One of the most important things new woodcarvers need to master is understanding how different wood materials behave when carving, working and finishing them.
In this detailed guide, we run through everything you need to know about carving with pine. By the time you’re done, you’ll have a pretty good idea of when – and why – you’ll want to reach for a block of pine for a carving project.
Pine is a fantastic option for carving. Pine is a softwood and can be worked with a pocket knife, but it dents, can be uneven to finish, and presents some challenges that carvers need to be aware of. It’s important to understand what you can and can’t do with pine wood.
Carving Pine Wood
Pine can be a fantastic material for beginner and experienced woodcarvers alike to use on their projects.
Incredibly soft (compared to most other wood materials), this softwood is lightweight, has a straight grain texture, and can be worked with pretty much any carving tools – and even some tools not exclusively designed forward carving (like pocketknives and even brought had screwdrivers).
Below we run through some of the reasons carvers love to have plenty of pine on hand to work with.
Related: Is Poplar Easy to Carve With?
Advantages of Pine
(Almost) Effortless to Carve Compared to Hardwoods
As a softwood, pine will be about as easy to work with as a stick of butter or a bar of soap – especially when compared with other hardwood options such as mulberry.
You might not be able to look at a block of pine and and see the result with your imagination, but it really isn’t going to take much to guide your carving tools through that wood and turn it into something spectacular.
There are some downsides to pine being so soft (we mentioned those in just a moment), but if you’re learning how to carve – or if you’re experimenting with new techniques – and don’t want to spend a pile of money on tough to carve material, pine is the way to go.
Pine is Easy to Sand and Smooth
Another huge advantage to using pine for your carving project (especially early in the process) is that this material is super easy to sand and smooth.
There aren’t many tricks or special techniques you need to use to get your carved project sanded up and almost glassy smooth.
You’re going to love working with it!
Pine is Incredibly Inexpensive
Last, pine is about as inexpensive a carving material as you will find on the market today.
Available everywhere (and we mean everywhere), you can even pop down to your local big-box home improvement shop or lumberyard and get blocks and blocks of pine to work with – all for next to nothing.
That’s huge when you are just starting or tinkering around with different techniques, different strokes, or want to practice.
Related: Cedar Wood Carving
Downsides of Carving with Pine Wood
There are certainly some downsides to carving with pine material, though.
Pine Can Be a Little Stiff
Pine is loaded with sap – more than maybe any other softwood, for that matter – and that’s going to make this material a little stiff.
As soon as your carving tools punch into a blob of sap, everything’s going to gum up, and you’re going to feel like you are carving a sloppy mess.
There are ways to avoid this, but you will pop into a surprise sap pocket every now and then, and you’ll just have to power through it.
You’re Going to See a Lot of Dents
Because pine is so soft, it’s prone to denting and bruising more than a lot of other materials.
You really (REALLY) need to be careful when you are holding your project – and doubly careful when you are clamping it.
Apply too much force, drop, or bump your pine project on something and it’s going to wear a bunch of scars.
Some of those can be worked out, sanded, or even steamed back into place. Some of them, though, are going to be permanent.
Pine is Pretty Knotty
While pine itself is super soft and easy to work with, the knots that you’ll inevitably come across in pine – unless you are carving only completely clear material – are like little diamonds to work through.
These things are tough!
Anticipating the density of pine can be a bit of a challenge, but we can tell you that no matter how dense and hard you think pine knots are, they will always be a little harder.
It’s really hard to carve around these knots. The only thing harder is to carve through them. You might have to get creative when they bubble up in the middle of your projects.
Pine Will Chip with Dull Tools
Pine wood is notorious for chipping when dull edge carving tools are used.
Worse, every time you run into a knot and push through a glob of this sap, you will make the blades of your carving tools duller and duller.
It doesn’t take very long for your carving tools to start chipping and ripping chunks of pine out when you’re trying to be much more delicate and deliberate.
Take the time to pause, sharpen, and hone your edges more frequently than you’d think when working pine.
You’ll be glad you did.
Related: Oak wood carving
Pine is, for the most part, a perfect material for beginner carvers to work with.
Available everywhere wood is sold (and we mean everywhere), very inexpensive, and lightweight enough that you can keep giant chunks of it around to work with whenever needed. There’s no reason not to have a small stockpile of this stuff in your carving space.
Sure, you might want to graduate to hardwoods sooner or later. But there’s no reason you shouldn’t be building your skills and establishing your carving foundation on pine material.
This might not be the stuff you use to carve heirlooms that’ll be passed on for generations, but it will help you create the skills needed to produce that kind of work later down the line for sure!