Using the woods grain can give your carving a dramatic effect after the piece is finished.

If you are carving an artistic piece, choosing wood with curved and twisted grain will have some challenges to carve. If you overcome those challenges, you will be rewarded with a finished product that is far more beautiful.

Straight Grain Or Twisted Grain

Your project determines which kind of grain you would choose. If you are carving a walking stick, you should consider that the stick needs strength to be used. So using a straight grain through the length of the stick would give you that strength. Although if the top of the walking stick had some twists and turns, strength wouldn’t be as big of an issue. Using wood with both characteristics can give you the opportunity to create some unique and awesome walking sticks.

Many carvers recommend carving with straight grained woods, because they are more predictable. If you are just wanting to carve the shape into the wood, or do a relief carving, I would agree with them. Straight grain wood is easier to use for carving detailed projects.

If you can be more flexible with your design, and let it flow with the grain of the wood, Using a twisted wood grain is much more rewarding.

Notice how the artist of this gorilla used the grain of the wood to enhance the gorillas nose and eyes. Letting the grain flow with the carving has created a more lifelike expression on the gorillas face.
By preplanning your carving before you put a tool to it you can take advantage of the awesome effects that wood grain can create.

Overcoming The Challenges Of Carving Twisted Grain

Many carvers will avoid wood with an uneven grain because it is unpredictable. You may be pushing a chisel through an area of perfectly straight grain gliding through the wood like butter. Then the grain turns so you push your chisel harder to overcome the pressure needed to go across the grain. Just when you are starting to put full pressure on the tool, the grain straightens out again. Now you cut off a valuable part of your piece of wood, because the chisels is cutting like butter again.
To avoid this happening.

Keep Your Tools Sharp

Carving a roast for dinner can be a disaster if you use a dull knife. The meat is ripped to shreds, and ends up being served in piles instead of nice cleanly cut slices.
Wood fibers are a lot like the muscle fibers of that roast. They are made to hold together under extreme stresses. If you have split a log you know how hard those fibers are trying to hold together.

Separating them is much like being a surgeon. A surgeon knows the proper angle to cut, and always uses a sharp tool. I’m sure you wouldn’t want to see a butter knife glistening in your surgeons hand as you dose off to sleep on the operating table.

A sharp tool is much less effected by sudden changes in the grain pattern. You can move smoothly through the twists and turns of the grain applying a controlled pressure constantly. Helping you to avoid pushing too hard and possibly damaging your carving.

Keeping your tools sharp is as easy as just using a leather strop occasionally while you are carving to polish the edge of your chisels. By drawing your chisels backwards on the leather, you are cleaning off any microscopic burrs in the edge that may be starting to form. Even after using a sharpening stone on your tools, you would still want to use a strop to remove those burrs left by the stone. The result will be an extremely sharp tool.

Using Power Tools To Carve Your Way Through

Power tools such as grinders can make carving uneven grain much easier. If you were using a nice piece of wood with a straight tight grain, slicing through it with a sharp chisel would be an efficient way to remove wood.
With a less even grain, even a sharp chisel will have some challenges as it is cutting through.
With power tools you can grind off the excess wood with less risk of damaging the project. Even just using power tools to get your projects shape, before you start on the detail work.

Understanding The Grain

Wood grain is created by the rings that are formed each year as the tree ages. The rate of growth the tree has determines how the rings will be.
Softwood like pine grow quickly compared to hardwoods like maple. These soft woods will have thicker rays. Which is the area between the rings.
Even the same kind of hardwood tree will have smaller rays if they grow in an area with a shorter growing season. In these rays are the porous fibers that take nutrients from the roots to the leaves. each fiber is stacked on the other to create a continuous straw.
What makes this important to a carver is using the right grain to achieve the look you want.

Wide Rays Or Narrow Rays

If you are carving a tiger, for an example. A wood with tighter rays between the rings could be carved in a way to use the grain as stripes on the tiger. Using the woods natural beauty to enhance your carving.
In the picture of the gorilla, the wood has wide rays which give the carving a feeling depth and character.

Deciding how you want to use the wood grain in your piece, and then orienting the grain in a way to take advantage of it.

Not All Woodgrains Are The Same

The rings are formed over years of growth. Through those years there may have been drought, high winds, or disease that may have effected the growth of the tree. Changing the distance between the rings from year to year. Disease may have caused the branches to bend in an unusual way, making some sections of a tree ideal for having a unique grain patterns that can be used in your carvings.

Some trees twist as they grow, even changing the direction they twist every few years. Giving an excellent pattern to the finished carving.

Burl Wood Is A Diamond In The Rough

Burl wood is a section of wood that is diseased and has created an ugly growth on the tree. Ugly if you’re not a wood carver.
If you’re hunting for wood and you come across a branch or stump with burl on it. Go ahead and grab it, even if you’re not sure what you are going to do with it.
Burl is hard and full of holes, but eventually you will gain the skill to tackle carving a piece of burl wood. Burl , because of its uniqueness can be used to create some incredible carvings.

Have Fun Practicing

The great thing about carving wood with unique wood grain is it can be found for free. So practicing carving doesn’t cost you a lot. Of coarse you want some quality tools, but those are an investment that will last a long time.
Buying wood to carve can be expensive, and all you are usually buying is the cut offs from a shop. They used to throw that stuff away, now someone figured out that wood carvers will pay big bucks for a little piece of wood.
You only need to collect a few good pieces of wood to get started. In a short time you will have more pieces of wood than you have room for. When you’re out walking you will always have your eye out for wood you can carve.
So learn to study the wood grain as you are carving. Before too long you will know how to predict what the grain in a piece of wood is going to be like before you even put a tool to it.
Have fun and start carving.