Top 3 Cheap Woods for Carving

Are you considering taking up wood carving as your new hobby? Then we would advise you against buying expensive wood as a starter. Practice on cheap wood first, understand how different tools work and only move forward once you get the hang of it. If you don’t know which cheap woods are good for carving, then don’t fret. In this article, we have covered the top 3 cheapest woods for carving.

The prices of wood differ depending on the region as well as the availability. But the most suited ones for carving are poplar, soft maple, and red oak. Poplar can cost around anywhere from $3-$4 per feet of 4/4 board, white oak is available anywhere from $4 to $6 per feet of 4/4 board, and lastly, soft maple can cost $3.50 to $5 per feet of 4/4 board.

The actual price range might be different from what you’d find locally. But it will not be too far off either since these reflect the prices in most online stores.

Why Buy Cheap Wood in the First Place?

If you are an expert and professional woodcarver, you don’t have to worry about making mistakes. Even if you do end up doing something wrong, you can rectify the problem with the help of your vast experience and avoid wasting expensive wood. 

But as a beginner, you’re prone to make mistakes and you wouldn’t know how to clean up the mess either. Not to mention you will have to buy a lot of wood to practice on and as a result, you’ll simply burn your money. 

Poplar, soft maple, and white oak are good woods for carving. Many beginners choose one of these three kinds of wood to work on. The credit not only goes to their cheap pricing, but also because they are very easy to work with. These woods give amazing results when used in different types of wood carving.

Without further ado let us talk about the quality of these top 3 cheap woods individually.


Poplar is a hardwood that is perfect for carving purposes. Many veterans of the DIY world will tell you how great of a wood it is to work with. Poplar is a hardwood that can be found in a multitude of colors.

Usually, you can find it in green, but purple is not uncommon either. The most unusual is the rainbow poplar, which is hard to come by. And it is also the most expensive too.

The reason poplar can be found in various colors is that it absorbs minerals from the marshes. Depending on the mineral it absorbs the most, the color changes.

Overall poplar is a great wood for carving, it is a hardwood but can be easily cut with hand tools. The open grain structure is pretty straight and smooth which gives an amazing look to it. Furniture made out of this wood is durable and great to look at.

The best part, it is comparatively cheaper to woods like white oak, walnut, and cherry. It is a bit denser than pine, which people usually go with when searching for cheap wood. But we believe poplar has a much better potential for carving.

We especially recommend this wood for power wood carving since it does not fuzz easily.

Red Oak

Red oak is also one of the cheapest woods that has a beautiful character to it. If you are from the U.S. then you would know that most kitchen furniture is made out of this wood. It is either this or white oak, both of them are different species though, and they are not named that because of color differences.

Both white oak and red oak are hardwoods but the price difference is pretty significant. White oak is much more expensive, and it is also more durable compared to red oak.

Red oak on the other side is a forgiving wood, it is lighter and has a different grain structure. It is one of the first hardwoods any woodworker would work with. The first reason is that it is incredibly cheap and available, secondly because it is easy to carve and machine. 

Though red oak does splinter easily, so do take care when machining it with a router for your projects. Also, people often fume red oak with ammonia and it gives it an amazing aged look that other woods don’t.

Soft Maple

There are a lot of species of maple wood that are used in woodworking. The most common of all though is hard white maple and soft maple. Hard white maple is the lumber of the tree from which you get maple syrup from. This wood is very tough, have you seen those bowling alleys that take a beating from bowling balls? It is made out of hard maple.

Soft maple, on the other hand, is lighter and less dense. It is third the weight of hard white maple so it is very forgiving for hand tools. This makes it great for woodwork and hand carving.

Related Article: Softest wood for wood carving

If you want to work on a project that is supposed to be light, soft maple is your choice of wood. Guitars are a great example of why you would want to use this light wood. Since it is lighter you can carry a guitar on the stage for a longer period.

The grain of the soft maple is fine, it cuts easily, it does not burn much either when machining with power tools. It is considerably cheaper and yet very useful. If you are a beginner it might be one of the best woods to start with.

How to Spend Less Wood Carving

There are a few mistakes that beginners make and as a result create more waste in wood. But you can follow the tips below to avoid that:

Use Sharp Tools

Carving wood with a dull tool will only give undesired results and often creates more waste, it is also much more dangerous as dull knives are prone to slip off and injure you. Instead, use a sharp tool for better, safer results and reduced waste.

If you are reletavly new to wood carving, you may want one of the below quesitons clarified:

Sharp tools gives you more control over the carving process. You can get better cleaner cuts and you struggle less. So using sharper tools makes the wood carving process as a whole much easier.

Always use a piece of scrap wood to test your hand tools ahead of working on a project. You will be able to tell if the tools are sharp or not right away with the cuts they make.

Go Along the Grain

Another amateur mistake that people usually make is going against the grain of the wood when carving. Going with the grain when carving can help avoid ripping the wood apart.

While when you carve along the grain of the wood, you get cuts much easier. There is less chance of splintering and splitting as well. So keep that in mind the next time you are carving using hand tools.

Store Wood Properly When Not Working

If you live in a dry or humid region, it can affect the piece of wood you are working on. Specifically, the wood can change overnight when you have stored it away to work on another day.

The wood might crack if it gets too dry or split, and it can cause a huge waste. Instead of doing that, the best way is to store the wood with wood chips and a few drops of water in a plastic bag. This will help store the wood until you seal it once it is finished.

Take Your Time

Art needs time, it cannot be rushed. Just like a painter takes months to finish a piece, the same can be said about woodwork. It takes patience and as you work slowly, you will avoid mistakes that will waste wood.

Using Right Oils

Once you are done carving, you need to use oils for polishing the wood. Not all oils are suitable for the wood you might be carving. You need to research ahead what oils will work better and get you the best results.

Got the hang of the basics and want to craft on higher quality woods? Check out our guide to Top 9 Best Woods For Carving From Amateur To Pro.

How to Choose Wood for Carving?

While you will not have any trouble when choosing wood for a project, there are a few tips that can help you in doing so. The nature of the project usually decides the wood you need to buy.

But that is not all, the grain structure of the wood plays an important role as well. Avoid wood that might cause you allergies too, because you do not want to get sick while working on it.

The smell of the wood is also important, you don’t want a piece that emits a strong odor as decoration after you are done carving. Also if there is a defect on the piece of wood, try to avoid it, the defects can go deep.

Final Thoughts

There are other cheap woods as well that you can buy, but the few things you have to look out for are pretty similar in all of them. If you don’t want to overspend and you find these woods on the shelves of your local store, then you are sure to get good results. These are great cheap woods to start off your journey with.

Thank you for reading this article, we hope you enjoyed and learned a lot of new things. Be sure to surf our website and see if you find any other articles that will catch your interest. Hope to see you again at woodiswood

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