I often get asked about what tools to buy and what wood to carve from people starting out. Other people ask why I'm obsessed with penises? Short answer: Satan.
update 1, April 2019: I’ve been carving for only 4.5 years, I’m practically a beginner carver myself.
update 2, April 2019: The comment about penises may sound odd, but I had been carving a lot of penis spoons at the time.
I can only recommend the route I happened to take. First thing I'll say about tools is buy quality ones. I started with a single knife. If you start with a cheap crap one, you're going to get discouraged. Just avoid anything cheaper than flexcut, I'd say that's a good starting point. There are a lot of straight knives out there. I've only used two, Flexcut and Mora. I like them both but I've tried no other. There are many brands that are as good or better. With just a few different grips and cutting techniques you can achieve great things with just a knife. You have to learn how to sharpen this knife. I'm not going to go in depth about sharpening, except that it's very important. There are tons and tons of blogs and videos out there for that. I'll say this though the first thing you need is a strop. Look it up.
I started with the flexcut, it seemed to be popular for beginners and good quality. Also, I think because it's so thin, you're able to keep it sharp by just stropping it for a long time. The flexcut blade is fairly small too, so it's not that intimidating. Eventually when I got into spoon carving I bought a Mora. For the same reason; Mora seems to be a popular entry level green wood carving tool. It's blade is about 3 times the length of the flexcut, and to me looked more like a weapon. It's quite long and comes to a fine point tip, which makes it quite versatile. The Mora is the knife I still use most often now. Some day I'll try some others.
If you're looking for a spoon carving knife; AKA hook knife, AKA bent knife, AKA crook knife, AKA spoon knife, then there's the Mora 164. It's quite affordable, but you're going to need to reshape it with a belt sander or grinder. Again, there are tons of quality spoon knives out there, I've only tried 2. My other one is the Hades Twca Cam from Belzeboo Crafts, quality knife that I used in my popular 43 second static shot video of scooping out the bowl of a coffee scoop.
Once you've spent some time with a knife, carving some things, you'll know if you want to pursue some other carving methods that require specific tools. I have a few flexcut palm gouges and Pfeil Swiss Made gouges and chisels. I can recommend both, they're pretty well known and trusted brands, a lot of people use them. I have used no other so I can't really comment.
What wood to carve
Hardwood. If your carving spoons I'd start with birch or poplar, but this will of course vary depending on where in the world you live. The wood I can get my hands on the easiest seems to be birch and maple, so most of my spoons have been these. For other carvings, basswood seems to be the best to start with, it's easy to carve and can hold detail. The grain is boring is it's only downfall. I've just recently carved basswood again now that I'm moving away from spoons. And oh my god it's a dream to carve, I forgot how easy it was. Walnut too, it's fairly easy and the grain is much more interesting. The concentric circles carving above is in walnut.
The only softwood I've heard of carving is white pine, but I haven't tried it yet.
Green and Seasoned wood
Then there is seasoned or green wood. Seasoned wood has most of it's original moisture depleted, so it's dry. It's harder to carve, but it's lighter and won't warp or begin to crack. Green wood is still full of moisture, like a freshly fallen tree. It is way easier to carve, WAY EASIER. But as the wood dries it can bend and twist and also start checking (cracking,splitting). There are ways to slow the drying process to limit these effects. Paint the ends of you're logs to seal the moisture in. I just use whatever house paint I have, primer whatever. It usually takes several coats. And I also usually never do this because I'm lazy and the logs start to split and I say "would you look at that.". To slow the drying once you have started or finished carving, you can store them buried in wood chips in a paper bag, or in a plastic bag in the freezer or fridge.
Here's where basswood shines again. It's super easy to carve seasoned. I carve dry basswood and walnut mostly now.
There are so many carving videos out there, but I'll link you to this one because it pretty much started it all for me. Carving a Little Person. The facebook group Spoon Carving, Green Woodworking and Sloyd was a great resource for when I started spoon carving. So much knowledge there, and make sure to check out the 'files' section for lots of goodies.