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Old 08-30-2011, 02:26 AM
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Default What should basswood's texture be like?

Hello there folks, this is my first post. I'd introduce myself, but you can see my name already, and there's probably not that much more to say! I've been lurking for about a week, found lots of good info, but now I've got a question for you experienced carvers.

Having recently developed an obsession with woodcarving, I was given a Flexcut Carvin' Jack yesterday (birthday, yee-hah!). I tried it out today on a random and years-old still-wrapped block of basswood my dad had lying around, and found myself somewhat surprised by the texture of the wood. It was much more... rigidly spongey than I expected, not that that makes any sense. It's more like what I would picture a block of balsa wood being like, if such things exist. In a nutshell, I felt more like I was peeling off big splinters than anything, while videos I've seen on youtube look more like smoothly carving through cheese. My wife said it looked great (bless her heart) but that she felt like she was going to get splinters holding it. This just doesn't sound like it fits all the praise I've heard of the ultimate carving wood.

Is there such a thing as wood freshness? Am I carving wrong? Or am I just expecting too much from wood?
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Old 08-30-2011, 05:02 AM
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Default Re: What should basswood's texture be like?

You described this as "still wrapped," which makes me think you have basswood purchased at a craft store like Michael's. Many forum members have commented on the disappointing quality of such wood. Also, there is a big difference between southern and northern basswood. Search this topic (or the Similar Topics below) and choose a source such as Heincke's. You might also try wetting the wood with a mixture of water and alcohol, but this sounds like bad basswood.
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Old 08-30-2011, 08:20 AM
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Default Re: What should basswood's texture be like?

Basswood, like any other wood can come in varying degrees of quality. Some of the stuff from hobby shops, like Michael's, is questionable. Not to say all of theirs is inferior because I've spoken with folks who purchased there and got good quality material.

Basswood is also a wood that is highly suceptible to decay if left in a damp environment. A piece wrapped in plastic may have had enough moisture in the wood to begin to deteriorate.

Sounds like you just got a bad piece. Depending on local availability of good quality basswood, you may have to order from a reputable dealer.

OOOPS, I didn't reply to your original question about basswood's texture.

Good quality basswood should have a firm texture, showing very little grain structure, be consistant in color (a clean yellow/white). Surface will dent slightly with firm pressure from your thumbnail. Cuts with a sharp kinfe or gouge should be smooth with little if any tearing. Some lifting of grain may occur when you encounter grain changes but this should be minimal. Any dark spots or streaks indicated spalting or fungal deterioration. Soft or fibrous areas may be the result of such deterioration or just an indication of an inferior piece of wood. There should be no stringyness in good quality basswood.

Here's a link to suppliers around the country.
Woodfinder: Your Source for Lumber, Veneer and Sawmill Services

Many board members here use Heinecke Wood Products in Minnesota. Heinecke Wood Products


Last edited by AlArchie; 08-30-2011 at 08:31 AM.
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Old 08-30-2011, 10:42 AM
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Default Re: What should basswood's texture be like?

Flexcuts come sharp, so that shouldn't be the cause. Your description of big splinters makes me suspect that you may be cutting against the grain, which always has a chance of doing that, particularly if you are taking large aggressive cuts. I have some pieces of southern basswood that is really difficult to cut by hand, except with very sharp and thin blades. Northern basswood is a lot more fun.
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Old 08-30-2011, 10:45 AM
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Default Re: What should basswood's texture be like?

I agree with Al...his description of basswood is right on! I think you got an old dried out deteriorated piece of basswood or a piece of balsa wood mislabeled as basswood. You definitely want to stick with northern basswood from a reputable source. Flexcut makes good tools...that Carvin' Jack should serve you well.

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Old 08-30-2011, 02:17 PM
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Default Re: What should basswood's texture be like?

We had a thread about soft or punky basswood some time ago. Here's the link: Soft Basswood?
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Old 08-30-2011, 05:42 PM
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Default Re: What should basswood's texture be like?

Man, you folks really come through on your answers. Thanks for all the info! So judging by the comments and descriptions, I'm probably not working with the greatest piece of wood. I can find some more easily enough, and may well try that Heinecke place (I can't find any other place that mentions 1"x1"x__" blocks online, and everything I know comes from youtube posters using blocks that size, and I sure don't own a bandsaw).

So now that my hope in wood is restored, should I worry about carving this sketchier wood? I wouldn't worry normally, but the pamphlet that came with my knife said it was designed for wood, and other materials would wear it out or ruin it. I mean, if people can carve oak and golf balls with these knives, I wouldn't think they're that picky, but a beginner can never be too careful.
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Old 08-30-2011, 06:40 PM
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Default Re: What should basswood's texture be like?

As Mike P. said, you might try cutting the other way. That is, if cutting "up" in the direction of the grain causes splinters, turn the blade around and carve "down" in the direction of the grain. Good basswood is pretty forgiving about carving in the wrong direction, but the lower quality basswood will tend to tear out.

I wouldn't worry about damaging your knife on that wood, unless you find that you need to use execssive force. Strop your blade often (if you don't have a strop, I would recommend you not carve until you get one).

As far as oak and other harder woods go, be careful. The Flexcut can certainly cut it, but you need to take very thin cuts, and if you apply execessive pressure you'll likely fold over the edge of your blade. The blade has probably been sharpened with a bevel angle appropriate for basswood and similar softer woods (butternut, some cedars). It will not hold up well to aggressively carving harder woods.
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Old 08-30-2011, 06:52 PM
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Default Re: What should basswood's texture be like?

I think they are warning you against carving soapstone or other non-wooden (hard materials). Some people carve soapstone with knives and gouges, I think.
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Old 08-31-2011, 12:29 AM
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Default Re: What should basswood's texture be like?

Try Itasca Wood Products All the wood I have purchased from them has been good and very reasonable. Good Northern Wisconsin basswood. Although they don't stock 1" x 1" blocks they will cut to order if you call them.
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