There’s woods other than oak?

quartered maple

A question I get frequently is “Can I carve like this in woods other than oak?” The answer is mostly yes. I just answered this question on a youtube video comment – but thought I’d do so here because I can add pictures. So here goes, in no particular order. Above is a cutting board I carved in Norway maple from the firewood pile. It was riven radially, much like quartersawn wood. Carved like a dream. Even better than my favorite oak.

flatsawn white oak

There’s lots of woods this carving can work in; I have used red & white oak both quartersawn & flatsawn. My ratings for oak are – first choice is riven, quartered white oak, then the same in red oak. Dead straight and clear. Next is both of those as quartersawn boards. Then last, either one in flatsawn. But I probably wouldn’t use that unless there was nothing else available. I used to frequently carve it – the photo above has a panel and the large central muntin (with the initials) in flatsawn white oak.

black walnut

Same goes for black walnut – my preference is quartersawn. But I’ve used it quartered or flatsawn. I am not terribly keen on it, I find it hard to see my progress due to the lack of shadow – it’s too dark. But it carves nicely. Some swear by it.

My experience with maple is limited. I mostly turn it when I have it. But see above, the cutting board. I have never tried flatsawn maple. Not sure I’d want to, but I bet you could do it with some patience.

Ash works much like oak. I haven’t carved it much and don’t think I have a photo. But here’s a 17th-century carved chest in ash. It’s been over 20 years since I’ve seen this, so going on memory. But I think it’s right.

Wadsworth Atheneum

Once we had students do their practice carvings in flatsawn tulip poplar (not a poplar tree – Liriodendron tulipifera) heartwood – the sapwood is trash. Carved all right. Grain-direction switching problems as I recall but lots of flatsawn wood has that issue. I’m spoiled with riven quartered stock side-stepping that issue.

Alaska yellow cedar

I got turned onto quartersawn Alaska yellow cedar when I was up there to teach a class. It’s fabulous but soft – easy does it. But a look like no wood I know. I have some stashed that I’m planning on carving this winter. I feel guilty using it, the trees take hundreds and hundreds of years to grow…but I hear about people making decks from it. No comment.

I’m sure there’s more – certainly a couple I’ve forgotten – oh, yea blackwood in Australia and elm in Sweden. I don’t have pictures of those right at hand. I carved some white pine timbers on my workshop, but those were not the best quality.

carved timber

I’m not good enough to carve softwoods with a V-tool. I do OK with gouges in pine. Below is a cupboard door in the shop that I did in white pine with gouges – no V-tool at all. Worked fine.

in process

I didn’t do the lettering, Heather did – here’s that post:

Some of these woods need a more cautious approach than others. Try what you can get. Make adjustments as needed. Take a shot at it, there’s nothing to lose.

But oak – it’s still my favorite. Here’s a carving I kept (it’s a chair) that I really like. I don’t think I’ll ever do better than this:

my design in 17th-century style

No sooner had I posted this then the first comment came in, “have you carved butternut?” and I had totally forgotten it. Yes is the answer. Same caveats – I like quartersawn, but have carved it flatsawn too. Excellent wood for carving. Right in between hard and soft. Nice color. Nice wood. This one’s still for sale, $1,200.

butternut box

11 thoughts on “There’s woods other than oak?

  1. Have you any experience with butternut? I don’t have the ability to rive wood (condo life) and thought a reasonably straight grained butternut board might suffice. Want to try making the box from your FW article.

    • HA! Now I have to go edit that post. I carved lots of it in the past two years. Excellent, lighter color than walnut, a bit softer. Search the blog for “butternut” and you’ll see several.

    • Just goes to show – I don’t know what. I usually tell people, try what you have & see how it goes. I’ve never had any luck in any form with tulip poplar sapwood.

      • I live in Georgia, maybe we get a better quality down here. I’ve read that the northern grown red oaks are a little better than ours. No telling.

    • I think it’s a spectrum of experience thing. I’ve done all kinds of weird things with all kinds of wood. Some of them worked fine, but then I found another wood that I liked better. And all of a sudden, that one wood that I thought worked just fine before, just wasn’t as easy to work with as I’d thought back when everything was new and challenging.

      And even then, sometimes you just run across a specimen of something that doesn’t behave as you’d expect. I had friends when I was at North Bennet who made carved stools out of mahogany, which is normally pretty forgiving… But somehow the boards that they got had much more interlocked grain than is normal, and they had the roughest time getting it to behave. In the end, they ended up using files a LOT. (I made mine out of walnut. It carved nicely, but it did require very good lighting.)

  2. I carved a white pumpkin this year with some basic designs from your book. Maybe my 3rd or 4th time trying to carve anything. Great fun. And when the flesh yellowed a few days later created an interesting contrast.

    I’m curious about that maple cutting board. It’s it carved on both sides? Do you use it with the carved side up?

  3. Nice to see you mention blackwood, from your trip to Oz I presume, so similarly rated wattles should also be OK, silver and black for example. Not asking Peter as I wouldn’t expect you to be able to answer, more of a suggestion for the thread. However did you get to try Tasmanian oak? A protea, Grevillea robusta, that used to be marketed under that name due to it’s visual similarity to white oak.

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