Finding the best wood for power carving is a task that every carver should complete by themselves through the trial and error method. While there is no legitimate “best wood for power carving”, there are many that we think are great to use, and among these 9 woods, we are sure that one will be your favorite for all times to come.
We will try to provide a rough description of each wood, so that you can have an overall understanding of what it’s like and if this is the kind of wood that you are looking for. Of course, to fully understand and get a feel for the wood, you should try it out for yourself, so the best thing to do would be to pick the 3-4 of the best ones you like, and test them in real life to pick the ultimate best wood for power carving.
Everyone who works with wood in any way has come across basswood. It is the go-to wood for all kinds of projects. Basswood has a good price, an excellent grain, it is soft, and accessible anywhere you are around the world.
One of the differences between power carving and whittling is that most hand carvers prefer to whittle much softer woods while power carvers don’t mind tackling harder ones. However, both woodcarvers meet when it comes to basswood.
Basswood is not loved for its beauty, it is quite a standard wood with a pretty light color but nothing that can make a unique appearance. Instead, basswood is loved for its convenience when it comes to carving. The wood never cracks or checks, it is soft, feels very pleasant on the tools, and with all of these positive traits, it is relatively cheap compared to most other woods.
Power carvers do need a little more time to finish basswood as some fuzz occurs when you carve it with rotary tools. This is not a difficult process, but may consume a little more time than you would have wanted as you sand the wood.
Walnut is a very beautiful wood to carve, it has a very rich texture and a fascinating grain. The wood is very durable and although Walnut is considered a hardwood is it actually soft enough to enjoy power carving without any difficulties. Overall this is one of the best woods you can carve with, except for its only downside; price.
Walnut is not always available even if you are willing to pay, and when your local store has walnut in stock it will probably be one of the more expensive woods sold.
If you want to try a small sample of walnut without paying for too much lumber, you can buy 4 pieces of walnut blocks from Amazon. Sometimes they will be out of stock, if this is the case, but you still want to buy some, check out an alternative seller for 4 pieces of black walnut.
We also recommend you watch this short 2 and a half minute video of a man carving walnut to make a bowl. It is very well filmed, and you can maybe carry some takeaways with you regarding how walnut looks and cuts.
Poplar is a bit of a hidden gem of the carving world. Not many people use poplar wood simply because they don’t really know about it. Poplar is a cheap wood from the start, but the lack of demand makes it undervalued and even cheaper than it already is.
Poplar wood has some similarities to basswood, It is one of the best cheap wood in the market. It’s even cheaper than Basswood but still holds to be a fine wood to power carve with. It is denser than aspen and basswood, has a light color somewhat similar to butternut and although it is not the most beautiful wood, it is ideal for practice and experimenting with new ideas to carve.
If you want to carve something for display, polar is not the go-to wood for you simply because it does not look all that great. Poplar wood is perfect for everyday carving that will be very cost-effective and you won’t have to worry about being wasteful with the wood as it is easily accessible and is not a rare wood anywhere in the world.
4. Fruit woods
Fruit woods such as apple wood, cherry wood, plum wood, pear wood, and olive wood are great for power carving. Naturally, fruit woods are very dense and are extremely frustrating to whittle, but with the use of power tools this problem is solved and you stay with the upsides of these beautiful woods.
All fruit woods have a lot in common, they are dense, look unique and beautiful, and check/crack when they dry out. The cracking issue is very hard to solve when it comes to fruit woods, but if you can season them properly, you will get a good result in the end.
Our favorite fruit wood is apple wood. If you want to read a little more about fruit woods, check out our article about: how good apple wood is for carving.
Overall power carving fruit woods are great, but chances are you will not get your hands on well season cherry or apple every time you want to power carve something. It is definitely worth trying, but it is hard to make such a wood a go-to simply due to the preparation needed before you carve it.
Cedar is a really nice wood to carve, although it is not too cheap it is not endlessly expensive if you get an ok deal and you can definitely afford to carve with it from time to time. If you like working with soft woods, you will like to hear that cedar is also among the top 5 softest woods to carve.
The beauty of cedar wood is how widely the variety of the species goes. We have an article on all about carving cedar wood that describes the different kinds of cedar that exist, so be sure to check it out if you are interested. To summarize the content, cedar wood not only has different features depending on the type you carve but also comes in different colors.
For example, everybody’s favorite is the red cedar that has such a unique natural color and is ideal for power carving. Check out the short 4-minute video to see what red cedar looks like when you carve it:
In the video you will also see the carver wood burning the carving, this is not necessary but it definitely is a good addition to add contrast to red cedar.
