Is Cedar Good For Carving?

Cedar is among the most popular woods used in interior and exterior projects from siding to furniture. It’s often used for projects requiring prevention against insects, rotting, and moisture thanks to its natural resins. Even better, it’s classified as softwood and has excellent workability.

In general, softwoods can be used for carving. But with a variety of wood types and species, any wood carver, especially a newbie, may find it difficult to figure out the best to use since some are better than others, hence the question… Is Cedar Good for Carving?

Believe it or not, Cedar can be used for carving and offers a satisfactory outcome to your project. Furthermore, it’s a softwood that has great strength and durability, making it easy to carve and maintain the shape well.  Also, the lumber is resistant to decay and rot. It protects your wood carvings from moisture and is thus the ideal choice for carving.

Unfortunately, while Cedar can be a beautiful and rewarding wood to carve, not all species are suitable for carving. For instance, the Northern White Cedar is fragile and prone to breakage when exposed to power carving equipment.

However, cedar types like Yellow Cedar, Eastern White Cedar, and Eastern Red cedar are excellent choices for carving due to their straight grain, fine texture, and relative hardness.

Still, there’s more to learn about cedar, read on for more insight on how to use cedar wood for carving.

What Is Wood Carving? 

Is Cedar Good For Carving?
Image of a Wood Carving

This is a kind of woodworking that involves the use of a cutting tool. For instance, it can be carved by one hand on a mallet and another on the chisel, or both hands on the chisel, or by just using a knife in one hand to create a wooden figure.

The craft also involves creating different designs and patterns. And it can be used for decoration or functional purposes be it a work of art, furniture, or toys.

For example, a spoon can be carved for kitchen use or a statue as art. Some of the carving techniques are chip carving, hand carving, or power carving.

Traditional wood carvers normally use gouges and chisels while modern wood carvers use power carving tools such as rotary.

Some types of wood carving can be worked on both sides of the wood, while others on one side. Still, each type has unique features and different techniques.

Here is a brief description of some of the methods used to carve wood.

  1. Love Spoon Carving

Initially, this type of wood carving was usually done by suitors as a way to express love. As a result, they contained symbols such as rings, hearts, and doves.

But nowadays, they can be used by any gender at any age and are beautifully designed as a form of decoration rather than for adoration.

  1. Chip Carving

As the name suggests, it’s done by chipping bits of wood using a chipping knife (chisels & stab knives) on one side of a flat piece of wood to form a design.

  1. Whittling

It’s a traditional type of wood carving that is done by using traditional non-motorized tools like chisels and knives, though one can be tempted to use motorized tools since they speed up the process. Regardless, anything you use to carve your wood depends on your preference.

Some woodworkers prefer using special carving knives that have short blades and large handles, and others use a Swiss army knife or standard pocket knife to act as whittling equipment.

Contrarily, some prefer three blades and two back spring knives.

  1. Treen Carving

This craft involves using a piece of wood to create household items like goblets, spoons, baskets, pipes, and needle cases. Basically, anything carved out of wood is known as treen carving.

Initially, before silver and ceramics were introduced this was among the most important techniques that a farmer was supposed to have.

  1. Scandinavian Flat-Plane Carving

As you might have guessed from the name, this type of carving is originally from the Scandinavian culture, Sweden to be specific. It’s very similar to whittling but uses a carving knife instead of electronic tools. The result is rough without sanding.

  1. Chainsaw Carving

As the name suggests, the carving is done using a chainsaw. This type of wood carving is very popular despite being discovered recently. However, if you are not a professional then it’s best to stay away from it as it’s very dangerous.

Further, chainsaw carvers should wear the following protective equipment;

  • Kevlar pants
  • Goggles and facemask
  • Steel toe boots
  • Protective leather gloves
  • Sound and ear protection
  • Good helmet
  1. Relief Carving

Relief carving is removing material from a flat piece of wood to give your carving a 3D effect.  It might be difficult but artistic. Moreover, the craft is mostly done with a mallet, chisel, and gouge to get the required depth. It can be high or low relief depending on the depth you want.

