An Explanation from an Old Wood Carver

Japanese wood carver

My favorite wood for carving? Pear.

As far as I’m concerned, it is the best.

Like all the other fruit wood it is hard,

but more than that, it wants to grip the gouge

which helps me carve the lines I want to carve.

Now maple is about as hard as pear.

And it too can be carved against the grain

and won’t tear out like many other woods.

I’ve only carved a couple blocks with it, but

the wood is slippery. It’s harder to

control the gouge and keep it in the line.

Mahogany is a hard wood, but too soft

to let me get the detail that I want

my prints to have. And walnut’s beautiful,

but unlike pear it has an open grain

and if I carved a walnut block those holes

would show up ruining my finished prints.

So pear, like partridge in a pear tree pear,

is what I use for making wood bock prints.


One of the problems with not labeling everything is that I soon forget what it is I have.  This sunflower was engraved on wood I bought in 2009.  I carefully labeled when I purchased the wood, but I did not identify what wood I had bought.  I think it is either pear or castello boxwood, but whatever it is it carves beautifully!  The print is approximately 3″ x 6″.



Dahlia in Black and White

Dahlia in Black and White

Dahlia in Black and White




















2 3/4″ x 4 3/4″ print pulled from a castello boxwood block.

It’s a good thing I like castello boxwood since I just bought a 3″ x 8″ x 5′ plank that I plan on cutting up into one inch slices in four or five years after it has had a chance to sweat out its extra moisture and become stable enough to use without cracking.  This also means I plan on being around and still carving in four or five or six or ten years.

Apple blossom time

This is a wood engraving pulled from a block carved from castello boxwood.  The block is one that I cut from a plank I have had aging for the last four years.  And I now I just purchased a new 5′ x 2.5″ x 8″ plank.  As a result, when my old boxwood is used up in four or five or six years, this one will be sufficiently dry and ready to cut into one inch slabs for engraving.

This print is 2 7/8″ square.  As you can see, I still have some clean-up to do on the white areas.

Apple blossom time-web












Hisbiscus leaves on silver maple

In my ongoing quest to carve a wide range of woods, I purchased some 1/8″ silver maple.  Although the carving went well, and I will use it again, it will not replace either pear or black cherry as a preferred carving wood.  Silver maple seemed to have about the same hardness as black cherry, and it does hold a line well, but it didn’t seem to be any easier to carve than the black cherry I have been using.  My perception is that the wood is brittler, but as of now I have only used silver maple to carve this one piece.  There is a wide range of colors to the wood, and I wonder if there is an equal variation in how hard the wood is and what the carving characteristics are.  Does anyone know if the color reflects the hardness and carving characteristics?

Hibiscus leaves from a silver maple block