Best Wood For Beginners In Wood Carving – What Wood To Start With

If you are just getting started with wood carving there are a few things you need to consider when picking the different kinds of wood you will practice your carving skills with.

The best wood to carve with as a beginner is either basswood or butternut. Both kinds of wood are soft which is very suitable for all beginner projects allowing new wood carving students to focus on enhancing their technique.

While basswood and butternut are perfect for beginners they are also perfect for wood carving in general, as a very high percentage of wood carvings made by professional carvers are made from these two kinds of wood.

Basswood vs Butternut. Which One Is Better For You?

To start with it’s important to note that both kinds of wood are great for carving and you should most definitely try them out and see which one feels better for yourself. With that said there are some very distinct differences between the two.


Basswood is much lighter than butternut, it has a creamy white color that looks nothing like any other kind of wood. All finished projects end up much brighter when using basswood.

Butternut is often referred to as “white walnut” in the community of woodcarvers. White is an exaggeration when describing the color of butternut, it is more like a light brown shade. Overall butternut is a light-colored wood, but basswood is even lighter.


Butternut is a more expensive wood than basswood. Prices vary over the world but basswood is one of the cheapest wood to carve, and when compared to butternut it can be multiple times cheaper.

A lot of it is to do with butternut being more endangered than ever which leads to very strict restrictions on getting selling butternut.

As an estimate that will change over the years depending a lot on the region that you live in, Butternut cost $15 per board foot and basswood costs around $6 for the same size.


If you are a beginner you may not fully know why exactly the grain is important, but long story short it looks good when finished.

Butternut has an above-average size grain which looks very beautiful when the project is complete.

Basswood has something you could safely call a “normal grain” it has a uniform texture and the grain is of an average size which looks good and feels good on the knife.

Overall experience

Basswood and butternut are many woodcarvers’ favorite two woods, as a beginner, you will probably not have a strong favorite between the two. Most likely you will end up liking butternut a little more, but not enough to stop using basswood.

What wood should you not pick as a beginner

If you walk into a store and you pick wood to carve only based on its appearance that’s already a mistake. You will be very likely attracted to woods like cherry, mahogany, and walnut which are all great woods for woodcarving but they are extremely difficult to carve for a beginner.

The main reason for that is the density of the wood. While you probably still can try and chip carve a wood like cherry, whittling it would require a little more experience and strength than what someone recently starting out will have.

As a rule of thumb, if you want to try out a new wood other than basswood and butternut, make sure you pick a softwood and not a hardwood unless you’d like to have a hard time carving it.

Why softwood is better to start for beginners

As it states in the name, softwood is better than hardwood because it is less dense and therefore has a softer feeling when you cut it.

If you’d like to learn more about what wood is best for people that are just starting out with wood carving check our article How To Get Started With Wood Carving. You will find a lot of useful information on the topic under the subheading Choosing the wood for first carving

Other Good Kinds of Wood

Different kinds of wood are good for different purposes in wood carving.

Basswood and butternut are universal for most tasks, styles, and projects that you will try out when learning wood carving, but when focusing on other kinds of wood, some may be better for one purpose and much worse for others.

Here is a list of different wood kinds that you as a beginner could try in different projects and work out yourself which wood works best for you in what area of wood carving:

  • Aspen
  • Jelutong
  • Sugar maple
  • European lime
  • Black walnut

Of course, we will not leave you hanging, below you can read about each of these kinds of wood for a general idea of what to expect and what is the best thing to do with them.


Aspen is what we like to call a “transition wood”. It is not dense enough that you have to use a mallet and a gouge to carve it, but it is not as soft as butternut.

It is very nice training to whittle with aspen as it requires some more strength which is a little challenging if you are a beginner. Over time you will train the muscles required to carve which will actually make it easier for you to carve butternut and basswood.

If you’d like to chip carve with a different wood than the two we mentioned before, aspen would be our 3rd best pick to chip carve with. In fact, some woodcarvers prefer the extra density as it makes the wood chip off a little bit easier


This is a less popular wood for carving which is why you may not have heard of it. However, this wood would be great for one of the greatest techniques in wood carving

If you’d like to try relief carving jelutong is a very nice and soft wood that is perfect for relief.

It is probably as good as butternut for relief carving and you should most definitely try it if relief carving is your thing.

Relief carving takes many forms and it is one of the most complex and interesting wood carving styles to try and to learn about. If you’d like to know more about relief carving, be sure to view our article What Is Relief Carving – High Relief and Low Relief Explained that goes into a lot of detail of how it is done and how to get started with relief.

Sugar Maple

Sugar maple is a very nice wood to chip carve with. If you’d like to carve sugar maple you will probably have a less fun time than you would with basswood or butternut.

Chip carving from sugar maple is different than from basswood or butternut, it will give you a new experience that you will like or that you may not find any better.

European Lime

Lime has a nice creamy color and is an overall great wood for beginners. Is it better than butternut or basswood? Well, it is actually exactly the same as one of the two.

This is a trick, because European lime is actually the exact same thing as basswood, in fact, lime, European lime, and basswood are all the same thing but just referred to differently in different areas. Keep it in mind so you don’t get confused if you get “Lime” in your on your bill when you bought basswood

Black Walnut

If you happen to find black walnut in your workshop, this is a great opportunity to try out using a gouge and mallet.

Black walnut is on the more expensive side of the wood that you can buy for carving, but for good reason. It is very heavy and has an extremely rich and beautiful dark color. All carvings made out of black walnut stand out as it is visible to the eye how much more solid this wood is compared to others.

Black walnut is not at all easy to carve, it is a hardwood and it is heavy. When carving black walnut, make sure your tools are always sharp and that you have a mallet nearby.

Enjoy Your Favorite Wood

This was a complete guide on what wood to get for wood carving if you are a beginner. If you have chosen the right wood for you then why don’t try out these projects as a beginner. We hope you found this article useful and you find a favorite wood for yourself to learn and master your wood carving skills with.

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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