Personally, we really like yellow cedar here at woodiswood. The best thing about it is the amazing smell when you cut it, this alone makes the carving experience so much more pleasant. To conclude cedar is great, and if you are willing to spend more than usual for more fun and pleasurable experience when carving, cedar wood is a must-try for you.
When it comes to power carving, aspen is not the first wood that a professional woodworker would recommend to you, however, you may see a beginner or intermediate carver use aspen when power carving with a Dremel. This is because aspen is quite easy to work with, it is soft but does not break easily and 99% of the times it will not have any splinters even if you don’t sand it well.
Aspen is a light wood in both senses of color and weight. It takes paint really well, but looks pretty nice naturally as well. The grain is straighter than in most other woods which makes carving a little easier especially with hand tools, but power carving tools too.
Aspen wood is also relatively cheap. It is more expensive than poplar but cheaper than cedar wood. Its only and main disadvantage is that it probably will be fuzzy as you power carve it. This is an inconvenience but it is nothing that you can’t solve, therefore prepare to have to spend some more time on the finishing of aspen.
Overall aspen is a good wood that is probably not the very best but some find to like it. It is not expensive and available in every wood working supplier store, so give it a for general knowledge.
Some kinds of wood are either loved or hated, and tupelo is one of those woods. Some carvers say that it isthe best wood that they use for power carving while others say that just because it is popular among power carvers doesn’t mean it’s worth the amount that it’s worth.
Tupelo wood is expensive, so most likely you will not be using it to carve every day of the week. Tupelo almost does not fuzz, so if you find that annoying (who doesn’t) you will enjoy being able to carve and only deal with a 1/3 of the fuzz that basswood produces. It is also has a beautiful grain that is strong enough to be visible even after you sand the surface which you will have to do way less without all the fuzz that some cheaper woods give off.
If you want to take a look at how this wood looks in real life, check out this short video to see a bird being power-carved with different routers and power tools. You can also skip the first 45 seconds to get to the important stuff.
If you are willing to spend more than usual for more high-quality wood, you should consider tupelo. It is many carvers’ favorite wood, but as mentioned before some believe that it may be slightly overpriced. Decide for yourself when you give it a try.
Jelutong is classified as a hardwood, but due to its fast rate of growth, it is relatively soft to carve and is generally liked by many woodcarvers. It is not always available as jelutong mostly grows in Asia, but if you’re a little lucky and your local store sells it you should try jelutong out.
As mentioned before all fruit woods are great for power carving, and jelutong does belong in the category of fruit woods. With that said, it is not as hard as all the other fruit woods, but still has the beautiful grain, good durability, and excellent water resistance. For these reasons, carvers that primarily use hand tools really like jelutong as it is not as frustrating to carve but has the same benefits as fruitwoods.
It is hard to say if jelutong is better or worse than fruit woods such as pear or cherry. This is completely up to the preference of the carver. If you like to power carve much harder woods that are denser than fruit woods other than jelutong are the ideal choice for you, if you prefer softer woods, but still want something fruit wood looking, jelutong is your wood. You will not know which one is better until you try it.
Jelutong has one disadvantage that you should keep in mind before buying, it is quite prone to rotting. This is very easily solved by finishing the wood, but just keep in mind that you want to stain or seal the wood after you are done carving it to extend its lifespan.
We have a separate article that is specifically dedicated to jelutong and all of its unique traits as well as tips for those who have not yet worked with jelutong before. Be sure to check it out if you are interested: Everything You Need To Know About Carving Jelutong.
Oak has many different species that are very different from one another, so depending on where you live, oak will feel very different when you carve it. A very popular group of species of oak are all of the “red oak” species, those are mostly all open grain which basically means that the grain has large pores that are much more visible than the pores on fruit woods for example.
Oak is also somewhat a soft wood, it is easy to carve with both power and hand tools, below you can check out a short 4-minute video to see how oak wood looks like when you carve it with hand tools. Although you may be carving it with power tools, you will notice the density much better on a video such as this one. Skip the first 30 seconds to get to the important part.
One of the best things about oak is how much of it grows in the world. It is an excellent wood that comes at a very fair price that is cheaper than basswood. Depending on where you are in the world, your experience will be very different, but it is definitely one of the better kinds of wood that you can carve with.
Wood for power carving can be very different, some is hard, some is soft, other woods have a beautiful grain that you pay for while others don’t fuzz and are more pleasant to carve. While there is no perfect wood for power carving, you should figure out what you want from the wood that you will be working with, and based on that, you will find your own favorite wood to power carve.