Carving Wood Selection

This area is strictly your choice, anybody that already carves has their favorites. Cherry and walnut are often my choices for natural finish pieces, tupelo, jelutong and basswood are generally my woods of choice for fish carvings that are to be painted since they have a boring cream color with little if any visible grain pattern. 

Power carving allows you the flexibility to carve different materials with ease. High speed burrs effortlessly remove wood without much concern of grain direction. Tupelo is the ultimate in my opinion when looking for an easy to shape wood.  It grinds in any direction without fuzzing, and sands with little effort. This clear white wood grinds to a fine powder leaving unsurpassed detail. The only drawback is Tupelo is not very strong.

Basswood is a close second to tupelo as a power carving wood.  The only drawback is slight fuzzing while grinding against the grain.   Once you understand what causes this condition it is easily avoided by simply reversing the cutting direction. 

If you power carve there are some safety concerns you need to be familiar with when selecting wood. I stay away from exotic woods, some contain poisonous fibers that become airborne while power carving. All wood dust is hazardous, some more than others. You should always wear a quality dust mask while power carving, and use a good dust collection system to avoid a lifetime injury to your lungs.

Woods you will want to avoid will have dark stains or water lines in the grain, this is caused from the tree resting on wet ground before the wood was harvested. Molds and fungus begin to grow in some wood and stay active for some time. Many woodcarvers have become sick from this mold dust in their lungs, the mold spores become active in moist warm places, like your lungs. You don't have to fear wood, just examine it and wear the proper protection.

Not all wood is ready to carve, if the wood is too wet it may warp or crack later. Kiln dried wood is always my first choice.  Excessive moisture has been removed by a heat process. Kiln dried wood is less likely to check or warp after the carving is completed. Air dried wood can be used, however a moisture meter should be used prior to purchasing wood for carving. Most sawmills have these meters and will check your selection if asked. Ideally a 10-14% moisture content is desired for carving, however that range is tough to adhere to when searching out air dried wood in most cases..

Some fish carvings look best with checks and shrinking in the final finish, old decoys and folk art for instance. If this is the case, than don’t worry about moisture readings. Purchase clear cedar, cut out the fish blank, and soak it in water for at least one week. Then carve the complete fish in one setting. By carving the wood while it is wet, the grain is swollen and easy to carve. Sanding is not necessary because very little detail goes into one of these fish.

After the fish is carved paint it with water acrylics while the wood is still wet, this gives the fish a soft weathered antique look that is hard to duplicate any other way. After about a month the wood dries with a unique raised grain look, much like a sandblasted finish. As the water recedes into the wood it pulls the water based paint into the wood for a nice soft effect. A little rubbing with a Scotch Brite Pad and a couple coats of sealer and you are done.

Never carve chemically treated woods, the chemicals used in the treatment process will become airborne while carving, causing serious personal injury. This has become such a serious health problem most sawmills and lumber yards will not cut this type of wood.

Wood Toxin Chart

Wood Reaction Areas Affected Potency Form
Bald Cypress Sensitizer Respiratory 1 Dust
Balsam Fir Sensitizer Eyes, Skin 1 Leaves, Bark
Basswood Sensitizer Respiratory 1 Dust, Wood
Beech Sensitizer, Cancer Respiratory, Skin, Eyes 2 Dust, Leaves, Bark
Birch Sensitizer Respiratory 2 Dust, Wood
Black Locust Irritant, Nausea, Malaise Eyes, Skin 3 Leaves, Bark
Blackwood Sensitizer Eyes, Skin 2 Dust, Wood
Boxwood Sensitizer Eyes, Skin 2 Dust, Wood
Cashew Sensitizer Eyes, Skin 1 Dust, Wood
Cocobolo Irritant, Sensitizer, Eyes, Skin, Respiratory 3 Dust, Wood
Dahoma Irritant Eyes, Skin 2 Dust, Wood
Ebony Irritant, Sensitizer Eyes, Skin 2 Wood, Dust
Elm Irritant Eyes, Skin 1 Dust
Goncalo Alves Sensitizer Eyes, Skin 2 Dust, Wood
Greenheart Sensitizer Eyes, Skin 3 Dust, Wood
Hemlock Cancer Respiratory ? Dust
Iroko Irritant, Sensitizer, Hypersensitivity Pneumonia Eyes, Skin, Respiratory 3 Dust, Wood
Jelutong Sensitizer Eyes, Skin, Respiratory 2 Wood, Dust
Mahogany Sensitizer, Hypersensitivity Pneumonia Skin, Respiratory 1 Dust
Mansonia Irritant, Sensitizer, Nausea, Malaise Eyes, Skin 3 Dust, Wood
Maple Sensitizer, Hypersensitivity Pneumonia Respiratory 3 Dust
Mimosa Nausea, Malaise Internal ? Leaves, Bark
Myrtle Sensitizer Respiratory 2 Dust, Leaves, Bark
Oak Sensitizer Eyes, Skin 2 Dust, Leaves, Bark
Obeche Irritant, Sensitizer Eyes, Skin, Respiratory 3 Dust, Wood
Oleander Direct Toxin Cancer, Nausea, Malaise 4 Dust, Wood, Leaves, Bark
Olivewood Irritant, Sensitizer Eyes, Skin, Respiratory 3 Dust, Wood
Opepe Sensitizer Respiratory 1 Dust
Padauk Sensitizer Eyes, Skin, Respiratory 1 Dust, Wood
Pau Ferro Sensitizer Eyes, Skin 1 Dust, Wood
Peroba Rosa Irritant Respiratory, Nausea, Malaise 2 Dust, Wood
Purpleheart Irritant Nausea, Malaise 2 Dust, Wood
Quebracho Irritant Respiratory, Nausea, Malaise 2 Leaves, Bark, Dust
Redwood Sensitizer, Hypersensitivity Pneumonia Eyes, Skin, Respiratory 2 Dust
Rosewoods Sensitizer, Irritant Eyes, Skin, Respiratory 4 Wood, Dust
Satinwood Irritant Eyes, Skin, Respiratory 3 Wood, Dust
Sassafras Sensitizer Respiratory 1 Dust
Sequoia Irritant Respiratory 1 Dust
Snakewood Irritant Respiratory 2 Wood, Dust
Spruce Sensitizer Respiratory 1 Wood, Dust
Tupelo Sensitizer Eyes, Respiratory 1 Dust
Walnut, Black Sensitizer Eyes, Skin 2 Wood, Dust
Wenge Sensitizer Eyes, Skin, Respiratory 1 Wood, Dust
Willow Sensitizer Respiratory, Nausea, Malaise 1 Dust, Wood, Leaves, Bark
Western Red Cedar Sensitizer Respiratory 3 Dust, Leaves, Bark
Teak Sensitizer, Hypersensitivity Pneumonia Eyes, Skin, Respiratory 2 Dust
Yew Irritant Eyes, Skin 2 Dust
Zebrawood Sensitizer Eyes, Skin 2 Wood, Dust

Potency Values  

0 = Low
4 = High
? = Unknown

     

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