To date I’ve carved stuff from alder, big leaf maple, water maple, birch, lilac, rhododendron, cedar, cherry, plum, fir, basswood and Japanese cypress. Carvers seem to be split between the benefits of dry vs wet wood. Having carved both, I don’t see too much of a difference.
I’ve had really good luck with kiln dried two by fours of both fir and cedar. I made this cedar spoon from a two by four that was salvaged from a twenty year old deck.
Many carvers, particularly those who use power tools to carve, like basswood and cottonwood bark. I’ve tried basswood and don’t like it. It is a bland wood with no discernible grain and needs to be painted to look interesting.
It’s hard to name a favorite. Maple is nice and looks great when it’s done and all smoothed out. It is extremely hard and requires patience.
Perhaps the most interesting wood I’ve carved is Japanese cypress which was gifted to me. These particular pieces have a history as they came from the Kintaikyo Bridge in Japan.
Japanese cypress is a light colored wood with extremely straight grain and has a pleasant and very discernible odor. It’s very easy to split into desired shapes because the grain is so perfectly straight. It is the wood of choice for carvers of the traditional Noh masks.
The main reason given for carving green wood is that it is easier. I haven’t noticed that it is that much easier. Ultimately, you have to work with what you have, wet or dry. Green wood offers more options with elbows and joints that allow you to use the natural curve of the grain to create strength. Fruitwood is supposed to be especially nice and I’m on the lookout for any old apple or pear trees that are going to be cut down.