Softening wood is a step in the wood carving process. It’s done by soaking the wood in water for an extended period of time, usually days at a time, to get the fibers to loosen up and become pliable. How do you know if your wood has been softened enough? When it bends without any cracking or snapping noises, then it’s ready for carving!
Attempting to carve the wood before it’s softened could result in a lot of broken tools and frustrating mistakes. In this article, we will discuss how to soften wood for carving.
How To Soften Wood: Some Easy Method
A lot of people think that wood is soft, but it’s actually not! Wood can be super hard and difficult to carve if you don’t know how to soften it.
There are several methods of softening wood. This article will discuss the 5 most popular ways to soften wood for carving. If you choose to use one of the methods described below, make sure you’re in a well-ventilated area. Wood must be soaked for days to soften enough, so it can release harmful chemicals into the air if you do this indoors.
1st Method: Softening Wood in Water
This is the most popular method of softening wood because not many people know about the other ways. Soaking wood in water is the traditional way to soften it, because it softens very quickly.
You can use a bucket, a tub, or even your bathtub to soak your wood in. Fill the receptacle with water, and place the wood bar in it. The wood should remain submerged underwater for at least 24 hours. Make sure you test the wood before removing it from the water (see below).
2nd Method: Soaking Wood in Chemicals
A lot of people soak their wood in plain water, but soaking it in certain chemicals can speed up the process and make your cutting tools last longer. Softening wood with chemicals is a little more dangerous than just using plain water, but it’s also a lot more effective.
This method involves adding about 2 tablespoons of dish soap and 4 teaspoons of salt to 1 liter (about 1 quart) of water and placing the wood in this solution overnight. Make sure you test the wood before removing it from the water (see below).
3rd Method: Softening Wood With Denatured Alcohol
This method is very effective for softening wood, but it’s also dangerous because it releases toxic fumes. Softening wood with denatured alcohol must be done outside and away from any flammable objects or materials. Denatured alcohol is ethanol that has been purposely mixed with other chemicals to make it poisonous and unfit for consumption.
Carefully place your soaked bar of wood into a plastic bucket and pour half a liter (about 2 cups) of denatured alcohol on top of the bar. Let this soak overnight, remove the bar, let it air dry, and test again before removing excess moisture (see below).
4th Method: Softening Wood With Boiling Hot Water
This method is very effective for softening wood, but it’s also dangerous because boiling water can cause burns. Softening wood with boiling hot water must be done outside and away from any flammable objects or materials.
Fill a bucket halfway up with boiling hot water, place the soaked bar of wood in the bucket, and let it soak until the water cools down to room temperature. Remove the bar of wood, air dry it overnight, and test again before removing excess moisture (see below).
5th Method: Softening Wood With a Hair Dryer
This method is very effective for softening wood, but it’s also dangerous because it releases toxic fumes and can cause burns. Softening wood with a hairdryer must be done outside and away from any flammable objects or materials.
Carefully hold the tip of your soaked bar of wood over a heat source (such as a campfire) and carefully use a hairdryer to blow hot air onto it until it softens. Remove your bar from the heat, let it air dry overnight, test again before removing excess moisture (see below), and carve!
6th method: Softening wood with a heat gun
When you use high-temperature heating, the bar should be heated over 100 degrees Celsius. Softened wood can be easily split or chopped into small pieces, like butter. Softening of the bars made of hardwoods such as eucalyptus and oak is usually not required for wax infiltration but these woods will turn soft after infiltration.
Softening can be achieved with a commercial heat gun or by using a soldering iron. The working area should be covered with aluminum foil to protect it from sparks and also to protect the operator’s face from fumes.
7th Method: Softening wood with a hot plate
To soften the bars, place them on a flat piece of metal or a thin steel plate and heat from below. If the plate is thin and soft, you can use a piece of glass. The softened bars should be ready for wax infiltration in about 30 minutes. Softened bars should be dried slowly in a low-temperature oven or with a hairdryer set on low.
Softening can be achieved with a hot plate, a flat piece of metal, or a thin steel plate. Softening can also be achieved with a soldering iron. It only melts the surface, so you need to repeat the operation a few times until the wood is softened. Softened bars should be dried slowly at a low temperature.
How to Test To Tell If Your Wood Has Softened Enough
There are several ways to tell if your wood has softened enough for carving. One way is to run your fingernail along with the wood-if your fingernails catch on the surface, then it’s not soft enough. If there are no snags with your fingernails, try snapping the bar of wood in half by pressing down hard on both ends and pulling quickly apart-if it snaps easily, it’s softened enough.
If you’re in doubt about whether your wood has softened enough, err on the safe side and soak it for another 12-24 hours before removing excess moisture (see below).
How to Remove Excess Moisture
You should always remove excess moisture from your softened bar of wood before moving on to the carving steps. This step is very important because if you don’t, then your tool handle might just fall off during use. The easiest way to remove excess moisture is simply to leave it out at room temperature overnight and allow any residual water or chemicals to evaporate naturally.
But what if you need your wood to dry faster? If so, here are a few other ways to dry it:
- Place the bar of wood onto something with good air circulation and turn it over frequently, such as an airing rack or drying rack.
- Use a hairdryer on low heat to blow hot air onto the wood until it dries-but be careful not to melt your handle!
- Place an electric fan within one foot of the bar and aim the airflow directly at it, making sure that no parts of the bar are touching each other.
- Use fire to speed up the process by placing the bar of wood onto something with good air circulation and letting it dry over a heat source, such as a campfire.
- Place the bar of wood inside your car in direct sunlight with all windows rolled up-this will work well when you need to remove excess moisture quickly before heading home from a carving event.
- If all of the above options are unavailable to you, then place your bar on something with good air circulation outside and let it sit there until the moisture has evaporated. Be sure not to leave it out overnight or for prolonged periods of time because wood left in direct sunlight might dry so quickly that it cracks.
What can you put in wood to soften water?
You can use various chemicals to soften the water, such as caustic soda, magnesium hydroxide or sodium bicarbonate.
What is the effect of heating wood?
Heating will expand the wood and cause it to crack if it’s already dried out. However, heating softens the cells in the wood, making it easier to carve.
What tools do I need to soften wood?
You can use a hand plane or a hand saw to cut the wood into bars before you soften it. You also need a flexible steel ruler and something pointy, such as an awl, for poking holes in order to test whether your wood is soft enough.
How do you soften wood for turning?
You can use a hot plate, a soldering iron or a car cigarette lighter to heat the wood. If you don’t have any of those options available, then place your bar of wood next to an electric fan in order to speed up the process.
Woodcarving is an art that has been around for centuries and it still is a popular hobby today. One of the main things to consider when you are carving wood into something beautiful, like a sculpture or bowl, is how to soften the wood so that your tools have less resistance while working on it.
I hope, in this article, you are able to learn how to soften wood for woodcarving. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below!
I’m Darrell Webster. I started this blog to help anyone who is interested in fixing things to learn their way around the different tools and to know how to perform different DIY tasks.