Your First Carving

Choosing your wood

Which wood you use for your relief carving is determined by the method of carving you will use, the purpose of the carving, and where the carving will be displayed.

For your first projects in relief carving I would strongly suggest basswood. With its fine, tight grain and clean white coloring it is the primary species for easy cutting, deep shaping, and fine line detailing. Basswood is perfect for letting you to learn how to use your tools and how to make your cuts. It is readily available at most large craft stores in both pre-routed plaques and in shapes as boxes, wall hearts, and even canister sets. Basswood, as any carving wood, can be purchased through mail order wood store in planed boards of varying thickness, widths, and lengths.

Butternut has a distinct tightly packed grain line with a silvery grey-brown tone. As basswood, butternut cuts smoothly with minimal pressure from your carving tools. This wood is available for purchase as planed boards and can be ordered through most mail order wood stores.

Sugar Pine is a beautiful wood surface to work. It has a fine, tight grain much like butternut and few heavy sapwood areas. As all pines it has a white coloring to the surface when freshly planed, but as the wood ages it will take on a golden-orange patina. Sugar pine should not be confused with the more common species of white pine.

English walnut, black walnut, maple, birch, and poplar are common woods used by relief wood carvers. These are all harder woods and require careful, controlled pressure when cutting.Yellow and red cedar are often used for outdoor use as signs or door plaques. Learn more about carving woods, visit Woodcarving Basics.

Although basswood is classified as a hardwood species , its tight, even grain cuts easily.  It is a featureless wood that takes deep contoured carving, fine v-gouge detailing, and wood burned accents.
The silver-grey coloring of butternut adds luster to any relief carving.  It has a fine grain with deeper toned stripes of sapwood.  Butternut is an excellent choice for any beginner’s project.
White Pine
This common wood has thick, varying grain lines with heavy areas of sapwood.  It takes careful control to work a relief carving through the grain lines and achieve an even, smooth look to your work.
 basswood carving wood butternut carving wood white pine carving wood


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