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I'm looking for some guidance, I am making a model/toy car for my school project and I am not sure what woods are suitable to use.

  • Hi, welcome to SE. Where are you based? It's hard to give specific recommendations without knowing your location, e.g. America, the UK and Australia all have different woods commonly available. But I suppose just as important is will you be buying the wood independently or will the school be providing it? If the second is the case then the list of available woods will dictate what you can use (and practically any of them will be fine, you'd pick based on other criteria). – Graphus Aug 23 at 6:55
  • P.S. It would also be helpful to know the style of car you're making, so a pic of the plan or even just a quick pencil sketch would be good. – Graphus Aug 23 at 6:57
  • You also don't say what wood working techniques you will be using, and at what scale. Is this a 1/4 carving (one of the ways car bodies used to be designed) or is it much smaller scale, possibly for CO2 or gravity racing? Unless you can give us a bit more info, this one will have to be closed as too broad. – jdv Aug 26 at 13:44
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Pine (or some other softwood) would be a good choice. It will be relatively easy to cut and shape with simple hand tools and will take paint well.

Incidentally, there is a "pinewood derby" that takes place periodically in conjunction with the Boy Scouts that is essentially a race for model cars which are made from roughly identical blocks of pine that each participant "machines" into a unique race car.

Official Pinewood Derby Car Kit

There are also many other species of wood that you might consider if the natural appearance of the wood is important to your finished model too.

It depends on the tools you have to work with, what you intend to do with the finished car, etc. Balsa wood is very soft, very light, and easy to carve. On the other hand, oak is very hard, pretty heavy, and more difficult to work with.

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You can use pretty much anything you can get your hands on, short of balsa1. Without knowing more details of the type of model/toy you're building as well as your location it's hard to give specific advice on wood selection.

But as a general piece of advice if you're brand new to woodworking I would suggest you avoid using softwoods, including standard 2x material or SPF (short for spruce, pine, fir). Even though this is a very common choice for beginners and is suitable for this sort of thing I would recommend you use a hardwood.

Hardwoods are not all hard woods (balsa is technically a hardwood!) so this doesn't mean you're in for some difficult work. Quite the opposite in fact, you'll almost certainly have a better experience shaping and smoothing the wood when sanding, and achieve a better result, if you go with a suitable hardwood

Two very good beginner woods are poplar and basswood (AKA American lime or American linden). These are soft enough to be easily workable and have a more uniform texture than softwoods, the majority of which feature pronounced soft/hard variation between the light and dark bands in the grain which can make them tricky to work with and finish to a consistent sheen.

Regardless of what you do end up choosing, try to select a piece or pieces of wood with straight grain and no knots2. In practice this may mean taking a long board which does have a knot or two and just cutting those sections out, discarding them and using the remainder.


1 The world's softest wood.

2 Knots themselves are hard to very hard, and the wood around them has swooping, irregular grain. Both very difficult for new woodworkers to deal with successfully and when they can be avoided they should be.

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