Nearly any type of wood can be carved, which means it's important to know each wood's characteristics before selecting a specimen for your next woodcarving project. Hand carving, for example, is best done with a softer wood. Harder woods, on the other hand, are better able to stand up to the stress of mallets, chisels and power tools.
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Softer woods are ideal for handwork -- they are especially good for beginning woodcarvers -- as they are easier to chip and more forgiving with stray cuts. While available softwoods depend upon your location, basswood is typically most popular in both North America and Europe since it bears very little grain pattern and is easy to cut, strong and light in color. Cedar, pine and butternut are also readily available softwood favorites. These woods are more aromatic, and their stronger grain pattern makes them ideal for natural finishes.
Hardwoods, on the other hand, are ideal for furniture and use in other utilitarian designs that require extra durability and longevity. A majority of these woods require power tools to shape and carve, though a mallet and chisels may achieve more precise results. Walnut is among the hardwood favorites and is known for its rich color range, grain and ability to stand up to years of furniture use. Mahogany -- which is red in color and lightweight -- is another favorite hardwood, as are white oak and maple.