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  • Cedar too soft?

    Hi everyone,
    I am a new relief carver and have been working on pine but have now switched to cedar on the advice of a fellow carver.
    I'm having issues with it being too soft, each stop cut I do bends the wood down no matter how sharp my tools are. Should I leave the wood to dry? treat it with something? On the finer areas of my carvings for instance an eyebrow which is only 4mm thick its destroying the image and end up breaking off.
    Any help appreciated as I have now destroyed 2 perfectly good carvings to this.

  • #2
    Re: Cedar too soft?

    The term "cedar" is given to many woods that are not cedar. Western red cedar is good for carving, but tends to be brittle so it doesn't hold small details well.
    If the wood crushes, you may need to change the way you make stop cuts. A gouge held vertically and hit with a mallet will crush most soft woods. Try making slicing cuts with a knife. Carvers on this site may have other suggestions if you give more information about what you're doing: tools used, source of the wood, etc.


    • #3
      Re: Cedar too soft?

      Two points come to mind as I've been carving Western Red Cedar for quite a while.

      1. Use smaller tools. Yes, it's very nearly tedious but there's less pressure for crushing.
      2. Check the ring count per inch. WRC less than 15/inch is junk. Sorry, but it is. The tree has grown quickly with a great deal of soft early/spring wood in each ring. I have found 20-40 to be nice to work with but WRC won't hold detail like birch, for example.
      50 or more/inch is uniformly hard work.
      Brian T


      • #4
        Re: Cedar too soft?

        Thanks for your feedback
        Its red cedar from The Isle of Wight, England, UK

        I am using very small sharp tools and think your right it could be a WRC issue as it appears to be a lot less than 15per inch. Its so soft I need only a tiny amount of pressure to remove any wood.

        Is it worth treating to firm it up or shall i just use it as "junk" for something else and find other wood to carve on?

        What wood type would you suggest for delicate carvings?


        • #5
          Re: Cedar too soft?


          Quite frankly, I bought some WRC which looked wonderful = clear and straight grained.
          Could not even cut it with a bandsaw without shredding internally. 8 rings/inch.
          I gave up and kept it just for the junk that it really was.

          That set off a fairly critical inventory of my wood on hand and 2/3 of it went to the wood tip.

          If you're up for the task, fruitwoods like cherry are tough but the detail is there.
          Lime is rather featureless but more easily carved with good detail.

          As pallin suggests, slicing or skewed cuts with some sort of knife will be an improvement.
          The knife probably has a total included bevel angle of something like 12 degrees. That's the angle that wood in being pushed open with. Most other gouge-type wood carving tools are about 20 degrees, a much wider angle separating the chip from the block.

          Anyway, try it. I could do nothing with that WRC that I bought. Since then, I have seen a lot of cedar which looked wonderful, but a quick ring count and I walked away.
          Brian T


          • #6
            Re: Cedar too soft?

            Really helpful info Thank you.

            I can't find Lime at all and have been hunting cherry for a while now. It can be found locally to me but not easy.

            Its a shame about the WRC as I bought quite a lot of it. May build with it instead.

            It was to soft even for a scalpel blade.

            I have learned this lesson and will be counting rings


            • #7
              Re: Cedar too soft?

              Perhaps you could make a trade with someone that does Intarsia as WRC is a popular wood for them. Just a thought.


              • #8
                Re: Cedar too soft?

                Good luck in the search, possibly offcuts from a cabinet-maker?
                I've done a a fair bit of carving in birch, I like it as a "hard" wood.

                If you look in the "Carving Wood & Materials" forum, I posted a thread called WRC Shake Blocks. There you can see what I am buying locally and some of the starting break-down.
                As it was a dreadfully cold & breezy day out in the mill yard, I looked only at the rings in every block that I selected, guessing 25 or more/inch. Was not wrong and the wood carves nicely (for WRC.)

                I think that a ring count for WRC is one of the few things to put numbers on that determines carving quality. Lots of years and lots of crummy wood in that lesson.

                Robert: there's an intarsia "magician" in my village. Somehow, I don't think that even he could work with very wide & soft growth rings. I could not even saw a smooth surface in the junky piece that I bought (5/4 x 6" x 12' WRC deck board.)
                Brian T


                • #9
                  Re: Cedar too soft?

                  Ditto on the ring count. Trying to relief carve low-ring-count WRC is more trouble than it's worth, IMO. Especially when trying to navigate a cut that is more or less parallel with the grain, and the hard portion of the ring grabs your tool and it 'skates away' from your intended path. And working cross-grain is just as maddening; the alternating hard-soft chatter yields cuts that aren't up to my 'clean cut' standards (again, IMO).

                  If it's relief carving you're doing, it's worth the trouble to find the proper timber. Relief carving relies somewhat on shadows to imply depth, and that gets lost in a dark or heavily-grained timber. Lime would work. A light fruitwood works. Maple and birch work, but if you're just starting out, I'd start with lime.

                  Carvito ergo sum.


                  • #10
                    Re: Cedar too soft?

                    Thanks scooter, doesn't take much imagination to follow your description.

                    In that 5/4 WRC deck board, I got the same chunky crushing with the drill press, bandsaw, gouge and knife. It dawned on me that the low ring count, and wide/soft early wood in each ring, explained countless examples of crushing that I'd seen in the past.
                    So, I found a chunk with maybe 30/inch and repeated the processing = smooth as could be!

                    I'm working on a simple WRC dish with straight but sloping inside surfaces, about 60 degrees, not straight down. About 40/inch. In the ends, I was getting crushing with a 9/15 and mallet, trying to hog out the basic void of the dish which will be nearly 4" deep. Just guessing that it was an issue of pressure in dry wood, I switched to an 8/7 and smaller mallet = end of crushing, completely. But tedious?

                    So there's another contributing factor: pressure. firejon is using small tools so this may not be very important in that situation.
                    Brian T


                    • #11
                      Re: Cedar too soft?

                      Perhaps one of these suppliers can help you:

                      Reid Timber woodturning and Carving blocks, Glasgow Scotland

                      Wood - GreatArt - No 1 Online Art Materials Supplier

                      john boddy timber

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                      • #12
                        Re: Cedar too soft?

                        Try calling your local tree surgeon. There are a lot of Lime trees about in England. You'll have to let the wood dry out, but it will be worth it.


                        • #13
                          Re: Cedar too soft?

                          In my opinion, the world is just chock full of great carving wood. I see absolutely no point in struggling with wood that fights every inch of the way.

                          WRC is a material that I totally avoid unless I want to start a fire. It does make good kindling.