Wood carving is a craft that is challenging and requires skill and patience. Choosing the right wood is the No. 1 factor in making it rewarding and accessible to the beginner, yet even a professional woodcarver must choose his wood wisely to maximise the beauty and function of the finished piece.
For the beginner, there are a number of wood choices that will lower the difficulty of carving. Basswood is a very popular choice. Thewoodbox.com claims that "it's wonderful carving characteristics put it ahead of the class as a carving wood." It is also a great choice for professionals who wish to create a complex or intricate carving. It is one of the softer hardwoods. The downside of basswood is that it is plain because it has very little grain pattern; it is generally a white to cream colour. Other good choices are aspen and butternut (see references).
Challenging exotic woods.
Exotic woods can be used by more experienced carvers to create a colourful and exotic piece. Rosewood is very popular among woodcarvers because of it's fiery reds and purples, as well as strong dark grain lines that greatly vary. Indian rosewood and cocobolo are widely used and available at fine lumber stores. Luthiers Mercantile International says "the workability of Indian Rosewood is very good." Other choices of exotic woods for carving are ebony, for a stark black to grey/black colour, padauk, for a deep red colour, marblewood, for swirling browns and cream colours, and many others.
There are many domestic woods that offer great variety in look but are a greater challenge to carve. Walnut is not a good wood for beginners but offers stunning results. Woodfinder.com says "It works well with hand and power tools, has good strength... and takes finishes well." Sweet gum is another widely available domestic wood. Florida State University's ecology website says, "Sweetgum is second in production only to oaks among hardwoods." There are many others, such as myrtle and eucalyptus, available at fine lumber stores.