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Basswood vs. Lindenwood

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  • Basswood vs. Lindenwood

    Given that basswood is nowhere to be found in Europe, I was advised to use lindenwood instead, telling me this wood would be almost similar. Well, when I watch videos of US woodcarvers cutting and slicing basswood, I have the feeling they do that like cutting butter comparing to the efforts I do in cutting and slicing lindenwood. I don't think it is only a matter of tools (I used Pfeil and Flexcut knives, and Flexcut gouges) or poor sharpening. Do you also notice such a difference between bass- and linden-wood? Dino

  • #2
    Re: Basswood vs. Lindenwood

    Basswood is in the same family as Linden, but like most woods, some family members are harder or softer than others.

    A lot of factors can influence the hardness of a tree (location, minerals in the soil, etc.) We're lucky in the states because northern basswood is nice to carve. It does slice nicely, but I've tried some linden and it's not too bad (usually). Sycamore is another good wood if that's available. I've also heard that some of the European pines are acceptable for carving.

    I'd suggest getting some small pieces of local wood and experimenting with them. You've got quality tools; I'd take some time to find some good local wood.

    Best Regards,
    Bob Duncan
    Technical Editor


    • #3
      Re: Basswood vs. Lindenwood

      Southern Basswood, by comparison, is a lot harder than the northern and is also darker, in my limited experience. I have enjoyed carving poplar a lot, but don't know if that would be available in Italy.
      'If it wasn't for caffeine, I wouldn't have any personality at all!"


      • #4
        Re: Basswood vs. Lindenwood

        Probably I was not clear in my request (English is not my native language). I just wanted to know from those who have carved both bass- and linden-wood whether they feel a signifcant difference in working those woods.
        The pine wood of choice used by Italian wood craftmen is "Cirmolo" (Pinus cembra).


        • #5
          Re: Basswood vs. Lindenwood

          I carve Basswood all the time it's plentiful on my property here and i have a sawmill, I have carved a very limited amount of the European counterpart Lindenwood aka Limewood.

          Personally I prefer the European wood, Basswood tends to be too soft for the amount of details I like to add. My tools are about as sharp as they can get, from my limited experience with the European lindenwood it is harder and denser then our American Basswood. The two tree species are from the same family of Tilia and would be cousins, the growing conditions for my local basswood and say German linden or limewood are nearly identical and if you took one of each basswood and lindenwood farm grown just for carving as close to as possible the same. I am positive you would find the Lindenwood to be slightly harder, take a finer detail, and be heavier.

          All in all the slight differences are so small that it would really come down to what you have the ready access to, I have a hard time finding the wood from Europe here in Minnesota but have all the Basswood I could ever want. So that's what I use, I don't know what videos you have seen but my guess would be they are of experienced carvers. Over years of carving a carver develops muscles and subconsciously takes cuts at certain angles making the carving of any wood look effortless. Most importantly the sharpness of your edges tools comes into the whole thing. I sharp tool with separate the wood fibers where a dull tool will begin to tear them.

          You might find some helpful information through wikipedia
          Tilia - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia



          • #6
            Re: Basswood vs. Lindenwood

            I have carved both, and have also observed that the european lindenwood (lime, from England) was significantly harder. I also very much prefer the lime / linden because it's harder, stronger, and can take detail really well. I have carved some pieces of basswood that do carve like butter, like I've seen in videos, even for me. I definitely understand the appeal of basswood for different kinds of carving than what I do.


            • #7
              Re: Basswood vs. Lindenwood

              As a retired Arborist I can say that the difference in the hardness of wood varies with the area it's grown in. American Linden ( basswood) is very different from what in the US is known as Little leaf linden ( limewood).

              Hardness can be a result of minerals in the soil, growing season factors like wet or dry, and length of growing season. The best carving basswood seems to be grown in a northern climate, with cold winters and a shorter growing season. The southern basswood I've carved is not as white in color and does not hold fine detail as well.


              • #8
                Re: Basswood vs. Lindenwood

                Over the years, I learned not to judge carving wood by its hardness. Sure, there are some virtually "uncarvable" woods, but most can be carved with the right technique and some patience. For example, the best butternut I've carved was the hardest. The worst, the softest. The harder butternut actually shines when you slice it cleanly, and it holds detail nearly as well as walnut. The soft variety that is native to my part of Ohio fuzzes and is very weak. Ditto most Ohio basswood; it's doesn't compare to the northern basswood from Wisconsin and Minnesota.

                You can get a good argument going over kiln-dried wood vs air-dried wood. The best basswood I've carved (it wasn't the softest) was kiln-dried, and the worst I've tried to carve was air-dried and went bad (punky). Now that doesn't mean that holds true all the time, but kiln-dried wood may be more consistent, and beginners need consistent in as many aspects of carving as possible.

                I took a two-week course from Chris Pye, a frequent contributor to WCI and an English master carver. He prefers limewood, and in our class he carved a bust out of our basswood, so he's been able to compare both many times. Given the choice, he would carve limewood. The wood I would like to try is English Walnut, which I'm told is much more "carvable" than our black walnut. I've done a couple of small pieces from our local walnut and, while we were looking at wood at the Dayton show, my wife reminded me that I said I would never carve domestic walnut again, and that she was supposed to remind me I said that. Good point!. Mike