Is Douglas Fir Wood Really A Good Choice For Wood Carving?

Woodcarving is a lot of fun. And it is a great way to let your artistic side shine.

But one of the last things you want — after having spent hours (if not days) crafting a piece, is to see your work crack apart through no fault of your own.

Which is why you should ideally carve with wood that won’t check and split as you work with it. So, what does this mean for carving with a wood such as Douglas Fir?

Well, in this post you’ll learn why it’s your woodcarving style that largely dictates which wood is best for carving. You will also learn exactly how hard Douglas Fir is (and why it matters for whittling).

And keep reading to find out whether Douglas Fir is the right wood choice for your next carved craft.

is douglas fir good for carving

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What Is The Best Wood For Woodcarving?

The answer to this depends on your carving style.

Some carving styles use hand tools and require a light touch. So, these carving techniques require quite low density soft pliable woods.

On the other hand, there are some carving styles that need a heavier hand — and in some cases even require power tools. So tougher wood types are more suited for these styles.

OK…So What Types Of Wood Are Best For Different Carving Techniques?

Well, when it comes to light touch carving that uses hand tools, you should use pliable woods.

So for whittling, Basswood and White Pine are good choices, because these two timbers don’t require a lot of force to cut. And, these timber types also hold designs rather well too.

For styles that require a bit more force, such as Chip Carving, lumber such as Black Walnut and Cherry, are ideal.

But, when it comes to intense carving styles — of the kind that require power tools — you need fairly tough timber. So, for styles like wood turning and chainsaw carving, you need to use a tough timber such as European Oak (also known as White Oak).

What About Douglas Fir Wood? What Type Of Carving Style Is Douglas Fir Wood Suited For?

One of the first things you need to know about a woods suitability for carving, is its toughness.

Very soft woods are great for delicate precise cut carving. While heavy hard timbers are not.

And, one of the ways that we measure the hardness of a particular wood, is by checking its Janka rating.

The Janka rating measures how much force it takes to make a dent in a piece of wood. The higher the Janka rating, the more force it takes. And the more force it takes, then the harder the timber.

Now, when it comes to wood whittling, timber such as Basswood are clearly fantastic options for this technique. That’s because Basswood has a Janka rating of 410 lbf.

That means it will take 410 pounds of force to make a dent in this low density lumber.

Now, when we compare Basswood against Douglas Fir, Douglas Fir is clearly harder than Basswood. That’s because Douglas Fir woods Janka rating is 660 lbf. And yet its relative low density as a softwood still makes it malleable enough to take on whittling cuts.

So, Is It Easy To Carve Douglas Fir Wood?

When it comes to whittling, green Douglas Fir wood is fairly easy to cut into. Green wood refers to any wood that has been freshly cut from a tree.

At this stage, green wood has a lot of moisture in it (referred to as woods ‘moisture content’). And that high moisture content makes it very easy to carve into this timber.

What’s more, Douglas Fir is one of the most stable timbers on the market. Stable wood types are less likely to warp and check due to moisture and humidity. So, Douglas Fir doesn’t tend to form checks after this wood has seasoned and dried out.

Related Post: How To Season Wood (7 Tips)

What Is A ‘Stable’ Wood?

Well, beyond woods toughness, another thing we need to check for is a wood types stability. You see, the more stable a wood is, then the less likely it is to warp or form wood checks.


When wood warps it is a result of moisture and heat. As wood absorbs moisture, wood expands. And as it dries out, wood shrinks back down.

This shifting movement is the cause of wood warping, twisting, cracking and splitting.

Now, there are some types of wood, (such as Douglas Fir), that are stable enough to not shift around like this. These stable ‘warp-resistant’ wood types are unaffected by changes in humidity or a splash of water.

Related Post: Don’t Put Teak Oil On Douglas Fir (Use This Instead)

So That Means Douglas Fir Wood Is Great For Whittling…Right?

Well, here’s the thing; Douglas Fir wood has one major flaw when it comes to working with this softwood. And that is the fact that it tends to tear and split as you work with it.

You see, despite often being grouped in with other Whitewoods (i.e. woods that are widely used for construction framing) Douglas Fir is fairly brittle.

Related Post: Is Whitewood Really Any Good For Framing?

What Does This Mean For My Dream Of Carving With Douglas Fir?

Well, any power tool styles — such as Wood turning — will tear this wood apart all too easily. And it is much too soft for chip carving.

And while Douglas Fir is a stronger more stable wood than White Pine, it can be difficult to carve. And with its fragile splintering characteristic, you will need a very, very light touch when you cut into it.

In short, Douglas Fir is not a good choice wood for a beginner whittling enthusiast. And there are much better (and arguably more affordable) whittling wood options in the form of Basswood.

Related Post: How To Cut Basswood Strips Down To Size

To Wrap Up, Here Are The 3 Key Takeaways From This Post…

  • 1). Douglas Fir — that is still fairly green — is soft enough to whittle.
  • 2). However, this wood type has a reputation for splitting and tearing as you work with it.
  • 3). Better choice woods for whittling are Basswood or White Pine.