How to soften wood for carving?
There are many different ways to soften wood before carving, all of which include exposure or contact with water, alcohol, or both. The best way to apply any on your wood is by spraying it from close proximity.
1. Boiling hot water
The idea behind this method is to make artificially the wood wet, and not just on the outside but also on the inside. The instructions are easily explained but not so easily executed.
First, you must find a pot large enough to fit in your wood piece. This is not too hard if you are working with a small branch but for bigger projects, you may find this part a problem.
After you sorted out how to start cooking, you must fill the tank with water as much as it is possible, heat up the water preferably to boiling temperature, and leave the wood inside to soak in the water.
As the wood heats up, it opens up letting the fibers of the wood absorb the water. Keep in mind, larger wood pieces will need more time to absorb all the water.
It is important you know that boiling wood is very likely to trigger color change in your wood!
If you are working with very expensive wood, boiling it is not a very good idea as the color of the wood may significantly change. Usually, the color difference after boiling wood is paler than the expected result.
2. Alcohol-water solution
The instructions for this method are simple. Mix 70% alcohol with water in a spraying bottle. If you don’t have 70% alcohol, 60% or 91% also works just fine, however, from experience, most carvers prefer the 70% as it makes the wood wet for the longest time.
The proportions of alcohol and water should be about even. The way this solution works is with water making the wood less dry and the alcohol preventing the water from leaving the wood and therefore drying it out again. You will also notice that it is easier to cut through the wood when the blade gets in touch with the alcohol.
After you mixed the two ingredients it is important to apply it in the right way. Spraying the wood from a close distance works best, however, it is important that you do not spray too much as it will cause the wood to crack and require a lot of repairs.
3. Denatured alcohol
Denatured alcohol is also called methylated spirits, it is usually 94% alcohol which is stronger than we recommend in our water-alcohol solution.
The way this works is fairly simple, spray or soak the wood in denatured alcohol before carving. Then using a sharp blade notice how much easier it is to cut through wood.
Different types of wood react differently to such large quantities of denatured alcohol. Therefore be sure to experiment around a little before applying this on your main workpiece.
4. Keeping the wood “green” in the first place
Keeping greenwood in a plastic bag is not such a good idea. While it may maintain the wood in good condition for a short period of time, after some time the wood will start covering in fungi
A good way to do that is by throwing the green unfinished workpiece in the freezer. Although this will not solve the issue with all the wood being fresh, you will not have the pressure of finishing the project you are working on before you need to look for a way to soften the wood again.
5. Soaking wood in water
While it will not solve the situation completely, it will certainly help to carve dry wood.
Carving the wood after soaking it in water is not quite the same as carving it green, but it is also much easier to carve than if it was rock solid and dry.
For this method, all you have to do is leave the wood in water for 2 days and wait for it to be a little softer. Keep in mind that the wood absorbs water best from the ends of the grains, therefore make sure both edges of the wood are underwater.
This will only work for projects that you can complete fairly quickly as soaked wood will dry extremely quickly making it even harder than it was before within a few days.
In case you were wondering the effect it will have on your tools, the answer to that is that it is worse than carving soft dry wood but it is also not too bad. Just try to keep good care of the tools and apply some oil after you carve.