Here are the Easiest Woods to Start Carving

By Kevin Kessinger •  Updated: 06/28/22 •  5 min read

Generally, every type of wood can be carved, but the type you choose will depend on the project. For beginners looking to horn their woodcarving skills, soft, inexpensive, and easy to carve woods are the best way to go. This post will show you the easiest wood to start carving as a beginner.

1. Basswood – Best Wood for Beginner Carving

Basswood (Tilla Americana) is also referred to as Limewood or Linden in Europe.

Basswood is the easiest wood to carve and also the most beginner-friendly. In the woodcarving community, Basswood is the most popular option recommended. Its soft properties make it fairly easy to carve even small details.

Basswood is a softwood. It is odorless and has a pale white to light brown color. Because of its inconspicuous colors, Basswood is easier to finish, and it also does not diminish the curved patterns of a finished object.

Apart from woodcarving, Basswood is used extensively in producing plywood, blinds, veneer, wood pulp, window shutters, and fiber products. Because of its great acoustic properties, Basswood is also used in musical instruments like guitar and bass guitar bodies, various wind instruments, drum shells, and recorders.

2. Butternut

Butternut (Juglans Cinerea) is also known as White Walnut. It is a species of Walnut native to southeast Canada and the eastern united states. Butternut has a small band of white sapwood, but most of it is heartwood with a light brown color.

Butternut is much softer than Walnut, making it a preference for hand carvers. The end and face grains are equally hard, but Butternut cuts easily and holds an edge. It also planed easily and was a favored wood by older woodworkers. Like basswood, Butternut is easy to work with and does well with stains.

For woodcarvers and whittlers, Butternut is a favorite. Nice grain and softer nature make it a perfect choice for beginners to work with.

3. Aspen or White Poplar

From matchsticks to artistic carvings and furniture, Aspen is also a favorite among woodcarvers. There are several varieties around, but the Quaking Aspen, also called Populus Tremuloides, is well known here in North America. Aspen is classified as hardwood but is an excellent material for beginner carvers.

Unique characteristics make Aspen a good wood for carving moldings, toys, and for use in furniture. For wood carving, Aspen is soft and has fine, straight grain that offers minimal resistance when carving. It also resists splitting and cracking, which guarantees a safe surface from splinters when used to carve children’s toys.

The splinter-free properties also mean you can easily sand and paint your projects. Aspen takes paint very well, making it one of the popular choices for interior finishes in homes.

4. Black Walnut

Black walnut is a denser and sturdier option, great for carving. Black walnut comes from the Juglans Nigra tree, which is different from English walnut, Juglans Regia tree. The difference between black and white walnut is that white is grown for food, while black is grown for wood.

Black Walnut has a rich dark color, hard texture, and straight grain, which serves as a guide for easier cutting. Because of its hard texture, Black Walnut should be carved using sharp tools and a mallet for the best results. Unlike basswood and butternut, walnut is the first hardwood on our list that is easier to carve and expensive.

Black walnut is mostly used in relief and chip carving. It is also popularly used in a wide range of products like furniture. The finish for Black Walnut is a clear one, such as Danish oil, which improves its aesthetic properties.

Its odor level is high, and you should use a facemask, especially when carving dry black walnut.

5. Pine/White Pine – A Popular Softwood

Pine is a very popular softwood and goes by Eastern Pine or White Pine. Pine has a yellowish to reddish-white color and darkens to red-brown over time. Most Pine variants are very hard to carve, except White Pine which is great. The Eastern White Pine is the softest pine wood in the market.

White Pine is good for whittling because of its soft nature. Its softness also makes it a good wood for carving on the round. In contrast, the softness makes it worse for chip carving. White Pine is very easy to carve when it is green or wet – a perfect wood for beginners.

Because of the many varieties of pine wood, you can identify white pine by looking at the knot on the wood. Dark purple knots will let you know the wood is Western White Pine.

6. Cottonwood

Cottonwood is the state wood of Nebraska and can grow in abundance along rivers and streams in most states. There are two types of Cottonwood: Eastern Cottonwood and Black Cottonwood. Eastern Cottonwood (Populus Deltoides) is native to North America and has long been used by natives to design their kachina dolls using the roots.

With Cottonwood, you can remove the outside layer and carve the bark. You can carve wood spirits, Indian heads, Jayhawks, folk figures, and fairy houses from the bark. Because it’s fragile, you should be careful when cutting cottonwood bark to avoid tearing it.

When selecting Cottonwood for carving, you should ensure it is in good condition. It should not be very porous, have no fungal infections, and does not exhibit physical damage. Though Cottonwood is easier to carve, you will need more practical experience to handle it and choose a quality wood for a beginner.

Kevin Kessinger

Kev is the founder of Pro Wood Carving and has been carving spoons, small pieces, and whittling since his teenage years. He has continued to level up his wood carving skills and wanted to share his journey and knowledge with other wood carvers. He launched Pro Wood Carving in 2021 to make wood carving more approachable for everyone looking to improve their skills.