Last edited 17 Sep 2020

The best woods for carving




Wood carving requires malleable but sturdy woods for different types of wood carving, such as relief carving, whittling, carving in the round, and chip carving. As a process that can include the production of sculptures, musical instruments, furniture, and much more, it needs both soft woods for ease of carving and hard woods for a more aesthetically pleasing result.

European lime

A great choice for beginners and professional carvers. Pale white to cream in colour, lime has very subtle growth rings and is fine and even textured making it a popular choice for carvers. With sharp tools, intricate detailed work can be produced. It was the preferred wood for sculptor Grinling Gibbon who produced works in many historical buildings such as Windsor Castle, St Paul’s Cathedral and many more noted buildings.

White Pine

White pine has a medium grain texture and a cream colouring. As a soft wood, it is ideal for whittling with a simple knife. In contrast, its softness and grainy texture make it less ideal for chip carving. White pine is a good wood for carving in the round as it is easy to shape and fashion.


With a light cream colour, basswood is both soft and easy to carve and whittle. Minimum skilled carvers or beginners can use this wood efficiently with only a knife needed. Complex designs are also easily made through the use of a hammer, a gouge, and a chisel. Chip carving isn’t advised however, as it is soft, but other carving methods are an excellent choice – particularly whittling with a knife.

European oak

European oak is a very popular hard wood. It is typically light to medium brown but there can be quite a variation in colour. The grain is straight coarse and can be interlocked. Oak has been used through the centuries for construction, cabinet work, flooring, historical carvings and so on.


Between a soft and a hard wood, mahogany is great for any wood carving technique, including chip carving. This wood always delivers aesthetically pleasing results, and is typically used as a base material for other projects. Mahogany has a reddish tone and requires little to no work, including wood tint and the application of veneer.


One of the best soft woods that can be used for carving, butternut has large wood grains, it is coarse, and of a light brown colour. Whittling it with a knife or carving is very easy, and butternut is typically used by professionals because of its visible grains adding beauty to projects. Easy to work with and for any type of project, butternut is a great wood for beginners.

Sugar maple

Although one of the best woods for chip carving, sugar maple can be difficult to carve as it is a hard and dense wood. Sugar maple has a typically straight grain, with the potential for waviness, and an even and fine texture. It is great for musical instruments, veneer, baseball bats, and other speciality wood items.

Black walnut

With a medium grain, this hard wood is dark brown and hard to carve. It can provide both an aesthetically-pleasing and professional result with the right tools, but it is not typically a good wood for beginners. It does not need a lot of post-work after being worked, and it can be used for chip carving, relief carving, or wood carving. Whittling, however, can be difficult as it is a hard wood.


This dense hard wood has a pinkish brown tint and wavy grains. It is ideal for chip carving, however, it is very difficult to whittle. It is typically an all-around good wood to work as it is stable and straight grained. When being stained, it can have blotchy results and a sanding sealer needs to be used before staining.

--G&S Specialist Timber

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