Top 9 Easiest Woods To Carve

Wood carving is not an easy art, to begin with there are a lot of things you can do to make the learning and carving process easier for you. One of the most fundamental game-changer of the learning experience is your choice of wood. If you choose the wood that is easy to work on, you’ll find that learning to carve wood will become a reasonably easy process.

This article will give you a rundown of the easiest wood to work on for novice wood carvers so that you can decide which one will work best for you

The Easiest Wood To Carve- Basswood

The most popular and universally used wood for carving is Basswood. The softness of Basswood is enough to make carving fairly easy, while emphasizing the fine details well thanks to the small grain knots. When attempting a wood carving project, you need to know the difference made by the grain density. Basswood has less wood grain count than other species of timber which makes it easy to whittle, making it ideal for beginners.

Ideally you will want the wood grain to take shape of the carving itself. Basswood is ideal for carving small craft objects like two ducks or target practice decoys, miniature models or chip carvings. It has a cream colored rich hue that works for any kind of carving project, whether it’s a furniture piece or sculpture. It’s also easy to paint on, making it the universal choice for wood carvers around the world.

What Makes a Wood Easy To Carve?

There are a couple of factors that you need to factor in when choosing wood for your carving project. Will you be using a carving knife to draw detailed designs or a chisel and mallet for sculpting? Will you paint the final piece or leave it with a natural finish? You need to choose the timber based on your target requirements.

Some carvers choose interestingly shaped sticks or logs. A freshly cut log can present problems since it is still filled with a great deal of moisture. If the log dries too quickly it may check (crack) badly. It is best to let the log air dry for an extended period of time until it reaches an acceptable level of moisture content to prevent unwanted cracking. The alternative is to purchase kiln-dried wood that has been cut into boards.

In most cases, you’ll need to soften the wood to make the carving easier. Since the moisture content is high in freshly cut logs, it can lead to difficulty in carving. You need to dry the log in a methodical manner for an extensive period of time. If it dries too quickly, it will crack which will ruin the whole project.

Top 9 Easiest Woods To Carve

To make things easy if you’re a beginner, carving timber can be classified into two categories- softwood and hardwood. Between these two, softwood often tends to be more expensive and harder to obtain. Both have their unique properties, but hardwood is universally preferred due to its functionality.

Hardwood such as bass is the best medium for carving as opposed to softwood. The dense grain structure of hardwood timber allows it to absorb more moisture than softwood, making it easy to carve. This is why furniture makers prefer hardwood over softwood as wooden products made out of them tend to last longer.   

For novice wood carvers lime, alder, willow, poplar and birch are the best options for practice. Other hardwood timber ideal for carving includes sycamore, cherry, beech and rowan and other fruit woods. Experimentation is the key here, you need to practice on different types of timber to find out which one works best for you.

Here’s a list of the easiest woods to carve.

Yellow Cedar- Matures Like Fine Wine

Yellow cedar or cypress is a personal favorite of many wood carvers. The wood has a nice grain density and is easy to paint on. You can experiment with the effect of the hue since the timber matures with age, generally taking a uniform medium to fine texture. It’s easy to work on with both hands and machinery, making it an ideal choice for beginner and advanced carving projects.


Aspen comes in third in terms of ease of carving in this list. It gives off a nice glossy appearance when oiled, making it ideal for both furniture and show pieces. Despite have a dark greenish bark, the timber itself has a light brown texture. The timber is light and durable and can be obtained easily from most timber suppliers

Oak – Ideal For larger projects

A classic carving choice that has been popular among craftsmen since time immemorial. Oaks are very easy to work on using hands and carving tools. The grain density is much higher than basswood, but that’s not a bad thing since it allows you to work on large pieces with intricate designs easily. The strength, sturdiness, and versatility all work together in its favor, making oak the universal choice for large projects such as making interior or exterior furniture.

Whether you’re trying to make something simple or grand, the oak is always the right candidate for the job.

Black Walnut — For luxury carving

While not as widely used as the previous mentions in this list, black walnut is highly coveted among wood carvers. Mainly used for luxury carving, black walnut has a gorgeous appearance. The timber has a rich dark chocolate-brown color. It has a dense grain pattern that gives it a strong lustrous look. As to be expected, black walnut has a high price tag, but if you want to make your carvings look splendid and opulent, then there’s no better candidate. 

American Cherry

American cherry is another excellent timber that is easy to carve on. The heartwood texture of American cherry varies from light pink to a rich red-brown texture, making it highly coveted by experienced wood carvers and furniture makers around the world. The sapwood of the American cherry is cream colored and has straight grain. It’s a bit more difficult to work on compared to the previous mentions in the list, but the effect of the final project is worth the effort.  

American White Ash- The Softwood Alternative For Beginners

The American white ash is not as widely used for carving, but nevertheless, has a subtle effect that makes it suitable for certain types of carving projects. The texture of the heartwood of the American white ranges from faded brown to a crisp light brown. The sapwood has a white texture. It has a optimal grain density that has a straight grain with a coarse uniform texture.

There are various types of American white ash owing to the fact that the physical properties of the timber varies according to different regions.


The butternut is a rare softwood timber that is actually beginner friendly and easy to work on. You need a certain degree of practice before starting to work on softwood timber. The color of the heartwood of butternut has a light brown color. The wood is coarse with straight large grains. This makes butternut ideal for wood carving artwork. You will have an easy time working on this with a whittling knife.

White Pine- The most popular softwood

The last mention on this list will be white pine which is popular among newcomers and experienced wood carvers alike. It shares certain physical characteristics with basswood such as the cream-colored heartwood and thick grain while being easy to whittle with a knife. This timber is especially useful in carving projects that require curvature in design.


Here are some of the most frequently asked questions on this topic by newcomers which should help you out in advance.

How Do I choose the Right Tool?  

Every type of wood has its own individual pros and cons. Becoming a good carver means learning those quirks by how they respond to your tools. Choosing the right tool for the job should be your first priority. Knives, chisels, saws, and mallets all have different applications with different effects. Learning which tool you need comes from experience and practice

How Do I Use My Tools Properly?

Secondly, it is important to hold the material firmly with one hand and use your tool with the other. If you are performing whittling, cut using swift moves. Do not stop halfway. With chiseling, remove only small pieces at a time. Don’t go for larger pieces at it may ruin and break the material. Equally important is the wearing of knife-gloves. They will protect your fingers from the sharp edges of your woodworking tools.

The usage of wood carving tools largely depend on what effect you want. There are two basic grips that dictate the use of most wood carving tools except the heavier ones. You can learn more here. Other than learning the grips, try to keep the following tips in mind:

  • – When performing whittling, use swift moves for cutting.
  • – Do not stop halfway during any motion.
  • – Work slowly when chiseling, going for smaller chunks of wood before larger ones.
  • – Use gloves

How Do I Paint my Wood Carving Projects?

If you take a couple of simple steps, painting on wood carving projects produces the best results. These are:

  • Sand the surface before starting to paint.
  • Use low grit sand paper for a fine finish
  • Spray painting can save you time and effort.
  • If you’re having trouble with small corners, use a paintbrush.

How do I add a Wood Finish?

Some species of timber such as oak has a natural luster requiring little no finish while others require medium to fine finishing touches. Vanishing produces the best result if you want your wood carving project to be esthetically pleasing. You can also opt for veneer or varnish if you prefer those looks as well.

Final thoughts

Choosing the right wood and preparing it for your project is just as important as learning how to use your tools. If you’re a novice, starting off with a lot of small samples of different species of timber can be a big help in helping you adjust to your tools and carving style. Following the mentions in this article will definitely help you in that regard.

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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