What is the best type of wood for spoon carving and why?
Wood can be clasified in Soft woods and Hard woods. It would be logical think the best wood for carving when we only use our hand strength is Soft Woods but it is not. The ideal wood for Spoon Carving is Hard Wood.
Hard woods have a denser structure and fine grain, necesary traits so that the final product: a spoon, has the strength and mass needed for a long life span. On the contrary, although it might seem easier to carve, Soft Woods (like pine and other conifers) is porous and light which would result in a fragile and no good for sustained use.
For this reason we use Hard woods, BUT it must be green (fresh) so it’s softer.
Green wood has not lost the moisture between its fibers, which makes it easier to carve than dry wood because that moisture softens the fibers and makes a more homogeneous mass.
It doesn’t mean we cannot carve dry hard woods but it will be a very different experience and you need other tools like gouges, chisels, mallets, saws and a way to secure the piece of wood so we can use both hands.
Green wood also allows us to better read the fiber structure to follow the grain direction, making the spoon strong and its design more organic. This is because to get smaller pieces out of a log we need to split it and when its green, its splits easily along its fibers.
But if we use green wood we must pay special attention to how to store it properly so that it keeps moist for weeks or even months. More on this subject in: Storing green wood: How to prevent cracks.
How to identify hard woods?
Hard wood comes from slow growing trees, we can identify it by the closeness of its growth rings.
Another important characteristic is its fine fiber or fine grain which makes the structure more dense. And much more easier to carve. We can identify fine grain observing the ends of the log or branch and the size of the “dots” which are the ends of the fibers.
Now that we know to carve green hard woods, Can we use any tree?
This is a list of trees that would be ideal for Spoon Carving. It is not a definitive and close list, is what I’ve tried and has worked for me. It’s important to explore what’s available around us in our cities or close by forests.
Where do we find the wood?
If we have access to a forest or woodland, we can use branches or small logs of fruit trees and small trees or branches that have naturally fallen from bigger trees. Also we can seek the help of a tree surgeon or a gardener to cut bigger logs.
See more about this in: Understanding the grain and wood deformation.
If we live in a city we can contact the local pruning of city scape trees or private gardeners.
Given the case that we do not have access to green wood, we can buy dry Basswood which comes already cut. You can find Basswood in your local wood supplier or on-line.
Basswood, even though its a dry soft wood, it has a dense structure and its works perfectly for learning to carve.
But remember that being dry wood that has been cut with power tools, the pieces are not necessarily cut in the same direction as the fiber, which is a very aspect of this type of carving.
So before drawing your spoon design template on the wood, check carefully for the grain direction.
More on the importance of this subject in: Following the grain: The direction of the cut.