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  • Carving difficult woods

    So, I sit here again attempting a grape vine application in red oak. The last work in oak was a 8ft section of crown molding for a fireplace mantel. Now bear in mind that I am not one of those that chooses to work in Lime-wood or Basswood but will work in most species that show themselves. These include varieties of leopard-wood, bubinga, alder, walnut, cherry, etc as well as the common species. of all these, I find the oaks to be the most challenging. I would be curious as to your thoughts. I know that there are readers to this forum in Europe, Australia, South America, etc that have a variety of woods available that most of us have not seen.

    This brings out a question \"What is the most difficult wood species that you have carved in?\" Looking forward to your thoughts.

    Bob

  • #2
    Re: Carving difficult woods

    When I first started I gave a shot at purple heart. It was a short lived experiment.

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    • #3
      Re: Carving difficult woods

      I did a couple of Purple Hearts out of purple heart and yellow heart for the Wounded Warrior Project a couple of years ago. I found the yellow heart not to bad to work with but the purple heart was hard with an indifferent grain pattern. It came out OK but needed a bit of power tools and sanding to show the wave in the \"flag\".

      Fun but challanging
      Bob

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      • #4
        Re: Carving difficult woods

        Burl. Was a 2\" slab of 50+ yr old western red cedar burl. The interlocked and knotted grain just about drove me nuts. Lots of carving with a hand saw and coarse rasps.
        Finished it and very pleased. Promised myself never to do that again. Not ever.

        4\" x 4\" x 48\" western red cedar: Looked good. Rough out with adzes went well.
        5 strikes with a mallet and gouge and quit. The grain was braided like long hair.

        Brian T

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        • #5
          Re: Carving difficult woods

          Solomans Ebony, darstardly stuff, black dust, as hard as, chips, splits etc, etc. I ended up doing most of the work with a Dremel and looking very politically uncorrect

          As for Aussie timbers I\'ve used Mulga, Wilga and other Desert hardwoods for fretboards for instruments. Easy carving for those shapes. For figurative work I think they would be a real challenge. There is also a local Ironwood that I can only work with power tools.

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          • #6
            Re: Carving difficult woods

            Red Oak and Southern Pine are about the worst woods that I\'ve carved due to the difference between summer and winter grain. About the most difficult was a unicorn from a piece Cherry that was stored in a shed located in South Carolina for about 20 years.

            The two woods that I gave up on were a section of 100? year old Chestnut barn beam and Bloodwood. I still have some Bloodwood and keep eyeballing it - it\'s beautiful wood.

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            • #7
              Re: Carving difficult woods

              I carved some folding pocket knifes, I used bloodwood for the blades, it is a hard, hard wood, but did it take a good finish. . .JoeB
              . . .JoeB

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              • #8
                When someone chooses the wood you are to carve in...and it is not a carving wood. Wood that splits and breaks easily will not take a chisel or knife easily. Wenge, beautiful wood and a bear to carve. It gets a bang ...and it will break off. Ironwood can be as bad as carving stone, it did break some of my best chisels the grain in that wood was so hard and tight it was not worth tons of time used to carve it. Then there are the heavy sap ones....pines can be a mess plus the grain is large and soft at times. Any woods that have various softness patterns are also not an ideal wood to carve. white oak is difficult to work with and will many times damage the carving tools if not handled properly. It can even cause injuries to the user as blade slippage is frequent on those hard and dense materials. Damaged wood it major repair wood, unless you know how to fill holes, strength soft areas, and cut different softness in various parts of the wood it can be major time-consuming work not worth your time and effort unless your planning on it.
                Last edited by Dileon; 07-19-2019, 01:43 PM.

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                • #9
                  Sure, this is a 2015 thread. Worth reviewing.

                  Take a look at my posting#4 with the Photobucket picture =
                  How is that? I assumed that I got wiped out until I signed up again with money.
                  Do I have <250 images so my stuff is free again?
                  Brian T

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                  • #10
                    Red oak and white oak are tough but doable for me, using palm tools, but the worst I've encountered (again, using only palm tools) was some walnut that was like carving concrete...I was surprised, I thought it would carve well, and maybe it was just that piece of wood.
                    Arthur

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                    • #11
                      My first project was black walnut,......it was so difficult for a beginner it took about 30 years before I picked up a chisel again....

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                      • #12
                        Like Dileon the hardest wood I have worked in is Ironwood. It will and did coast me a couple of nice chisels also. I do like to work in harder woods, oak, walnut. dogwood, and others. The finished works just look nice. I had to learn to be patient with the wood. The density of many hard woods will change enough to effect how the chisel cuts resulting in loss of positive control of the direction you want it to go. I have found shallow slow cuts work best for my carving in harder woods.
                        Randy

                        WE LIVE IN THE LAND OF THE FREE BECAUSE OF THE BRAVE!

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                        • #13
                          I prefer relatively hard woods. I am often tempted by some of the 'figured' woods, like birds-eye or curly or flame this or that. They are pretty, but I learned fairly early on to steer clear of anything with 'interesting' grain. Straight grain is a must for me and finer grain is nice, usually, but not necessary. I avoid wider than normal grain though. Most of my doodads are cherry or hard rock maple because I stumbled on special deals for them. I also have carved ebony, osage orange, yellowheart, and a few oddball exotics that I pick up on sale at woodcrafters. I like really hard woods because of their tonal characteristics. My doodads have moving parts that rattle or bang and some of those hard hardwoods ring and loudly ring. I guess that's why all kinds of musical instruments are still made of wood. The only one of all these woods I would not do anything with again is the osage orange -- the grain is weird, it is very splitty and it reverses direction about every 1/16" or so. There is probably a technical term for that.

                          Some folks shudder when thinking about carving ebony. I found it to be relatively easy to carve as long as you do not try to carve out chips like you might with basswood. It takes a very nice polish by merely sanding with very fine wet or dry paper. No wax or oil or lacquer needed.

                          The main technique for hard hardwoods is frequent stropping and taking shavings instead of chips. Patience is a good attribute to possess as well.

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                          • #14
                            As to what woods we find difficult or easy to carve, i would think it depends a good bit on what we carve and what tools we use. I use only palm tools and knives, carving so far nothing larger than about 20", but I'm sure my preferences would be different if I carved larger pieces and I used mallet tools or power carving.
                            Arthur

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                            • #15
                              Made a hammer handle from Ironwood, but used mostly a draw knife so maybe that dosen't count. But carved a knife handle out of purple heart and a jumping dolphin from black walnut. Both were very hard.

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