While I carve many different types of woods, carving cedar has been one of
the things I have become most known for. I carve a lot of cedar for several
(1) It is a very common wood in the area I live.
(2) I love the contrast between the white (sap) wood and the red (heart).
This contrast makes each piece I carve from it wholly unique.
(3) When carving cedar, the shop quickly fills with the pleasant smell which
red cedar is known for.
Below I give a little pictorial advice and tips for picking out cedar to
carve, cutting it for carving, and finishing it for display. Hopefully
some of you will be inspired to try carving this wonderful wood yourselves.
The trees shown here are what I primarily look for in identifying good
carving potential. Notice that these trees are relatively clear of limbs for
the first 8 to 10 feet from the ground. Most of the faces I carve are
approximately 14 inches long. This means I can average getting about 7 to 10
faces out of every tree. The tops are generally cut off and piled into
brushpiles for later burning.
Here is a stack of logs, some ripped and some not. Hopefully this will give
you some perspective on how I rip these logs to get them ready to carve. I
look over each log before ripping it so that I can identify which side has
the most knots. I discard the knotty side because knots are hard to carve
through and often have a lot of swirling, uneven grain around them.
is the entrance to the glade where I normally cut my cedar. I am really
fortunate to have such a relatively easy access to a place like this. Most
of the trees I cut off of this land are those that have been blown over by
storms and need to come out anyway. So, while I'm getting the carving wood I
need, the owner of this land is also getting some of his storm debris
After I get the trees home I start the process of getting them ready for
carving by cutting the logs into approximately 14 inch lengths.
This picture of the end of the log shows what an ideal log for carving looks
like. Notice that there is quite a large red (heart) area, surrounded by
good, solid, though shallow white (sap) wood. This means I won't have to
carve very far into the log before the contrasting colors start appearing.
And since the sap wood is good and solid it will carve very nicely.
I use a 3/4 inch resawing blade on my 14 inch Delta bandsaw to rip cut the
logs I want to carve. The 3/4 inch blade is nice for this job because it
makes a fairly straight cut and doesn't tend to "walk" with the grain
changes. I can't stress enough that there is an element of danger in using a
bandsaw to do this type of work. Be sure and have a good grip on the log and
all your wits about you while cutting. A bandsaw blade this big will take a
finger off before you know it.
As you can see by this picture, each log has it's own characteristics. Some
have more heart wood than others. Some have a "streaking" effect because of
the irregular shape of the inner heart wood. Each log will present it's own
challenges and rewards. Cedar can be somewhat brittle to carve, so take care
to follow the grain closely and get a feel for what it will and won't take.
It is relatively stable compared to other softwoods; therefore, provided
that your tools are sharp, it holds detail well even when cutting across the
like to finish my cedar carvings with a natural finish. I use the sanding
attachment and drill to smooth up the back of the split log and to lightly
remove the loose bark. I use a small piece of very fine sandpaper to lightly
sand the carved surfaces, not enough to remove the carving marks, just
enough to prepare the wood to take a finish evenly. Once I spray the first
coat of clear gloss lacquer, I let it dry for about an hour or more. I then
lightly rub it with #0000 steel wool to smooth up the grain which has raised
after the first coat. I then spray the carving with about 2 more coats,
allowing about an hour of drying between them. This leaves the carving nice
and smooth, needing only an occasional feather dusting to maintain its
I hope this little feature on cedar has gotten some of you interested in
trying to carve it yourselves. Some areas of the country have more of it
available than others. I wish I could cut enough of it to be able to provide
some for others to carve but I just don't have the space available to store
it, nor the time to cut that much of it. A quick search on the internet will
probably provide many of you with a source for good cedar logs if you don't
have a place nearby to cut your own.
I love carving cedar, it provides me with a challenge each time. Each face I
carve from it seems to have it's own personality and unique look. Every time
I pick up a new log I am anxious to meet the face that it will hold.