What Wood Is Best For Chainsaw Carving?

Any chainsaw carving project requires a lot of preparation and one of the things you have to decide on is what wood is best to use. While the answer to this is very individual from person to person, we give our best answer to the common question “What wood is best for chainsaw carving?”

The best kinds of wood to carve with a chainsaw are softwoods because they crack open less frequently and have weaker kickback. The best softwoods suitable for chainsaw carving are cottonwood and ponderosa.

Although cottonwood is classified as a hardwood it is very soft and pleasant to carve, same as basswood being put in the “hardwood” category but still works as softwood for chainsaw carvers.

With that said, some carvers prefer to carve hardwood no matter the disadvantages. In this case, the best choice of hardwood would be basswood and cherry.

There kind of timber you use to carve will have a large effect on the quality of your work as a chainsaw carver. Further in this article we will introduce some more high-quality woods and give you some more insight on how to choose them correctly as well as explain their pros and cons.

Top 5 Best Woods For Chainsaw Carving


You will find cottonwood of a different species depending on where you live, but just like with most other types of wood, even if there are dozens of species of the wood, it usually is more or less the same thing.

Cottonwood has a nice white color a lot of carvers really like as it makes their carvings a little more clean looking and generally grabs people’s attention better. An example of that is the less detailed bear that looks better than the more detailed one onlybecause it is made of a brighter wood, like in the picture above.

Cottonwood is also fairly cheap, it is around the same price as basswood so most carvers are comfortable buying it for any kind of project. Whether it’s better than basswood is very controversial as although basswood may be more pleasant to carve, many carvers are just really tired of using basswood all the time and look for diversity.

Overall cottonwood is enjoyable to carve with a chainsaw, it is classified as a hardwood but is actually quite soft. It does not crack easily and rarely has large pieces fall off. This wood is exactly what it’s worth in the store.


Pine is not the most high quality wood that grows on our planet, however, it is a definite go-to wood for many carvers and there are two reasons for that.

  • Pine wood is cheap
  • Pine wood is reliable and consistent

Specifically, white pine is an excellent wood for chainsaw carving, but any other kind of pine is very similar to one another, and as long as you have some experience working with pine will get you the job done.

Pine usually costs 30 cents per board foot, which adds up to an average log (160 board feet) tree costing under $50. White pine’s pricing is very different and usually very overpriced, although it is more pleasant to work with.

If you ever want to practice your skills or attempt a project that you don’t want to waste too much money on, pine wood is great for that. If on the other hand, you are looking to display your skills and the final outcome in front of your house, cottonwood or red cedar is probably a better match for you.


Ponderosa is actually a specie of pine. Even though we just mentioned that pine wood is relatively the same, the WWPA quotes:

Ponderosa Pine is perhaps the most beloved of the Western pines.  Its soft texture and light color distinguish it from the Southern pines; its wood is among the most beautiful of all pines.


We wanted to make a special section dedicated to ponderosa because it is not always labeled as “pine” in stores. The price for ponderosa should not be higher than for pine, but due to higher demand in your region, it is likely that is it.

The coloring of ponderosa is somewhat similar to white pine except with a hint of yellow in the wood. It cuts even softer than other pines and you will definitely enjoy putting your chainsaw through it.

Red cedar

In general, cedar can be used no matter the type, red cedar is slightly more pleasant specifically to carve with a chainsaw but even that it is not the absolute best wood to use for chainsaw carving but it is among the most common kinds of wood that people use.

The biggest trait that makes red cedar so favored is, of course, nothing but its natural color. The dusty red color of this wood is nothing like any other wood in the world. To see what cedar looks like, take a look at this quick 2-minute video of a chainsaw carver creating a pine tree out of red cedar.

Red cedar is on the more expensive side of the woods featured in this list. This, however, should not be a problem as it is not a wood such as pine to carve from every day, when in a good mood and ready to carve something impressive, this can give you an edge to highlight your skills even more.

Red cedar can bring amazing contrast to the collection of your chainsaw carvings. While it is not an everyday wood that you would carve, when you have a truly worthy project to display, red cedar is the wood you need.


At the bottom of the list, we have basswood. Basswood has recommended itself as the optimal wood for almost any wood carving project, and there are many good reasons for that.

Chainsaw carvings out of basswood are as common as carvers find logs of basswood to buy. The wood is predictable, although it falls into the category of hardwoods basswood is very soft and pleasant to carve with a chainsaw with weaker kickbacks than almost any other hardwood.

If you are just getting started with chainsaw carving, basswood is a very good choice of wood for you. If this is the case, we also suggest you read our rather short first-time guide for chainsaw carvers.

The price for basswood is also very fair, so you may ask why is it not considered the best wood for chainsaw carving? It’s just a little too basic. It has a very common appearance of brown wood with some types of basswood being lighter but never as light as cottonwood.

Basswood is great for chainsaw carving but is a more “safe” choice. Carving basswood is not as exciting as carving red cedar or a pale ponderosa pine.

To conclude, basswood as a wood for chainsaw carving is ideal. It is on the same level as pine only because it is slightly more pricy, but basswood is both affordable and a good choice for carvers of any expertise.

Why Softwood Chainsaw Carvings Are Better Than Hardwood Chainsaw Carvings

A lot of people may argue that hardwood is actually way better than softwood for chainsaw carving just because most people use hardwood for power carving. In practice, however, this is not at all true.

Chainsaw carving follows slightly different laws than power carving. For example, if you have carved with a chainsaw yourself, you may have come across an unpleasant incident where a large piece of wood breaks off and ruins your whole project. Hardwood is much more prone to this.

Hardwood is usually denser and therefore holds better together. This is not good for chainsaw carvers as when the wood cracks, it will be less predictable and instead of a small piece chipping off there will be a crack growing larger and larger until 1/3 of your log falls off by surprise.

Not all hardwood is “hard wood”. A lot of the softest woods in the world fall into the category of hardwood, but during use cut easily and have all the benefits of softwood. As you may have noticed some of the woods featured in our list above are also *classified* as hardwoods but are actually very soft.

In addition to all the inconveniences that harder wood has, softer wood also cuts easier and more precisely. Of course, all wood has its pros and cons, but from experience, softer wood has a lot more use for chainsaw carvers than harder wood.

Where To Get High-Quality Wood For Chainsaw Carving

There are many ways of getting your hands on high quality wood, the two methods we would recommend are:

  • Contacting tree service companies
  • Collecting timber from fallen/very damaged trees

If you are looking to buy logs for chainsaw carving we suggest contacting a local tree service company and buying the wood from them. It’s best you actually get the chance to see and feel the wood before buying it, to avoid some of the potential dangers of chainsaw carving.

If you are collecting the wood by yourself make sure it is legal and permitted by the area you live in as well as the place you harvest the wood. With that out of the way, there are a lot of trees damaged and fallen from storms in any forest that you can collect and use for carving.

Buying wood online is actually not that good of an idea, otherwise, we would insert an affiliate link to a reliable timber store online. However, it is both more pleasant to see the wood you will carve yourself and safer as you examine it for potential hazards.

Final Thoughts

There are many good and very different kinds of wood that are very suitable for chainsaw carving. Some of the best ones will always be cottonwood and ponderosa. Harder and denser woods are genuinely worse for chainsaw carving, while most softer woods make for great carved statues.

We hope you enjoyed the article and that your chainsaw carving will be unique and pleasant to carve. Feel free to visit some other articles on our website about whittling, power carving, and a few others about chainsaw carving!

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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