Also, it has a beautiful straight grain and is plenty strong too. You might be able to source it from a timber market or woodworkers shop.

Since it does not split easily, you can drive nails into aspen without much problem. The only issue is that even though it does not splinter, it does fuzz, so it is not suitable for power carving. The best course of action to carve it would be to use both power tools and hand tools. 


  • Mostly white and great for making spoons and bowls out of it.
  • Can be painted easily, so can also be used for sculptures that require painting later on.
  • Very easy to cut so it does not damage your tools in the slightest.
  • Chips are mostly used as bedding for pets so even shavings and chips are useful.
  • Is stronger than most woods while staying low on the Janka hardness scale.


  • Fuzzes easily so require you to use hand tools more than power tools.
  • Might require you to look around a bit to source it.

2. White Pine

Heap of several logs. Isolated on a white.

White Pine is another great wood for carving. Unlike its other variants that are resinous and have hard knots in the wood White Pine does not have these issues and is quite easy to work with. Overall White Pine is softer and can be carved easily with knives.

Pine is very common throughout the US, but there are a lot of different species available. Only White Pine is suitable for carving purposes. Though most pine species splinter easily due to their grain structure, White Pine is an exception.


  • Easily available and considerably cheap.
  • Can be used to make furniture like drawers and cabinets.
  • It is also durable, does not break easily.


  • Not very good with water resistance.
  • Might be difficult to distinguish between White Pine and Pine with creamy color variations.

3. Basswood

Basswood is the go-to wood that every woodworker recommends to a beginner carver. In fact, if a carver wants to do some leisurely project they would definitely go for basswood as it is one of the best and easiest woods to work with. Even pro woodworkers make many projects out of Basswood because they are sure that they can control the outcome with relative ease.

Basswood is readily available at shops and you can even buy it off Amazon. Other than being readily available almost everywhere, it is also inexpensive, making it a great choice for someone afraid of investing too much into something new. It is very easy to carve with hand tools and power tools as well.


  • Can be easily painted on.
  • Does not have a very prominent grain presence giving it a fine brown finish.
  • Can be used for making small containers like boxes, chests, and even musical instruments.


  • Gets stained easily and might be hard to remove those stains.
  • A bit more expensive than some other woods like Balsa.

4. Butternut

stack of planks

Butternut is a part of the Walnut family of wood but is much softer and lighter in color than its relatives. It is not the first wood we would recommend to a beginner due to being slightly more expensive. But it is softer and easier to work with and has a beautiful grain structure and color.

It does not fuzz up usually so it also is used for power carving. In addition, it does not crack easily either so it is pretty much versatile for usage. The best part, it holds details very well and ranks higher than basswood in the Janka hardness scale.


  • Great color and grain structure.
  • Can be made into furniture and decorative carvings.
  • Polishes really well just like Black Walnut.


  • Is harder to carve and might require some practice beforehand on softer woods.
  • Is slightly expensive and harder to find than woods like pine.

5. White Willow

White Willow is that beautiful tree you often see stretch its branches above over the pond. It is not readily available and is a softer variety of the species. Mostly Black Willow is found in the US and White Willow is often not sold in stores. But if you can source it, it is a great wood to work with for a beginner due to it being soft. On the downside, it has long grain and does not work well with power tools so you should only work on it with hand tools if possible.

It fuzzes easily, that’s why avoid power carving a White Willow when possible. Also, it has some distinct flaws that do not make it great for carving sculptures or reliefs. Though it is great for furniture like chests and boxes also for making baskets.


  • Easy to carve using hand tools.
  • Is used for making boxes, chests, and baskets.
  • Cricket bats are made from White Willow too and you can carve good spoons out of it as well.


  • Warps very easily.
  • Fuzzes up, so not great with power tools.
  • Long grain makes it hard to work with.

6. Alder

Alder is a hardwood but it is the softest amongst its class, making it relatively easy to carve. Many people work with it due to its beautiful dark color and its pliability. Even though it is pliable it is still soft and woodworkers love to carve different pieces with it. 

Mostly used in cabinets and bedding, Alder can be carved into reliefs and other beautiful decorations. It is not the best wood for beginners but it is very forgiving so with a little practice you can start working with Alder.

