Reader's Choice - Top Woods to Turn

What species do WOOD’s woodturners and online guests like to work with most? To find out we asked them.

  • Reader's Choice - Top Woods to Turn

    With so much effort put into such a small piece of wood, turners are very serious about their stock. What species do WOOD's woodturners and online guests like to work with most? To find out we asked them. The following slides show their selections. Turnings and tidbits we've learned about these choice woods.

  • Figured Maple

    There are several types of figured maple including curl, fiddleback, spalted, tiger, birds-eye, and more. If you can't find any in your area, try online searches or visit the page below for our listing. Turning by Jason Mast.

  • Walnut

    Walnut turns best at a lathe speed of 800-1,000 rpm, and requires sharp tools. Bowl turners know that walnut's pronounced end grain in the bottom of a bowl tears easily and produces a surface that can be difficult to sand. The best finish for walnut is a clear one. Several coats of Danish oil provide clarity. Turning by Mike O'Leary.

  • Cherry

    Although oil finishes and clear lacquers or varnishes work equally well on cherry, you'll get a smoother finish on this fine-grained wood if you thin the first coat to act as a sealer. Then, sand with 400-grit or 0000 steel wool after it's dry and recoat. The sharply defined sapwood is yellowish or pale yellowish-white, often with a purplish tinge. The heartwood color ranges from rose to dark-brown with darker purple-black lines. The darker streaks impart an attractive figure to the timber. Turning by Charles Cadenhead.

  • Boxelder

    Sometimes a boxelder tree contains wood that carries raspberry-colored streaks and flecks, a property that woodturners find especially appealing for bright bowls, slender goblets, and attractive platters. The red streaks are composed of a pigment from a fungus (Fusarium negundi). Turning by Rob Wallace, Ames, Iowa.

  • Rosewood

    Under the best growing conditions, the trees are reported to reach heights of about 100 feet (30 m). They produce straight clear trunks that are 35 to 50 feet (10 to 15 m) long, with average diameters of up to 30 inches (75 cm), but may occasionally reach 60 inches (150 cm).

  • Pacific Madrone

    Madrone (Arbutus menziesii) is sometimes called madrona or madrono, and scientifically is always preceded by the word Pacific. That's because there's a Texas version of the species, and a Mexican one, too. But most of the madrone you see as woodworking stock and veneer comes from a range that extends from southern British Columbia down to California's central coast. In that coastal band, you can find madrone everywhere there's a forest, and in nearly any size. In rugged mountain terrain madrone may only reach shrub size. Turning by Jason Mast.

  • Red Elm

    Elm claims about 20 species in the temperate regions of the world. The most well known include the stately American elm (Ulmus Americana) and the slippery elm (Ulmus rubra) of the United States, and the English elm (Ulmus procera) in Europe and Great Britain. In the forest, elm often grows 140' tall. But open-grown elms rarely reach that height. Instead, they form a spreading, umbrella-like crown valued for shade. Turning by Rob Wallace, Ames Iowa.

  • Spalted Maple

    Spalting is a figure pattern caused by fungus growing in trees and logs. It produces black streaks usually growing with the grain and can result in a beautiful marbling. Some species are more prone to spalting such as maple (like that shown), birch and beech, while others such as walnut rarely spalt. The fungus enters the tree through an injury and starts to spread. The trick is to get dense spalting before the lumber turns to punk. It is not uncommon to find a log with spalting penetrating the end grain for a short distance but this can be little more than a distraction. Turning by Rob Wallace, Ames, Iowa.

  • Osage Orange

    Wherever Osage orange grew, it had many a use. At one time, a Plains Indian brave would gladly trade a horse and blanket for a bow made of the wood. The reputation of such bows spread widely from the land of their makers-the Osage Indians of Arkansas and Missouri. Bows of this hard, strong wood even were found by explorers in use as far north as Montana. That's why in many parts of the nation the wood carries the name bois d'arc, French for wood of the bow. Americanized, the term becomes bowdark. Turning by Charles Cadenhead.

  • Quartersawn Sycamore

    In species such as sycamore the face of the quartersawn lumber will display a prominent ray fleck on its face. These rays are part of the cell structure of the growing tree that radiate outward from the pith of the log to the sapwood. When the log is sawn with the annual rings perpendicular these rays are bisected and show up on the face of each piece of quartersawn lumber as a shiny band. When sawn, each log reveals its own unique figured pattern of ray flecks. This is only visible in those species that have these rays in the cellular structure. Turning by Marlen Kemmet.

  • Bradford Pear

    Light in orange color, with occasional pinkish colored streaks, Bradford pear is an extremely hard and dense wood, but turns easily. It sands well and will takes on a high polish. Usually available in very limited quantities, as the tree is an ornamental found most often in urban landscapes.

  • Live Oak Root

    The bowl shown was turned from a natural-edged live oak blank harvested from a tree base where roots meet the trunk. The natural edge is the "underground edge" of the tree facing downward. According to the turner, this wood turns wonderfully when green and doesn't split due to the interlocking grain.

  • Padauk

    Padauk grows in tropical climates, although the geography changes from rain forest to dry, nearly treeless plains with each species. You'll find padauk in India, Indochina, the South Pacific, West Africa, and even southern Florida. Depending on the species, padauk's coarse-grained heartwood varies in color from a lustrous purple-red to orange-red. With age and exposure to sunlight, it turns deep maroon. Quartersawn wood features a pronounced ribbon stripe. Turning by Ron Lenz

  • Cocobolo

    Cocobolo (Dahlbergia retusa) belongs to the same genus as Brazilian rosewood, and in fact, has similar properties. Rosewood, however, likes South America's rain forests. Cocobolo prefers the drier, upland savanna country of Central America's Pacific Coast. This wood is a well-known sensitizer that can produce a poison-ivy type rash or other reaction in allergic individuals. If you have an allergy history, work cocobolo with full protection: gloves, long sleeves, a dust mask, and a protective skin cream. Turning by Charles Cadenhead.

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