How to Cut Basswood


Crosscutting a plank of basswood lumber reveals many of the strengths and problems of this carving wood. Basswood is a lightweight, resilient and easily worked hardwood, but it also tears easily and often burns when worked with machine tools. The fine sawdust it produces clogs the teeth of hand and power saws and fills the air with irritating dust. Carving basswood with hand-cutting tools yields cleaner work on all these levels. Expert use of these tools often produces faster results than power-tool alternatives.

Things You'll Need

  • Chisels
  • Gouges
  • Carving mallet
  • Sloyd knives
  • Carving bench
  • Bench vise
  • Bench dogs
  • Hold-downs
  • Secure the basswood carving stock to the carving bench. Hold planks and blocks of basswood between bench dogs--bracing posts that drop into slots on the bench and vise. Bench screws hold the work in place with threaded rods passed through holes in the bench itself and into the waste portion of the workpiece.

  • Look at the grain pattern of the basswood block. Chosen for uniform color and grain structure, basswood still splits and tears when worked across or against the grain. Cut at an angle across the grain, not perpendicular to it.

  • Sharpen your cutting tools before use. Dull tools compress and tear basswood rather than cutting it. Results are not just rough, but filled with holes where fibers pull out of the block--sanding does not fix these mistakes. Hollow ground tools honed razor-sharp work basswood cleanly.

  • Cut shavings, not chunks. Gouges and chisels driven by the mallet will remove large amounts of waste quickly, but the cleanest work results from a shallower cut. Remove waste in several passes rather than one deep cut.

  • Slice across the end grain of basswood instead of pushing the cutting edge through. Compression splitting happens most frequently when working across the grain--even with razor-sharp tools. Remove shavings from the end grain by sliding the edge of the tool across the grain as the blade moves forward. When using chisels, make thin cuts and work with a light touch.

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