4 Ways to Soften Wood for Carving


Beginner wood carvers are generally advised to start with wood that is easier to carve. However, there comes a time when you may want to start working on wood that is more difficult to carve, like oak. Knowing how to soften wood will go a long way in making your carving experience seamless and easy.

Soak the wood in water for a day or so to soften it. You can also spray a mixture of rubbing alcohol and water on the surface and let it penetrate the wood. Another way to soften wood is to let humidity rehydrate it. Lastly, you can work on green wood as it is already soft.

How To Make Wood Easier To Carve

No matter how sharp your knife is, some wood is challenging to get into. Suppose you’re wondering if there is a way to make wood easier to carve. In that case, the methods mentioned below will help you out.

1. Leave The Wood To Soak In Water

One way to soften wood is to soak it in water. Soaking dry wood will undoubtedly make it simpler to carve. However, the carving experience will not be quite the same. You may find it difficult to carve details as it’s easy for the knife to slip. 

The wood can be soaked for a day or two.

While this is not the same as dealing with green wood, it will make the process easier. However, since soaked wood seems to dry rather quickly, you may have to switch between soaking the wood for a bit and then carving it and repeating the process until you’re done.

The wood may be vulnerable to all the forces that drying wood can encounter as it is rehydrating, like bowing. Do not soak your wood for longer than necessary, as it will act like a sponge and soak up too much water.

This will lead to it expanding, and the chances of it cracking as it dries and shrinks back to its normal size are high. This is because once it expands, the fibers will start separating from each other.

You Might Like: How to Cut a Square Hole in Wood

2. Spray Water And Rubbing Alcohol On The Wood

Another excellent way to soften wood that is difficult to carve is to spray rubbing alcohol and water on it. This works even better than soaking the wood in water as the rubbing alcohol reduces the surface tension of the water. 

Ensure that you don’t use rubbing alcohol by itself. It will evaporate faster.

This helps the water penetrate the wood and go through the grain. If you were to spray water by itself, it would bead up on the surface of the wood. When there is rubbing alcohol, the water disperses, finds its way into the little cracks, and works through the wood.

Any ratio of water and rubbing alcohol will work. However, most people go for 50/50. Simply spray the piece of wood you want to carve. Let it sit for some time, and it’ll be good to go. This method is perfect for spot treatments.

If you do not want to go through the hassle of making your own mixture, there are cheap pre-mixed alcohol spray bottles that can be found on Amazon.

3. Leave Your Wood In A Humid Place Or Use Steam

If you are not a fan of letting wood soak in water, you can let humidity soften your wood. The moisture will rehydrate the wood, leading to it getting softer and, therefore, easier to carve and whittle. If you live in a humid region, leave the wood on the porch or in the garage for a few days.

Fear not if you do not live in a humid area. A humidifier can take care of that for you. Humidifiers are relatively inexpensive and easy to find. To soften the wood, place it in the same room as the humidifier.

Ensure that you leave the wood in the room for a couple of hours to a day so it gets sufficiently rehydrated. If you do not want to spend money, you can go the old-fashion way and use steam.

This can be done in several ways. If you have a steamer, use that. If not, place a pot on the stove and add water. Allow the pot to boil. Place a rack on the pot and set your piece of wood on it. The steam will penetrate the wood and soften the inside and the outside.

The benefit of steaming is that the wood will not lose its shape and will be much softer, making it easier to carve and whittle.

4. Work With Green Wood

Try green wood if none of the above-mentioned ways to soften wood work well for you. Green wood is easy to carve, and it is generally forgiving on the tools you use. It is also more pleasant to carve. Much like soaked wood, it may be tricky to do details on green wood because of its softness.

However, because it is still wet as it still has moisture, once you’re done carving and have allowed the wood to dry, the moisture will try to escape the wood fibers. Sometimes the moisture escapes faster than the wood can enable it.

That is when the wood will split. Therefore that is something to keep in mind.

How to Make Carving Easy Apart From Softening Wood

One thing you can do to make carving hardwoods such as Oak easier, apart from softening it, is to ensure that your tools are sharpened. Sharpening a carving knife is not the same as sharpening a pocket knife. There is a specific technique that needs to be used.

Once the tools are sharp, it will be much easier for you to carve and whittle, especially when the wood is soft.


As you can see, there are several ways to soften wood for carving. This way, you won’t find working on difficult wood daunting. Remember also to keep your carving tools sharp.

You Might Also Like: Gluing Wood Together When Carving