Know Your Wood - A Wood Carving Wood Selection Tutorial

Knowing what wood to use for a wood carving project can be a make or break deal. Sometimes buying that bargain piece of lumber turns out not to be a bargain after all.

Think about this - you're going to be spending a good amount of time and effort bringing your wood carving project to life. Do you really want to scrimp on a piece of stock that makes your project go like hell? No, of course not. But you'd be surprised how many guys do. In fact, if the truth be known, I've done it too - only to kick myself over and over for having taken the cheapskate route.

What I'm going to do here is show you what types of woods are used for carving projects and I'm also going to show you
where to buy wood carving lumber.

Knowledge is power and being in the know about what shop lumber to buy will guide you into your next wood carving masterpiece.

Wood carving lumber can generally be split into three different categories by the ones most common. One might argue there are more but for simplicity sake we'll say there are basically three; Soft, Hard, and Intermediate. Each type has its advantages and can be applied to different carving requirements.

Soft woods readily available and easily adapted to most uses are Yellow Pine, Bass Wood, and Lime. These are general use woods that work well for most carving tasks. They are great for the beginner wood carver as well as they are relatively inexpensive so scraping a piece won't break the bank. Being soft also makes them easier to carve and this gives you a chance to practice techniques and develop good carving habits. Soft woods are also good for prototyping or developing ideas for more involved carving projects.

Hard woods are also readily available but tend to cost more as these woods grow more slowly and are therefore a bit more scarce than the soft woods. Primary woods in this hard-wood category include Oak, Walnut, Cherry, and Mahogany. There are also premium hardwoods such as those that come from fruit trees - Apple and Pear. These are a bit harder to find and therefore a tad more expensive to boot.

Intermediate woods are just that - those in-between the hard and the soft. The wood of this group are Holly, Sycamore, and Beech. Light in color and still fairly easy to carve. These woods are best for shallow carvings with broad strokes.

Another factor to consider when choosing a wood for carving is the closeness of the grain. Woods that grow slowly have a denser grain and are more uniform. These tend to be hardwoods and the close grain makes these woods desirable for carving projects where a beautiful finish is desired.

Quick growing trees on the other hand, have a more open grain as the tree puts on bulk quickly. These grains tend to be soft and dull and it's very difficult to achieve a high finish.

Here is a list (in alphabetical order) of each of the woods mentioned with more detail about their particular characteristics.

  • Alder — A wood typically used by ancestral native American Indians; well suited for bowls and food utensils.
  • Apple — A hard and dense close-grained fruitwood. Finding large pieces is difficult so it's usually used for carving small objects. Having such a dense grain makes it ideal for any carving where a good polish is desired.
  • Basswood - Also known as tulipwood or american whitewood. This wood is very soft and easy to carve. Used by many beginning wood carvers for practice and seasoned pros for prototyping and model making.
  • Beech — Relatively easy-to-carve wood that's heavy. Characteristics include a golden yellow exterior with a reddish interior or heart. Beech is used mainly for furniture that is carved.
  • Boxwood — This wood is beautiful to look at, is extremely hard with a close grain and smells good too. Ideally suited for carved items like jewelry, small dishes, and especially for boxes and puzzles.
  • Cedar — Soft wood that's easy to carve and very aromatic.
  • Cherry — Close grained and hard. This wood carves well and can be polished to a high gloss shine. Narrow widths are the norm. Wider pieces can get pricey.
  • Hickory — Straight grained in nature with a white exterior and an auburn heart. Used most often when creating large sculptures.
  • Holly — Close grained wood used mostly for carvings with fine details. Fairly easy to carve.
  • Lime — Another close grained wood that's easy to carve and is used primarily for mirror and picture frames as well as interior trim pieces and other architectural work.
  • Maple — The Soft maple variety is the established choice for general types of carvings. Usedfor making furniture and specialty carvings such as musical instruments. Rock Maple on the other hand is a hard variety that's preferred for heavier items - mainly sporting and hunting gear.
  • Pear — A soft beige colored wood with a close grain. This wood produces a very soft satin-like finish
  • Yellow Pine — Colors vary from white to reddish brown. This wood is good for large sculptural carvings and interior detailing. Once used for shipbuilding and interior joinery work. It's important to know that the smooth clear wood is called "first or virgin growth". If this is not specified, chances are the wood will be of low quality, coarse and full of knots. Only "First Growth" should be used for carving purposes.

