Wood suggestions - ideal for miniature work

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Forum topic by tyskkvinna posted 06-01-2010 02:06 AM 2248 views 0 times favorited 15 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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1310 posts in 3225 days

06-01-2010 02:06 AM

Topic tags/keywords: question

I am looking for some suggestions from you all, as to which wood(s) I should keep an eye out for, for use in making my miniatures.

Working tiny has some challenges – most importantly, it has to look “right”. Oak and Zebrawood, for example, look woefully out of place. So do Bubinga and Cedar.

Most store-bought miniature things, if they use solid wood, are made from Balsa, Basswood, Pine, and Fir.

Walnut, Maple, Cherry and Mahogany can be pretty decent too.

It needs to be easy enough to cut with tiny tools, but not so brittle that I need to worry (more) about it inadvertently snapping.

I would love to hear of woods that sound like they would be ideal for this.. especially if they could hold up to traditional construction methods. (I prefer dowel, but I’d really like to try my hand at 1:12 dovetails) I don’t care if it is exotic, expensive, etc., because the amounts of it I need are ridiculously tiny. Honestly, a typical pen blank contains enough to do a bookshelf.. two pen blanks and I’d have a bed. ... You get the idea. Because of that, I’d love to get into the more unusual choices.. unlikely I’ll ever have the opportunity to have an Ebony bedframe for myself in this lifetime, but a tiny one could be neat.

Just not sure what to look for. Most of the wood I otherwise look for has big, dramatic grains.. I imagine some of you box-markers have had experience with working pretty small?

-- Lis - Michigan - -

15 replies so far

View thatwoodworkingguy's profile


375 posts in 3169 days

#1 posted 06-01-2010 02:07 AM

Beech maybe?

-- ~Eagle America~ ~Woodcraft~

View rance's profile


4267 posts in 3399 days

#2 posted 06-01-2010 02:18 AM

Poplar sould be fairly easy to work with on a smaller scale.

-- Backer boards, stop blocks, build oversized, and never buy a hand plane--

View John Ormsby's profile

John Ormsby

1288 posts in 3976 days

#3 posted 06-01-2010 02:21 AM

Boxwood is great for miniatures. It has very fine grain.

-- Oldworld, Fair Oaks, Ca

View a1Jim's profile


117417 posts in 3816 days

#4 posted 06-01-2010 02:21 AM

The first three on your list will work fine.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View hairy's profile


2783 posts in 3771 days

#5 posted 06-01-2010 02:37 AM


-- My reality check bounced...

View MisterCat's profile


22 posts in 3162 days

#6 posted 06-01-2010 02:57 AM

I would suggest ironwood, as it has a really fine, straight grain. It might be tough on some of your tools, but anything with a steel or carbide edge will stand up fine. If you use very fine fret saws, they will dull a little more quickly as the their blades aren’t typically tempered. The upside is that you can put really fine details on things, much finer than any other wood I know. What I don’t know is where to get it in decent blanks.

Ebony is another one that carves well, but again may challenge your tools. It’s dreadfully expensive, but for miniatures, it’s probably not too bad.

Lime would be my recommendation for a lighter, easier to carve wood. I’ve not seen this one carried by any supplier, though.

View OttoH's profile


891 posts in 3249 days

#7 posted 06-01-2010 03:06 AM

Here is some suggestions I pulled off of one of the miniature woodworking sites, I don’t remember which one though.

Basswood An excellent all-around wood, readily available in hobby shops. White and very fine-grained. Easy to work with and bends freely, but too soft to turn

Boxwood is a hard wood, yellowish in colour. It is close grained with a plain grained pattern and is very strong.
Even though it is very hard, it is a nice wood to work and carve. It is ideal for all small parts, especially for carvings, blocks, deadeyes, as well as visible frames, planking and similar parts. It does however tend to splinter when nailed so one should always consider drilling pilot holes.
It is one of the timbers that are ideal for model ship building.

British Columbia Douglas Fir is a soft wood with an extremely fine and straigt grain pattern. Retains its shape and size without shrinking, swelling, cupping, warping, bowing or twisting.

Pear is one of the ideal woods to work with in model ship building and is used for virtually everything on the ship from visible frames, to planking, deck strakes, deck funiture and fittings. It is excellent to carve as it hardly splinters at all. It is a medium hard, light to medium brown in colour with short fibres and a plain grain pattern.

-- I am responsible for how I respond to everything in my life - - Deadwood SD

View Stevinmarin's profile


838 posts in 3314 days

#8 posted 06-01-2010 03:07 AM

Dude, what is wrong with you?! Making a full-sized bed, then talking about miniatures?? Hahaha!

Well, it sounds like your miniature will be even teenier than my recent chair escapade. What exactly do you plan on making?

I think the reason most miniatures are made out of the woods you mentioned is that they don’t have a dramatic grain. If you use something with a big grain, it will look like an enormous monstrosity in scale. The biggest hurdle is one of precision. Even the slightest errors are magnified in scale.

My suggestion would be maple, because it’s hard and you can’t really see its grain. But then again, the problem with it is that, well, it’s hard and you can’t really see its grain. Oh what do I know…you just go ahead and drive yourself crazy making miniature stuff.

Hey, do like you did with the bed and post your progress!

-- Entertainment for mere mortal woodworkers.

View miserybob's profile


88 posts in 3283 days

#9 posted 06-01-2010 03:53 AM

You might just try getting a mixed bag of pen blanks and experiment. Try “mixed pen blanks” on ebay – there’s plenty there for not too much money.

View damon's profile


31 posts in 3856 days

#10 posted 06-01-2010 04:06 AM

I’ve got some ohia (purdy dang hard stuff) holds detail better than anything I’ve worked so far, but you’ll need a razor sharp edge on your tools, and koa if your interested in trading – I could even get you some iron wood. Grows all over out here. I’m betting your adventures in miniature construction might turn into a self-lesson on sharpening. :-)

-- Damon, Right Angle Construction

View jasony's profile


47 posts in 3317 days

#11 posted 06-01-2010 05:23 AM

I picked up a book on model ship building a few years ago and they have lists of great wood to use for miniatures. Google around for the books or check Amazon (sorry, it’s not handy).

Good luck!

View Gary's profile


9386 posts in 3672 days

#12 posted 06-01-2010 06:45 AM

Contact Jordan and see what he recommends.

-- Gary, DeKalb Texas only 4 miles from the mill

View Jimthecarver's profile


1124 posts in 4024 days

#13 posted 06-01-2010 02:54 PM

When I do small carvings I use orange wood or lemon, maybe even olive but olive can be toxic. They have very tight grain and hold detail well. Also can be turned very small and have incredible strength.

-- Can't never could do anything, to try is to advance.

View tyskkvinna's profile


1310 posts in 3225 days

#14 posted 06-02-2010 12:16 AM

Thank you all! Some fabulous suggestions here. Now I know what to go look for.. :D

-- Lis - Michigan - -

View Planeman's profile


97 posts in 3816 days

#15 posted 06-03-2010 01:14 AM

I am going to strongly suggest you take a hard look at Aspen.

Aspen can be purchased at Lowe’s in the wood dept. and it is relatively cheap . It is a light cream color and has virtually no grain or color variation. It is one if the softer hardwoods. It cuts very cleanly with a knife and can hold very fine detail. I have been a model builder for over 50 years and in my opinion Aspen ranks right up there with basswood, pearwood, and even boxwood at about 1/4th the cost. Take a trip to Lowe’s and give it a try.

Oh, and it comes not only in 3/4” stock but also 1/4”, 3/8” and 1/2” thicknesses.


-- Always remember half of the people in this country are below average.

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