  1. Dievdirbys

This type of carving is mostly done by Christians to create Jesus and Christian saints in different ways. They are painted in light colors mostly around Christmas time. They are created from the purest wood that has rich properties.

  1. WoodBurning

This type of carving is the least common. It’s more of a carving technique than a type of carving. Moreover, it’s often done on animals to add reality to the project.

For example, it can be done on the top layer of fur to add realism. The tools used for wood carving go up to 1000 degrees Fahrenheit which will only burn the needed part and leave perfect visible marks. Basswood is the most used on this type of carving, or sometimes gourd wood.

Note: Avoid burning wood that has any type of finish like oil, paint, wax, lacquer, or any flammable thing applied on wood. Burning wood with toxic substances can be very dangerous and a life hazard.

Just like anything else, carving wood has its advantages and disadvantages.

Pros of Wood Carving

  • Creativity, one of the best things about wood carving, is the ability to carve anything that comes to your imagination, such as patterns, shapes, scenes, or portraits. If you are looking for a creative activity then this is the best for you since it’s perfect for showcasing your creativity.
  • Unlike painting or sculpting which often require larger workspaces, wood carving requires less space to carve. So, a small area will be sufficient.
  • It’s less expensive as compared to other types of art since all that’s required is basic tools and a piece of wood.
  • Carving can be both relaxing and therapeutic. Besides, it’s a nice way to relieve tension or stress as it needs great focus and concentration.
  • The craft is rewarding. Your finished product can be very stunning and nothing compares to that sense of accomplishment for creating a beautiful thing.
  • Woodworking makes you develop patience and create useful things.  It’s easier to develop patience since working on this type of art takes time and needs precision. Also, you can use your skills to make different types of ornaments, furniture, utensils, and balls.
  • You can benefit from wood carving by selling your creations and designs as crafts items or artwork.

Cons of Wood Carving

  • Cost – Sometimes carving tools are expensive especially if you are just starting and need to buy a new set of tools. Even worse, since wood carving needs precision mistakes can be costly: more mistakes mean more money.
  • Time – As compared to other types of art that can be completed in less time, wood carving can last for hours. Even worse, it can last weeks depending on the size and complexity of the carving.
  • Lastly, it’s important to note that wood carving can be dangerous if proper safety precautions are not taken. Sharp tools can cause serious injury if not used correctly. Thus, follow the instructions and wear protective gear when working with tools.

Despite these shortcomings, there’s a lot more to enjoy when creating beautiful wood art projects. It’s a rewarding and fulfilling activity.

Is Carving Cedar Wood Easy?

Yes! Cedar’s brittle and soft nature makes it easy to cut. In case you are a newbie then this is the best choice for practicing. It has a straight and evenly spread grain that helps it to give a clean cut.

Tip: When cutting, do it along the wood grain to prevent the lumber from cracking.

Carving Cedar wood requires lots of practice and patience. It’s important to work slowly and carefully. In addition, take small cuts and gradually shape the wood since Cedar’s extreme softness makes it vulnerable.

Lastly, even though Cedar is among the easiest woods to carve, the possibility of it tearing out and splitting is very high. This wood lacks the necessary hardness, so, apply minimum pressure when handling it.

Cedar Wood Carving Tips

Overall, carving tips are essential whether you are a pro or a beginner. Furthermore, Cedar requires lots of patience as stated earlier. Hence, check out the tricks below to get you started.

  • Cedar Size

Cedar above 50 inches in diameter is too dense and very difficult to carve or handle. You will want to go for something that’s more than 25 rings. Otherwise, fewer rings make it challenging to remove materials smoothly and evenly, resulting in a bad carving experience.

  • Dry Vs Green Cedar

This will depend on the type of woodcarver you are. Even though carving green cedar is not bad, remember that the grain can crack and the worst part is. It might not be visible immediately but it will affect the appearance of your carving over time.

  • Use Sharp Tools

Before you begin carving your wood, confirm your gouges and chisels are razor-sharp. Gouges with blemishes tend to scratch and ruin the wood’s surface. Worst still, they leave a visible white nick in the wood.

