Best Wood for Carving

Best Wood for Carving, Chipping, and Whittling

The best wood for carving can depend on a variety of factors, including skill level and project type. Will the final product be painted or do you want to leave it natural and allow the grain to shine? Do you normally work with a mallet and chisel or a chip carving knife? Some wood carvers prefer working with natural wood they find lying around in the park or the woods, while others carefully select their work piece and only choose high quality wood from lumber yards or arts and crafts store.

The best wood for carving is:

  • Butternut
  • Balsa wood
  • Mahogany
  • Cherry
  • Walnut

Of course, the right wood for your project will depend on many factors including skill level, product type, and whether you want to use wood that has a beautiful natural grain, or a type of wood that can handle stains, finishes, nails, or glue.

As you can see, there are many factors you must consider before you buy wood for your next project. We’ve included many of the top types of woods commonly used by woodcarvers of all skill levels. Each type comes with their own advantages and disadvantages.

Continue reading to learn more about the best wood for carving based on project, skill level and more.

Choosing Your Wood: Milled or Raw?

As we mentioned above, some wood carvers prefer to find their own wood, however, wood that’s freshly cut from a fallen tree can be very difficult to work with, since they often contain a high level of moisture. On the other hand, if the found wood dries out too quickly then this can lead to severe cracking. If you decide to use found wood, then it’s important that you allow the wood to dry out for a few days until it contains a lower level of moisture. Obviously, it should contain some moisture as dry wood can crack.

The other option is to purchase precut wood. Many lumber mills sell carving quality blocks of wood for this exact purpose.

A Natural Finish

If you want to create a wood sculpture with a natural finish, then butternut, cherry, mahogany, or walnut, are all great choices. Each type of wood offers an attractive grain pattern and a deep, rich color.

Butternut is a very popular option for carvers who prefer soft wood with a beautiful natural grain. Cherry, mahogany, and walnut offer a rich color, but they can be difficult for beginners to work with since they each have a dense grain that can be difficult to carve.

The Top Three Kinds of Wood

The Top Three Kinds of Wood

Below you’ll find a list of the most commonly used types of wood for wood carving. Each type will come with its own pros or cons, depending on project type and whether you’re looking for a harder wood, softwood, a wood that offers a beautiful grain pattern, or one that can handle finishes and stains.


Butternut is often used because it’s easy to work with, features a beautiful grain and glowing color, and it works well with finishes, stains, and glue. As we mentioned earlier, it’s a big favorite in the wood carving world and is probably the easiest softwood to work with. However, it’s also more prone to insects and can be a difficult wood to work with for beginners.


Out of all the commercial woods, Balsa is by far the lightest and softest. It can easily be found in local hobby stores, lumber yards, and arts and crafts stores. The wood’s pale color makes it a great choice for carving. Because it’s also easy to work with, it’s often used in projects designed for wood carving for beginners.

However, the wood’s fuzzy surface and low density can make it difficult to carve if you have poor quality tools. For joining purposes glue is a better choice because balsa cannot hold nails. It also finishes and stains very well, so it’s a great choice if you want a natural look.


Chip carvers and relief carvers often choose basswood for most projects. Basswood is easy to work with, soft, light and features a grain that tends to hold detail better compared to other types of softwood. It’s also considered very stable when it’s dry.  Of course, it’s softness makes it a poor choice for whittling and one misstep can totally ruin an entire project. Additionally, if you plan on staining your final product, you’ll quickly realize that the softness of this wood makes it difficult to achieve an even coating of stain. A glossy finish is also difficult to achieve. For these reasons, most carvers end up painting their basswood carvings. While the wood can hold nails, it has a very poor steam bending quality.

Related Questions

What Type of Wood Carving Tools are Best for Hardwood?

Typically, chisels, gouges, and a mallet are used to handle hardwood. The Two Cherries 515-3441 11-piece Carving Tools set includes some great basic wood carving tools that are built tough and designed to handle both soft and hardwood, however, if you need a set for relief carving purposes then you may need to opt for a set with more carving knives.

To learn more, click here to read our wood carving tools buyer’s guide.

What is the Best Wood to use for Beginners?

Basswood is considered the best type of wood to use for beginners. It’s moderately soft and isn’t as prone to insects as other types of wood. You can also use wood carving knives, chisels, mallets, and gouges for carving purposes. It can be used for chip carving, relief carving and more, making it one of the most versatile woods to choose for your next wood carving project.

Final Thoughts

Butternut, basswood, and balsa are the more commonly used types of wood for carving. If you’re new to wood carving then it may be a matter of trial and error in order to find the right type of wood for your carving style, skill level, and projects.

The Best Wood for Carving, Whittling, and Chipping 
Article Name
The Best Wood for Carving, Whittling, and Chipping 
Learn about the top three choices of wood to use that skilled wood carvers recommend for whittling, and the disadvantages and advantages of each type.