I'm looking at getting into wood engraving for print, something like this:

enter image description here

EDIT - I've just found out that the person that created this bird recommends birch plywood for beginners. Is this a good starting wood?

And I wanted to buy some engraving tools. I know you can get electric engravers but I prefer the look of the manual tools, they have a nicer charm to them.

Is there a preferred wood type when it comes to engraving? And would there be softer wood types used for manual tools as it will be harder to engrave over the electric tools?

As I'm only getting into engraving for fun I would prefer cheaper wood types if possible.

  • 2
    I remember as a kid I helped a guy with his carving booth at a craft fair. He actually used wood bark to carve. I wish I knew what type of tree it came off of, but the bark was rather thick and solid. It was great to carve into because it was very soft and easy to gouge. Apr 15, 2015 at 13:30
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    @Paulster2 Interesting! I guess you could do it with a lot of woods; just depends on your skill level :)
    – SaturnsEye
    Apr 15, 2015 at 14:21

6 Answers 6


I've had a bit of a search and a few different places seem to suggest that Boxwood is the best wood for engraving, however I'm sure that there are a number of viable choices, and certainly for beginners who aren't trying to achieve very fine detail then any wood which will hold a good edge (so most moderately dense hardwoods) should be fine.

Birch plywood has a huge advantage for a beginner in that it is very cheap! If it's been recommended to you, I'd suggest giving it a try and seeing how you get on.

It's worth noting that engraving seems to be done on the end-grain of the timber, presumably as this is where the timber will easily hold fine detail.


Here in the US, Basswood seems to be preferred. That is what they use at in the classes at the local Woodcraft. It is relatively soft and light, but tight grained enough to hold detail well.

  • Never even heard of Basswood before! (I'm from the UK) but definitely something I will look into, thanks.
    – SaturnsEye
    Apr 15, 2015 at 14:22
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    Species in the Tilia genus are usually referred to as either Lime or Linden in Europe from the wood-database
    – Matt
    Apr 15, 2015 at 18:59

On the other end of the spectrum, you can try oak too. It's hardness on one hand allows good details, but it's coarse grain lends carvings a texture that you don't get using other woods. It's certainly not all-purpose, but maybe something to keep in mind. Likewise, a species like mahogany would be a medium - coarseness grain.

Other good fine grained species are aspens/poples... Similar to basswood if you can't find that.


How to Identify Prints (Bamber Gascoigne} is a book that describes methods of making prints; in particular types of woodcuts, wood engravings; to determine what wood is right for the type of work you wish create it would help to know the possibilities. The image you show in your question appears to me to be better identified as a wood cut for which the birch plywood might serve, not as well for a wood engraving where an end grain is the norm, though early wood engravers often used edge grain for their work. Wood engravers tools are very specialized and are also described in the book.


Just to toss out the alternative: linoleum blocks are cheap and easy to cut. You don't get the entertainment/practice of working with and against wood grain, but on the other hand they're (close to) type-height and thus easy to lock up in a letterpress. I did this one many years ago with nothing more than a pocketknife. Apologies for the slightly blurry photo; the edges are actually quite sharp and captured more detail than I expected. Actual size of the block is about 3x4 inches. I'm showing it both on white, and textured grey, paper; the ink is Delft Blue.

Unicorn head outline, blue ink background surrounding white or grey paper.


In the Europe there is an old tradition for wooden cookie and sugar-ware moulds. It dates from the 13th century. Details can become very fine. Materials applied include:


fruit tree (like pear or apple)


References (Dutch!):
http://www.goeievraag.nl/eten-drinken/koken-recepten/vraag/373532/houtsoort-gebruikt-speculaasplank http://www.scriptiebank.be/sites/default/files/8d00282b0fe6e797c482ab19555b90fd.pdf

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