Softening wood for carving is one of the most important steps in the process of getting your carving ready to go. Without softening wood, it can be very difficult, if not impossible, to get the fine details of the carving done right. It’s also hard to carve out any mistakes in the carving if you try to do that before you soften it! If you don’t know how to soften the wood or just want some new ideas on how to do it, this guide will help you.
Methods used to Soften wood for carving
If you need to sand your wood for carving, make sure to sand it in alternating directions. This will reduce some of its inherent splinterings while keeping your carving surface smooth and unscathed.
Start at one end of your block of wood, sanding with a light touch until you reach approximately two-thirds of its length. Then flip your board over, sanding with increasing pressure on that new side until you reach that same halfway point.
Keep flipping your board until all sides have been smoothed. In other words, if you’re starting from the bottom of a 12-inch piece of lumber, make four passes from bottom to top before flipping and going back down again.
Rotate after each pass until all four sides have been sanded—and always use a light touch to start! That way you won’t accidentally gouge or remove chunks of wood when using an electric sander or orbital buffer.
(By hand is even better!) Sanding is more about abrasion than rubbing; try to run your paper across wood rather than trying to rub it off. It might take time, but don’t rush; real carvers know their craft isn’t worth any less because of how long they take (especially since carving takes practice anyway).
2 Steam Boiling
Steam-boiling is a useful method for softening wood. The process of steam-boiling involves heating your wood in a container of water to which some steam has been added. Boil some water on your stovetop and, once it begins to boil, turn off your heat source and place an open container of wood inside. Then allow for steaming until your wood is soft enough to carve out.
This can be used with pieces of wood ranging from pencil-thin to six inches thick. Whether you’re using green or seasoned wood, steam-boiling will yield good results with little time or effort invested into making it happen. Note that fully hardwoods will not soften; skip them if they’re important for your project.
You can use oil to soften the wood. It’s best to do so in conjunction with another method, like heat or moisture, because it takes a little while for the oil to penetrate deep into your piece of wood. This may mean that you need to soak your wood in oil for several days or even weeks. If you want quick results, I recommend using at least two methods in conjunction with each other. This will take about 5 minutes of steam for every inch of thickness you’re trying to soften.
You can also apply pine pitch or boiled linseed oil to hardwoods that are too hard to carve without softening them first. Keep in mind that linseed oil takes at least 24 hours before you can start carving with it. In addition, depending on your style of woodcarving, using linseed oil may create an unsightly finish on your finished piece. This finish isn’t permanent and will only affect the surface of your wood, but some carvers consider a rough texture a design element worth preserving.
Do note that pine pitch is best applied to softwood like cedar. The resin acts as both a sealant and lubricant, which helps soften wood during carving by reducing friction between your tools and the wood itself. It works especially well when combined with steam heating techniques for very hardwood species like ebony or teak.
There are many different kinds of steaming methods available—and not all of them use a tool specifically designed for steaming wood. If you have a rice cooker at home, you can improvise a small steam box by placing 2-3 handfuls of uncooked rice into your cooker and adding enough water to just barely cover it. Then just bring it up to pressure and turn off your heat source.
4 Soaking in Water
This method is not the best out there, but it is worth a shot. All you have to do with this technique is completely immerse your dry wood in water. Ensure that both edges of the wood are completely immersed in water for adequate water absorption. Allow the wood to soak in water for about 2 days to soften.
Note that: After getting the wood out of the water, make your carvings quickly before the wood drys again as it will become harder than it was before.
5 Soaking in Salt Water
If you want to soften the wood, salt water is one of your best options. Soak your wood overnight or longer if it’s particularly hard. You’ll find that after enough time in saltwater, it will become much easier to carve your design—not quite as soft as some other methods but still considerably softer than before!
This method does have a drawback, however; while allowing the wood to soak can sometimes help deepen natural markings and/or colors, soaking too long can do just the opposite.
A good rule of thumb is about an hour for every inch of thickness. But keep in mind that different woods soak differently so always watch closely. Also, be aware that different species of wood require different amounts of soaking.
6 Boiling Water Bath
Boiling water is a standard way to soften the wood. While not a perfect method for all types of wood, it can work in a pinch when nothing else is available. However, be sure to monitor your piece so that it doesn’t warp or crack from overheating. It’s also important to maintain an even temperature so as not to burn your carving.
Be careful handling hot materials! If you have any doubts about softening your wood using boiling water, avoid doing it and try one of these other methods instead.
7 Electic Heating Rod
This quick and easy way to soften wood for carving starts with heating a metal rod in an open flame, then applying it to your piece. This will heat your item very quickly, but remember that if you’re trying to carve wood that has already been heated by another method (like hot water), be careful—you don’t want to keep heating it until it catches on fire! Best results are obtained using either brass or copper rods.
The important thing is that they conduct electricity well; avoid steel wire hangers, sticks from your yard, etc. unless you’re prepared to put them through your shop’s tumbler multiple times to smooth out all of those burrs before using them.
8 Fuming or Ozonizing
The two most popular ways to soften wood for carving are fuming and ozonizing. Fuming uses a combination of ammonia and HCL gas. It is ideal for softening end grain and tight knots.
Oxidization on the other hand is very effective at softening all types of woods including hardwoods such as oak, mahogany, and walnut. It takes about 48 hours after oxidization for your freshly cut pieces to be ready for carving!
Both of these processes will remove paint from wood so if you’re working with an older piece that has been previously painted or stained, you may want to seek out other methods such as boiling and steaming. One easy way to do it yourself at home using items found around the house!
Ozonizers can be purchased online or in home improvement stores. You might also be able to borrow one from a family member who works in medicine.
9 Damp-Heat Kiln
One way to soften wood for carving is to use a damp heat kiln. The kiln process involves drying wood in a chamber where air circulation, relative humidity, and temperature can be controlled to reduce the moisture content of the wood to a target point while avoiding drying defects.
Damp heat kilns can be used on small pieces of wood like candle holders or larger sections of lumber such as headboards or other furniture.
Typically, damp heat kilns are available in two different styles; one style consists of racks within a series of chambers, while another consists of trays placed within trays with no chambers.
Both styles need to be vented properly before they’re turned on so that air can circulate freely through them and out of them, but once they’re turned on, there aren’t any special precautions necessary to keep them running efficiently. To best take advantage of how these machines work, however, it’s crucial to understand what you’re trying to achieve.
For fundamentals of kiln drying: check out here
10 Microwave Treatment
Place the wood in a microwave-safe container and heat it for one minute per inch of thickness. Then apply a damp cloth to soften further. Allow cooling before working with. (Microwave not recommended for resins or plastics.)
Also, Check Our New Article on; The Best Ways on How to Season Wood for Carving