This list is by far not all inclusive as there are many many woods to choose from. This list however, is a good start and should help guide you in your wood carving wood selection process. To find a good selection of woods, click on
Woods for Wood Carving Projects

How to Build a CNC Router from Scratch

Some time ago I ran across a site that showed how to make a CNC Router from scratch. And when I say scratch, I mean scratch. I fired up one of the initial videos and sat back to see what this was all about. The video I was watching did not impress me at all. The guy was building this machine in his bedroom and you could here kids screaming in the background and he started at such a rudimentary level I was almost insulted. Within a couple of minutes I was convinced this guy was a crackpot and left the site...

The other day was I clicking around the web and I hit upon this site again. I decided to give the guy a chance and watched the first 4 videos in the series. WOW, I am ashamed to say I grossly mis-judged this guy. The guy isn't a crackpot at all, in fact I think he's a genius. My quickness to jump to the wrong conclusion was a terrible injustice to him, to me, and to you.

Without a workshop and expensive elaborate tools, he shows you how to build a fully functional CNC Router. I am so impressed I can't begin to tell you how valuable his work is. The gentleman is named Patrick Hood-Daniel and his website is called

I want to share a couple of sentences from one of his site pages:
"This website endeavor was started in late 2006 with a passion for building DIY CNC machines and sharing the knowledge so others can benefit.  The CNC designs are now in its fourth generation and the designs are continually being cranked out.  Every new generation of CNC machines improves upon the previous generation.  The main purpose of this website (the mission) is to offer a free to low cost solution to provide automated fabrication to hobbyists."

How's that for dedication and clarity of thought? I also want to share one of his videos with you as well so you can get a feel for his thoroughness. The video shown here is step 16 in a series that span 36 steps. ...Just the effort to record and publish the videos is a feat in itself.

The first time I found his site I was put off by his very slow and simple start. However, I've come to realize that his approach is brilliant. By the time you get deeper into the video series, his foundation building is evident and you're grateful for the early handholding.

I hope you enjoy this video and I really hope you get his new book. If you want to build your own machine from scratch, you can't find a better source than this book and his website. You're gonna spend days there.

My apologies to you Patrick for being so quick to judge. I for one am mighty grateful for your work!!
image book cover - build your own cnc machine by patrick hook-daniel

Build Your Own CNC Machine
By Patrick Hood-Daniel

Step 16: X Lead Screw And Nut - Click here for more free videos

Cut The Cord

I'd like to think that now my work shop is a fairly safe place to work. That wasn't always the case though. Early on I had one problem that seemed to get worse instead of better. What I'm talking about is the trip hazards created by extension cords stretched here and there.

I never paid too much attention to it until one day I got tangled up in them and decided SOMETHING needed to be done about this situation.

It must be a law of nature - no matter how many outlets you have, you always seem to be one short. I decided to plan this out in full detail. My plan called for a double set of outlets every four feet along each wall with each set on it's own breaker. I even marked them on the walls and went thru the steps of seeing how they would work by placing my power tools about and stretching the cords to the marked locations.

I quickly came to realize that this approach was overkill and what I really needed was a single pair every six feet or so, but with those long heavy duty power strips stretched between them. These strips have their own circuit breakers as well so that safety aspect was a bonus that saved me having to put each outlet on it's own circuit.

I then ran a series of outlets across the ceiling and got some of those retractable cords and installed them above spots in the center of the room where I had work stations positioned.

The result, NO MORE cords stretched across the floor and my trip hazards were eliminated.

After using this setup for some time, I came to realize just how handy it's become. In addition to all the power tools I have in my shop, I have quite a few cordless tools. Those recharging packs take up quite a few outlets. The power strips handle that situation beautifully. And second, the retractable cords in the center of the room ended up being my major power sources. I found it so handy to pull down a cord and adjust it to the right length so that the cords never even touch the floor. Why didn't I think of this sooner...

This is what I used:

image of wiremold power distribution strip model UL401BC Wiremold Industrial Power Distribution Strip - 10 Outlets

image of Grizzly cord reel model H5695 Grizzly Cord Reel 12awg (15 amp) x 40'

How to Make a Tavern Puzzle

In leu of my normal tip, I thought I would show you guys how to make a Cube within a Cube Tavern Puzzle. Technically this is not a tavern puzzle because there is nothing to solve... The interior cube does not come out so I guess it would be better to call this a conversation piece or as they would say in earlier days: a Curiosity.