It can withstand power carving as well and does not fuzz up that easily. Not that great for whittling but still can be carved with relative ease using chisels and gouges. Lastly, it is very readily available in the US. You can source it locally from stores, and can even be found growing in creeks. It is one of the staple woods in the US and is inexpensive compared to most other woods.


  • Beautiful color.
  • Amazing grain structure.
  • Very durable and pliable.
  • One of the softest hardwoods.
  • Takes well to Stain.
  • Can be used in household furniture and decorations.


  • Difficult for whittling as it is harder than other softwoods.

7. Silver Maple

People might know Maple from Canada’s flag or the syrup, but did you know that most basketball and bowling courts are made from Maple wood? This wood is extremely strong and can withstand a lot of abuse. But not all of the maple is the same, Silver Maple is softer and ranks lower on the Janka hardness scale. It is one of the most beautiful woods that can be used for carving.

Since it ranks lower on the Janka scale, it is comparatively softer than its other species. It has a really beautiful and dark grain pattern that really pops up. But regardless of being soft, it still retains the durability of its relative species. The name Silver Maple comes from the underside of the leaves of the tree which has silver shining on it.

It does not split or splinter, making it a great choice of wood to work with for beginners. You would require a little practice before handing it in because it is harder than most woods.  

Sourcing this wood may also take some of your time and you’d have to look around a couple of stores before you find it. But it is not expensive since most wooden chopping boards and slabs are made from Silver Maple.


  • Beautiful deep-colored grain in contrast to the rest of the wood.
  • Durable strong and long life if maintained properly.
  • Easier to carve as it does not split or splinter.


  • Might be difficult to find compared to other Maple species.
  • Slightly more expensive than other woods like Basswood.

8. Box Elder

Box Elder is one of the most sought out woods by hobbyists, mostly due to its unique color combination. Though mostly woodturners lookout for this species of maple, carvers also don’t hesitate to work with it as well.

The unique thing about this wood is that the sapwood is pale and a light shade of green, but the heartwood is a beautiful dark brown and almost raspberry-like shade. The unique color combination just makes it the perfect wood for ornaments and home decorations.

For beginners, this wood is softer than a lot of other woods if you look at it from the Janka hardness scale. But it is still a challenge to carve, not to mention Box Elder is not widely available at stores but it is not very expensive.


  • Beautiful red and raspberry shade of grain and heartwood.
  • Strong and perfect for making ornaments and home decorations.
  • Perfect if you want to challenge yourself.


  • Attracts Box Elder insects, a common household pest.
  • Rots easily if not taken care of.

9. Sycamore 

piles of log outdoors

Sycamore is a beautiful wood that is extremely popular for making wooden bowls and other furniture. Its specific grain structure makes it best used as a quarter sawed which raises its price a little bit. Otherwise, it is not as expensive and not rare either as it can be found or sourced locally.

It is plenty hard so it shouldn’t be the first wood a beginner works with. But it can be used as a test for them as it is the hardest wood on the list on the Janka hardness scale. Also, the wood has a similar color throughout the sapwood and hardwood.


  • Softer than most hardwoods.
  • Beautiful interlocked grain pattern.
  • Perfect for making bowls and furniture.


  • Hard to process as warpage and shrinkage chances are extremely high.
  • Challenge for beginners.

How to Choose the Perfect Wood for You

First of all, if you are a complete beginner, the softer the wood the better. But it also depends on the type of tools you are working with. Whether you are whittling or carving using chisels will greatly affect the choice of wood you will need to make. Also, some woods react poorly to power carving with rotary tools so you also need to be careful of that as well. 

Choosing wood is not that hard, but ultimately depends on what you want to make out of it. Some woods don’t hold details that good, for those it is best to make something like a bowl, spoon, or furniture. Also, we have to ensure that the wood is soft enough to work with and you can control what you want to make out of it. To conclude, what’s a good wood for a beginner?

If you are just getting into wood carving using hand tools, then something like Aspen or Basswood are great choices of wood. They are both incredibly soft and cut very easily to carve, so whether you are using chisels or whittling using a carving knife, both these will be a good start.

Best Wood for Carving With Dremel

Using a rotary tool is an incredibly easy way to carve intricate details into wood. It is much easier and requires less force and physical strength. You mostly let the tool do the job for you. But some woods are not good for machining, even though they don’t splinter, they fuzz up. 

