Material selection for miniature carving

janos

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For these small carvings (up to 100 mm) the generic requirements are:
- it has to be hard wood
- should have closed grain
- should not split or splinter
- should be able to be worked with knife blades as well as rotary tools
- should accommodate different finishes

There are quite a few types which comply with these requirements: European Boxwood, American or Honduras Boxwood (also called as Costelo or Castello), Pearwood, Dogwood, Yew.

The best is European Boxwood without doubt. Close grained, homogenous, with straw yellow colour. Can be milled, turned, sanded, scraped and accepts lacquer. Can also be painted, but it looks best in its natural colour. Availability is limited and it is in the the most expensive category of timbers used in ship modelling. It can have the feared grey rot (as a consequence of too quick drying) and tends to be knotty. As it is just a (very slow growing) bush, the biggest size is 45-55mm square.
A sub-category of the European Boxwood is the Turkish one. Growing quicker in the warmer climate of Turkey, and as a consequence it can have brown stripes in it, which are also softer. Less expensive as the European and can be acquired in somewhat bigger pieces.
Both can be worked with blades as well as with rotary tools up to mirror finish.

Altough generally called European Boxwood, there is a wide variety of timbers

Second best is the American Boxwood. Available in bigger sizes and in a wide range of slightly brownish colours. Softer than the European, so it does not hold such fine edges, but still good for any type of maritime carving, be it relief or in-the-round one. It can not be worked up to a mirror finish, but close to it. Bigger pieces can be obtained and colour and features are homogenous.

Pearwood is the third best material for carving (and is also a very universally useable material for every facets of ship modeling). Softer than Boxwood, and tends to split. Available in bigger sizes with medium prices.

Dogwood (sometimes called American Boxwood) and Yew are still good for carving, although their appearance is not as universal, as the above ones, because the grain structure is visible. They provide a nice colour contrast though.

Altough these are the best ones, there are also other woods, which can be used for carving. The most important requirements are hardness, homogeneity and workability. And the features which make a timber unacceptable for miniature carvings are softness (like basswood or huon pine), open grain (like walnut, bloodwood) high oil content (like bloodwood).

Janos
 
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Hi Janos

This is very good article. Very useful. I make some carving and I use pearwood. Is true what You say, pearwood is ok, but some time can split.

In some cases, when it split, I managed to gluit back :D !!

Also, I see Your work and I remained speechless. Fantastic carvings.

regards
Barba
 

Brian077

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Hi Janos,
I have some wild Olive logs here in my workshop I collected a few years ago. Its a rock hard wood and I have seen it carved.

It might be suitable for ship modelling, but the colours variable.
 

janos

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Thanks for the feedback, Guys.
I am in the process of preparing things for a new note regarding carvings and will come back soon with it.
Janos
 
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