On the other hand, having proper cutting skills and using sharp blades gives the wood a shiny appearance and creates finer details. Otherwise, a blunt gauge causes the wood to appear dull.

  • Carve Along the Wood Grain Direction

Luckily, Cedar has a straight grain. Hence, carve along the grain to avoid tearing or cracking the wood. Again, use shallow cuts when carving complicated designs. In case the wood starts to tear, just change the carving direction.

  • Never Make Stop Cuts

Woodworkers often outline their designs using a sharp chisel to create a perpendicular cut, also known as to stop cut. This technique creates a nice clean edge and prevents your wood from cracking beyond the edge.

However, Cedar has a fibrous texture. Thus, stop cuts crush the fibers and as a result, the wood will separate or split.

Even though other types of wood may not separate after using the above process, it’s best to not use it, especially if you want a sharp and detailed finish.

  • Use Your Tools Correctly

When carving with a gouge: roll away the blade’s edge from the remaining wood by twisting the handle of the tool. Carve carefully to prevent the blade from digging into the wood. In case it does, change the direction of the handle.

In addition, pay attention to the handle and how you twist it. Otherwise, minor cracks will eventually turn into major ones.

You can also showcase your woodburning techniques by mixing burned and natural Cedar. It reveals the wood’s yellow and red hints.

What Properties Make Cedar Good For Wood Carving?

Cedar has many great qualities that are significant in different wood carving projects. Even better, some of these qualities can only be found in Cedarwood.

They include

  • Durability

Cedar has an impressive durability history despite being a softwood. It has natural resins and oils that protect it against decay, rot, and insect damage. Moreover, these properties make the lumber an excellent choice for outdoor applications such as decking and siding.

On top of that, Cedar wood resists moisture, bugs, and insects. As such, it requires less maintenance. In addition, Cedar carvings withstand harsh weather conditions thanks to their high resistance to weather elements.

  • Appearance

Cedar has natural beauty and unique grain patterns, delivering a distinctive look that adds character and charm to your project. Even better, it holds and accepts various stain colors, offering a satisfactory outcome despite your preference.

Cedarwood stain consists of nice color tones that help to decorate your beautiful carving projects.

Also, Cedar carvings tend to dry faster, delivering a beautiful and smooth appearance.

  • Affordability

While Cedar is not the cheapest option for lumber, its availability in most local hardware stores makes it affordable. It’s a popular choice for lumber due to its many advantages.

In addition, the benefits of using cedar always outweigh the initial cost. It saves money in the long run by requiring less maintenance.

  • Lightweight

Cedarwood is relatively lightweight compared to many other types of wood. Hence, it is easier to handle and control when carving.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Using Cedar for Wood Carving

Just like any other wood type, Cedar has its pros and shortcomings. But it’s easy to work around the cons of cedar since the advantages always outweigh the demerits. Moreover, some of the disadvantages can be fixed, so it’s better not to hang around them.

Pros of Using Cedar for Carving

  1. Natural Resistance to Moisture

Cedar has a natural resistance to decay, rot, and moisture thanks to its natural properties. The natural oils in Cedarwood act as a natural preservative, protecting the wood from moisture and fungal decay.

As such, this lumber is a popular choice for woodworkers who would want to place their sculptures and other carvings outdoors. In addition, you can treat Cedar by varnishing it to extend its durability.

  1. Lightweight

Cedar is a great choice for carving. The wood’s softness and lightweight nature make it easier to carve and handle while still holding a good amount of detail.

  1. Soft and Easy to Work With

While woods like mahogany and walnut can be great for carving, they are challenging to handle due to their higher density and hardness. On the other hand, Cedar is easy to carve and requires less effort to work with than hardwood.

Some of the disadvantages of using cedar for carving include:

Cons of Using Cedar for Carving

  1. Difficult to Carve Sharp Details

Since Cedar is a softwood, carving intricate details is quite challenging. Thin and integrated areas can easily break when carving. Further, sculptures with intricate details can be the worst choice for cedar wood.

  1. Prone to Dents and Dings

Unfortunately, Cedar’s brittle nature makes it vulnerable to dents and dings when dropped or bumped. While some of the blemishes can be repaired by steaming the wood, some may be too severe to recover from.