In any event, this is a pretty cool piece and it would be neat to see how many of your friends can figure this out before you have to tell them how you made it. I hope this inspires you to make one for yourself.

image Jet JDP-12 12-Inch Drill Press with Digital Readout Jet 12-Inch Drill Press with Digital Readout
image of fostner bit set H6334 grizzly Grizzly Forstner Bit 15 pc. Set

How to Find Help on a Forum

I get, on average, around two dozen emails a week from folks asking for some sort of help with either their wood carving projects, or with something specific about the CarveWright or CompuCarve wood carving machines. It's rewarding to be able to help someone solve a problem, but the shear volume of requests can be a bit challenging.

To expedite these requests, I tend to do some basic research and then send those people my results and let them find the specific answers to their questions. This approach helps me to answer as many questions as I can, and gives the requester an opportunity to practice finding help for themselves.


There are lots of good sources on the internet. I believe that niche websites and industry forums provide the best places to locate an answer. I tend to use forums the most and my favorite place to find information and help with the Carvewright and the CW Design Software is to visit the
Carvewright forum itself. Not only are there a lot of members to rely on, but they all share the same passion and seem more than willing to lend a hand when it comes to helping solve a problem.

Unfortunately, the problem with forums - especially the active ones, is actually
FINDING the information you are looking for. Even with a targeted search query, you can easily spend hours looking for an answer. Often you will see a number of similar questions asked in an effort to solve the same problem.

I believe lots of guys give up searching and take the easy route by simply asking their own question without looking hard enough for the correct answer. This of course leads to even more duplication, which in turn adds to the amount of information you need to sift through to find your answer, which makes a guy ask his question, which starts the whole cycle over again.


I firmly believe in the credo that if you want something you need to ask. I also believe that knowing HOW to ask is just as important. This knowing how to ask is what will make the process of finding information on a forum much easier - not only for you but for other users as well.

The secret to finding good information is through the act of asking good questions. And yes, I am going against everything we've been taught but the truth is, there is such a thing as a dumb question! The reason is because the asker has not thought through their question before asking it.


Here are three tips for getting good solid help on a forum...
1) Think through the question you have and write it down before posting it to a forum. Use Notepad or TextEdit to compose your question. Take a few minutes and type your question into either one of those applications I just mentioned. Just type and don't give much thought (yet) to the sentence structure and stuff like that. Save your work, get up and walk away from the computer for a while. Go do something else and at the same time, mill the question around in your head.

After a while, go back to your text and rewrite it to be as clear and logical as possible. Don't get overly wordy, and chop out all the stuff that doesn't really help clarify what you are trying to ask. Look at your work and pretend you know nothing about the background of your problem. Could someone reading your question understand it?

2) Create a GOOD title! I can't emphasis this enough. The title of your post should be THE most important sentence you write when posting to a forum. How often have you seen titles like this? Need Help, Got a question, Any advise, Help a new guy out, Stupid move on my part. As you can see, none of these titles say ANYTHING about the problem at hand. And yes, these were taken directly from the forum, I did not make them up.

Here though, is a good title - also taken from the same forum: Does the 3.5" of scrap wood on each end, need to be a specific thickness? Now that's a great title. It asked a question in simple terms and you know exactly what the requester needs. If you happened to have followed this question, you'd have noticed that the guy got lots of responses too - EXACTLY what you want when asking for help.

3) And finally, post in the correct category. A sure way to get chastised and kicked about is to post a question under the wrong category, or to post the same question in multiple categories. Abiding by the rules and behaving correctly is akin to good citizenship. We all like people that are considerate and most of us will go out of our way to help when you use proper etiquette.


So there it is... I hope that this note will get you thinking more about ways and methods you can use to find help with all your wood carving questions. Just a small amount of preparation on your part will lead to a huge bumper crop of help from those you ask.

Oh, and one last thing - be sure to give thanks to those that lend a hand. A little gratitude goes a long way and helps foster good feelings for all of us.

BTW, Here are some reading resources on the subject...

image book cover good question by Judy Barberimage book cover art of listening by Madelyn Burley-Allen