Pine is probably one of the most extensively used types of wood in the US. It is quite cheap and comparably easy to work with. I personally like to use it in a lot of my projects. Mainly because it is so cheap and easy to cut. Recently I started to incorporate relief and sculpture carvings in my projects again and I started to ask myself if it is possible to carve Pine properly. So I tried and experimented and asked around a little bit and here is what I found out.
Pine can be carved but there are a few things to look out for. Firstly, only White Pine is great for carving other variants of Pine can be very hard to properly carve for a multitude of reasons. A Clean piece of White Pine is generally best for carving. It is also very easy to machine and one of the best woods for chainsaw carving.
So when you want to carve Pine I would generally recommend staying away from any variants other than White Pine if you want to keep your sanity.
Other variants can be very hard to carve for multiple reasons.
Why is Pine so Difficult to Carve?
As I mentioned above, most Pine variants are very difficult to carve and I would generally only recommend using White Pine for carving.
If you are curious though, here is why most other types of Pine are so difficult to carve.
High Sap Content
Most Pine variants are known for their high sap content.
You can be lucky and don´t have any sap in your Pine but the unfortunate truth is, that the chances of encountering some sap while carving regular Pine are quite high.
And Sap is very annoying to deal with. Trust me.
It is very sticky and hard to get rid of especially if you get it on your skin. You can clean it off with plenty of soap and hot water but I would generally avoid sap all together when I have the choice.
Knots are Very Difficult to Work With
Pine itself is quite soft and easy to cut when your tools are sharp enough but most types of Pine have very hard knots.
It is extremely frustrating to work with a piece of pine that has lots of very hard knots in it.
This is also probably the biggest reason why I prefer White Pine over most other variants for carving. White Pine only very rarely has hard knots in it.
So if you want to do yourself a favor and avoid losing your sanity simply use White Pine for carving when you have the choice.
Pine is a Softwood so the Wood fibers are easily Crushed Instead of Cut
Pine is a softwood and like most other softwoods it has very long fibers.
Long fibers can lead to a lot of tearing.
So make sure to sharpen your tools often in order to avoid as much tearing as possible or just use White Pine.
Varying Hardness of the Wood Grain
Pine is known to have a very inconsistent grain which can make it difficult to carve properly.
Summer growth is very soft while the winter growth is very hard.
So it can very well happen that parts of the Pine piece is easy to carve and then all of a sudden another part is very hard to carve.
This can obviously be very annoying and it can lead to slip-ups. So do be careful when carving Pine.
The Best Pine Wood for Carving
Most Pine variants are very hard to carve properly the big exception here is White Pine.
Make sure to choose a piece of White Pine that has no pitch pockets or overly coarse growth rings and you will be just fine.
White Pine can be machined easily and it can withstand most heavier machines like chainsaws without any bigger issues.
White Pine is especially nice to carve when it is green or wet.
If you see white Pinewood in your local hardware store then don´t immediately think that it is White Pine just because it is white.
Most Pine variants have a creamy white color.
You can identify White Pine by looking at the knots. If the knots are dark purple then you can be sure that it is Western White Pine!
Carving Other Variants Than White Pine
Even though White Pine is the best Pine variant for carving it is still possible that you can carve other Pine variants.
But it will be a lot harder and you have to look out for quite a lot of things to make it work properly.
First off, make sure you get a clear piece of Pine with very little to no knots in it. Knots are the one thing you want to avoid because they will make your life miserable when you try to carve them.
Also, try to find a piece of Pine that has a very even grain. This will ensure that your piece of Pine has an equal amount of hardness to it.
Don´t use too much force when carving Pine and try to sharpen your tools as soon as you feel like it is getting dull to avoid tearing as good as possible.
Common Problems When Using Pine for Carving That You Need to Watch out for.
There are a lot of different things to look out for when carving Pine.
It already starts when choosing the piece of Pine, that you want to carve. I already explained a little bit about knots and grain above but I will go into more detail here.
Even though it is not as important to look out for these things when using White Pine I would still suggest picking your piece of carving wood carefully.
Make sure to pick a piece of wood, that has a straight grain. As straight as possible!
Also, make sure to pick a piece of Pine that has at least 15 growth rings per inch. This will ensure, that your piece of Pine is equally hard throughout the piece.
Make sure that your piece of pine has very little knots in it. This will also ensure an equal hardness level throughout the piece.
When carving Pine make sure to sharpen your tools often. Pine is a softwood and therefore it has a lot of long fibers in it that can easily cause tearing when your tools aren’t sharp enough to easily cut through them.
Wet or green Pine is also easier to carve. So if you are having problems with clean cuts try to wet the wood down a little bit.