  1. Not all Cedar Varieties are Equal

As mentioned earlier, do not just go for any Cedar type for carving. Choose the most suitable Cedarwood type as not every kind guarantees a successful project.

Is Cedar Good For Whittling?

Absolutely yes! Cedar is a softwood and relatively easy to carve with hand tools, such as knives, chisels, and gouges. Besides, the lumber’s softness allows it to whittle, meaning it holds its shape well. So, it creates rounded edges, without tearing the wood.

Also, Cedarwood is lightweight, making it easy to control while carving. This attribute is helpful particularly when carving detailed designs.

However, sharpen your tools well as blunt ones tear and chip the wood. In addition, carve along the wood grain to avoid splintering the wood and achieve a smooth finish.

Can You Use Cedar Wood for Chainsaw Carving?

Yes, Cedar can be used for chainsaw carving. As a softwood, it is easy to carve and has a pleasant aroma. But check the lumber’s density and hardness as they vary depending on the species and where it’s grown.

For instance, some Cedar types are too soft and prone to tearing while others are hard and challenging to carve. Choose the most suitable Cedar wood for chainsaw carving and wear protective gear.

Cedar has great machinability and works well with chainsaws and different power carving equipment. Again, work with sharp blades to keep the wood from cracking.

Lastly, carve or cut along the wood grain direction to protect Cedarwood from chipping or tearing.

Is White Cedar Good For Carving?

Firstly, there are two types of white Cedar namely;

  • The Northern White Cedar
  • The Eastern White Cedar

As stated earlier, the Northern White Cedar is a poor choice for carving. It is very brittle when kiln-dried, making it prone to breakage,  especially when using power tools. On the other hand, Eastern White Cedar, which is almost white, is the most suitable option for carving.

More importantly, Cedar is medium hard and perfect for lightweight carvings with medium details.  Besides, White cedar is perfect for interior and exterior carving tasks, such as fences, signboards, and decorative items. It’s also very flexible.

Even though white cedar usually lasts longer (up to a decade) than Red Cedar, the latter is stronger. Other types of cedar used for carving include Red and Yellow Cedar.

Eastern Red Cedar has a red hue that complements your sculptures. It’s also dense and harder than the other cedar types, making it the most preferred in detailed carving. On the other hand, although it’s possible to carve the western red cedar, avoid it.

Alternatively, Yellow Cedar, also known as, Yellow Red Cedar has a yellowish tint. Furthermore, it’s a little softer, aromatic, and lighter than other cedar species: therefore, a perfect choice for lightweight carvings like doors.

What Are Cedar Alternatives For Wood Carving?

As much as cedar is great for carving,  there are some lumber types with excellent carving properties like butternut, pine, black walnut, paper birch, and basswood. Let’s have a look at them.

  • Basswood

Basswood is a popular wood for carving thanks to its light color, smooth grain, and resistance to warping. Its texture and softness also make it easy to carve, which is why it’s always recommended for beginners.

Better still, the lumber is affordable and widely available, making it ideal for small and large carving projects. It also holds fine detail for relief and figure carving.

  • Paper Birch

This lumber is mostly used for making furniture, It is more durable and stronger than oak or pine. Usually, green freshly cut Birch Wood is great for wood carving. It has a considerable moisture content thus malleable and easy to carve.

On the downside, this wood is not the best choice for carving spoons and bowls. It rots and decays faster when exposed to the tiniest bit of moisture. In addition, the wood is hard to work with when dry.

Also, Basswood is cheaper and easier to work with than Birch.

  • Pine

White Pine is cream-colored with a pronounced grain texture. Furthermore, it’s a soft wood and best for whittling with just a knife. It’s also easy to shape and design, cheap, and suitable for carving novices.

On the contrary, its grainy texture, knots, and softness make it a poor option for chip carving. Even worse, it’s very stiff, making it hard to carve once it’s dry.

However, the above is an advantage when making sturdy furniture. Only that the wood’s brittle nature also makes it prone to dents and scratches.