The fuzzy texture worsens with the use of the rotary tool and so much wood should be avoided at any cost.

Basswood and Butternut are great options if you are planning on using Dremel for carving purposes. These woods are forgiving and considerably cheap too, so if you end up carving a piece, it will not be a huge waste of money and resources on your end.

Best Wood for Wood Turning

Woodturning is an incredibly fun activity to take up as a hobby. It requires very little effort on your end and you mostly let the machines do the work. Just make sure the chisels you are using for woodturning are sharp and strong. Don’t push too hard, take it off as slowly as possible.

Basswood as usual is one of the best choices for woodturning when it comes to beginners. But other than that the wood that gives the best result from the woodturning process is Box Elder. It looks absolutely beautiful and woodturning enthusiasts love making ornaments out of it. Another wood great for turning is Silver Maple, which has a beautiful grain pattern.

Most Popular Wood for Carving

If you ask any woodcarver, whether they use power carving, woodturning, or hand tools, they will all undoubtedly say that basswood is the most popular wood for carving. It is readily available, inexpensive compared to most woods on the list above, and can be found online and at your local hardware stores.

Professional carvers and beginners both love to use basswood for its ease in carving. It is one of the softest woods that can be found and is very forgiving both while working and also for your tools. At the same time, it’s also quite durable.

For professionals, it is the most leisurely wood to work with. They usually use it for finishing projects that have a short deadline and well, you already know the reason why it is great for beginners.

Author’s Favorite

One wood that is often overlooked due to its difficulty in carving is Pine. But it is also one of the most readily available woods which is found throughout the US with relative ease. Pine is considered one of the hardest woods to carve due to being resinous and having knots all over it.

But it is a super durable wood and holds details very well. It also stands the test of time, and if maintained can last a lifetime. To give you some perspective, the stave churches made out of load-bearing ore-pine have lasted more than 800-years in Norwegian regions and Europe.

If you want to know whether Pine is a good wood to carve and if you can use it for that purpose, then check out this detailed article. Since it is very common and cheap, you can practice it all you want.

Best Wood for Beginners Looking for a Challenge

Walnut, Alder, and Sycamore are hardwoods that are great for beginners if they feel like challenging themselves. Since all three of these rank higher on the Janka hardness scale, you can not only test your own skills but the durability of your tools on them as well.

All of these are beautiful woods and can be used as tests to see how much you have progressed as a novice woodcarver. These woods are usually used by professionals for projects which will show off their skills the most. And in the same way, it will show how far you have come from when you started off as a beginner.


Can you use the same type of wood for power carving and carving using hand tools?

While it is true for most woods, not all woods react the same way to power tools. Some woods tend to fuzz up on the surface when you use power tools on them to carve.

Are softer woods better for carving and whittling?

The general rule is the softer the wood is the easier it will be to carve using chisels or whittle using a carving knife. Woods that rank low on the Janka hardness scale should be used for carving if you are a beginner. The harder the wood is the more it will be difficult to carve.

Are all hardwoods hard to carve?

Hardwoods are a class of woods that have a closed grain and grow slower. While it is true that they are denser, some hardwoods are very easy to carve because they are soft. So no, not all hardwoods are hard to carve.

If you don’t know how Wood Grain type can determine which wood you should choose for your wood carving project. Then don’t worry, we got your back. We have a brief article discussing the difference between closed-grain wood and Open grain wood.

Can you carve anything out of a particular wood?

Some wood holds detail better than others, while some woods are more durable. That is why you can’t make furniture, kitchen utensils, and musical instruments out of one kind of wood. They all act differently to different treatments, so you should check what kind of wood is suitable for what function.

What kind of wood to avoid when carving?

Woods that splinter easily should be avoided when used for carving. You should also avoid woods that are too hard to carve for your tools. Avoid carving wood that has any toxicity to it as it can cause allergic reactions.

Final Thoughts

There are plenty of woods out there, so if you’re a beginner, you can start from the first wood on the list, which is Aspen, and go all the way up to Sycamore for a challenge. 

Don’t be afraid of failure a few times, as everyone will make mistakes when they are trying something new. 

Just ensure that the tools you are using are sharp and durable when you are carving wood and always be careful of your safety when working with tools that have sharp edges.

Martin Swizz

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

Recent Posts