  • Black Walnut

Black walnut has a creamy white dark chocolate color and a smooth finish. It is also strong and heavy with a nice grain and is popular for different uses, such as flooring, furniture, oars, gunstocks, and coffins. However, for better results, use razor-sharp tools for carving.

  • Butternut

This lumber is also known as white walnut or oil nut. It is slightly lighter but browner than basswood. Also, since Butternut is related to walnut, it polishes easily and is easy to carve, especially for beginners.

Butternut is soft and perfect for carving, showing its beautiful hue and grain pattern. It can also be used for lightweight furniture since it is light in weight. All these properties make it suitable for furniture, sculptural carvings, veneer, interior trim, boxes, and crates.

All in all, there’s more to what makes any kind of wood great for carving than softness. Besides, most of the easiest woods are challenging to handle. So, practice and experiment to see what is best for you.

The answer on which type of wood is best for carving will depend on your budget, interest, and the amount of time you want to spend on wood carving.

Is Cedar Good for Carving Spoons

Cedar is well known for being sturdy and immune to dampness. So, using it for carving spoons is perfectly fine. However, be extra careful and properly seal the spoons. Otherwise, they will absorb moisture or bacteria.

Breathing in Cedar sawdust causes respiratory issues and sometimes kidney problems. It’s also worth knowing that unsealed spoons made from this wood have oils and resins, which contaminate food and hot water.

Further, even though these resins and oils are harmless, they cause skin irritation when taken in large amounts.

Cedar has many varieties but the best for plank cooking is Western Red Cedar. That aside, Eastern Red Cedar contains resins that can be released while cooking.

In general, take proper caution when carving cedar wood to avoid any potential health risks associated with it. Other types of carvings made from cedar include bowls, sculptures, boxes, wall art, crates, rings, and signboards.

Alternatively, you can use hardwoods like soft maple, cherry, black walnut, or poplar for spoon carving. They provide a durable and smooth surface and make your work more enjoyable while guaranteeing beautiful results.

Likewise, hardwoods prevent the spoons from tearing with time. But softwoods can crack when exposed to moisture and different temperature levels.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is Cedar Waterproof?

Cedar lacks waterproof properties, but it has good moisture resistance. Exposing cedar to high levels of moisture without proper staining and finishing, can lead to damage. It’s important to apply a high-quality stain or finish to protect it against weather elements that may cause warping.

  • Is Cedar Good for Power Carving?

Indeed, Cedar is well-suited for whittling, round carving, and smooth carving. One significant benefit that power carvers have over their hand tools counterparts is how fast they can work with electrical tools.

  • Do You Have to Seal Cedar Wood?

Apply two coats of sealant for protection and to maintain Cedar’s rich color. Otherwise, the wood can fade and lose its natural oils without protection. Further, the best method is to use an oil-based sealant that penetrates deep into the wood providing an additional layer against decay and rot. However, it’s worth knowing that using sealant blocks away the fragrance of cedar.

Closing Thoughts

Almost every type of wood can be used for carving but some perform better than others. It all depends on your needs and preferences. One desirable feature of cedar is its aesthetic appearance plus durability, making it very popular with many woodworkers.

Cedarwood is always one of the best options for every type of wood project. For instance, using it for exterior applications is very satisfying. You enjoy its functions while showcasing its beauty.

On the downside, Cedar is expensive and fails under harsh weather conditions. But you can easily fix this issue by varnishing to protect the wood. Still, this leaves many woodworkers especially newbies wondering…

Is Cedar Good for Carving?

Yes, Cedar is classified as softwood. This quality is an advantage as the lumber is soft and cuts easily. Also, cedar’s grain has extreme color variations, adding beauty to your carvings. Further, you can display Cedar carvings indoors and outdoors thanks to its high moisture resistance.

However, ensure your carving tools are razor sharp. In addition,  cut along the wood grain to avoid chipping the wood. But not every Cedar species is suitable for carving. So, consider Yellow Cedar, Eastern Red Cedar, and Eastern White Cedar.

Lastly, even though various softwoods can be used for carving, going down the ‘Cedar’ road is worth it!

Thank you for reading this article, I hope it has given you all the insights on carving cedar.

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