Is Conifer Good For Woodturning? (11 Facts For Beginners)

Conifer is another type of wood that can be used for turning. Here, we take a look at it in more detail, whether it is a good wood or not to use for your woodturning hobby.

Here’s why Conifer may be Difficult to Turn

Conifer is a temperamental wood to work with, with a vast variety of types that are available. Conifer tends to have a great deal of sap and tar, which can make turning difficult, but not impossible. The key is sharp tools and proper drying.

What is conifer?

Oftentimes when one hears the name “conifer” they think of an evergreen tree, with pine needles and bristly bark. This is an accurate description of some conifer trees; however, there is a vast variety of trees which fall under this category. 

Conifer more specifically refers to the fact that this tree reproduces through a cone-shaped seed packet. These are often referred to as “pine cones”, as they tend to grow on pine-like trees

Some examples of trees which fall under this category, yet you may not have guessed this to be so based upon how it appears, is the giant redwood or Sequoia of the West Coast. Others include Junipers and the Cypress tree, each with its own unique characteristics. 

The Red Woods of the West Coast USA are infamous for their staggering heights, and longevity. These massive trees reach over three hundred feet, weigh over 3 million pounds, and are said to be able to live thousands of years. 

Is Conifer a Hardwood or Softwood?

The difference between a hardwood and a softwood is more than simply the strength of the wood. A hardwood is characterized as a tree that reproduces through angiosperm. This means the seed is covered in a fruit or nut casing. 

This would include trees such as apple, peach, walnut, pecan, oak, and other such “fruit” bearing trees. These trees tend to have tighter pores, and are more rot and wear-resistant. 

Conifer trees are softwood and have pine cone seed packets. They have a dispersion method for spreading their seed. These tend to have softer wood, with larger pores. 

Of course this doesn’t mean that all conifer varieties are softer than angiosperm trees; they do vary. Although, the way the wood is structured in the angiosperm versus the conifer means that most conifer trees have a softer wood than most angiosperm varieties.

 As a general rule, most conifers are a soft wood but this doesn’t mean certain varieties aren’t harder than some varieties of hardwood varieties. 

What are the Appealing Characteristics of Conifer for Turning?

Conifers are a great variety of wood for beginner woodworkers due to them not being overly hard and having a nice even grain. The wood is great for making smaller projects such as spoons and bowls and when finished the grain creates lovely patterns in the product. 

Conifers, being a very soft wood, damage easily during the turning process and it’s important that it is done slowly and gradually to avoid it tearing or being dented. Conifers also produce a lot of tar and sap and therefore can be difficult to turn when this causes the blade to get stuck when trying to turn. 

Are there Different Types of Conifer?

There is a multitude of varieties of different types of conifer trees; each with very distinctive characteristics. Each retains the similarity of being a cone-bearing tree, and most are evergreens as well-meaning they don’t lose their needles.

Some common types include Cedar, Pine, Cypress, Juniper, Spruce, Fir, and Yew. Pine, Fir, and spruce tend to have the appearance many associates with an evergreen pine tree. Fir trees are the most commonly known for being the Christmas tree loved by many, with pine and spruce bearing many similar traits. 

Juniper, Yew, Cedar, and Cypress have less distinctive pine needle leaves and grow to be quite large. They have a tighter, less flaky-looking bark than that of Pine, Fir, and Spruce and have many traits similar to hardwood species of trees. 

Is Conifer Easy to Turn?

The softness of conifer wood makes it an ideal choice for anyone new to turning. The wood tends to be easy to shape, but the softness can cause the turning to be less smooth. 

It’s best to turn with care, in order to avoid it getting it caught in the blade due to the soft nature of the wood. The naturally occurring tar and sap in the wood add to the difficulty to turn it. It is definitely better to dry this wood before attempting to turn it or else the sap can really gum up the machine’s function. 

Can you Turn Green Conifer?

The short answer is you can turn it if you so choose. Although, many argue it is much too wet, sappy, and soft to turn effectively. Giving it time to dry seems to really make a difference as far as woodturning goes. 

The sap tends to get all over the lathe (as well as you, your hands, and clothes) and causes it to gum up the machine. The typical advice is to use a very sharp blade and to clean it as you go keeping it sharp. Although, it can be very annoying to maintain it and therefore many recommend allowing the wood to dry before attempting to turn it on a lathe. 

The only two varieties which are easier to turn are Yew and Leylandii. For a lot of woodworkers Yew isn’t in the same category as other conifers because it does not have seed cones nor is it a softwood to work with. Genetically speaking, yew is a conifer but as far as the type of wood it is, it is not much like most conifer trees. 

Leylandii is a very popular variety of conifers for woodturning, as the sap is not overpowering for the machine, and it is said to have a beautiful grain. It’s a nice softwood but without many of the setbacks of other conifer woods. This is why it is one of the most preferred conifer varieties. 

Does Conifer give you a Good Finish after Turning?

Conifer does not tend to turn very well, due to it being much too soft and moist. Some varieties, such as Leylandii are decent when sanded well. 

You should utilize a good finish when you are done turning the wood, in order to preserve the quality and extend the life span. As stated above, it is a very soft wood and you should take precautions to preserve it and prevent damage. 

Some varieties produce lovely textures and patterns due to the growth patterns and the fact that branches grow on lower areas of the trunk, it produces abstract patterns. This can make a very pretty finishing look and a lovely design on any furniture.

Does Conifer Check or Crack when Woodturning?

Conifers can tear when turned, which is the most common form of damage when turning this wood. Yew, of course, is an exception due in part to its hardness and also to the grain. 

Most conifers are hard to dry effectively because they have many pockets of sap and pitch which do not always dry well along with the wood. One of the best ways to handle this is to use smaller pieces so it dries more evenly. 

Allowing a little additional drying time after purchasing can be helpful as many times it is not dried adequately and conifers can have difficulties adjusting to different environments when drying. 

Pine is excellent for carving, however, and good for furniture. The softness of the wood allows for a lot of variety when carving since it is not difficult to shape. Although it makes it easy to dent, it also makes it easier to work in this manner. 

Is Conifer an Expensive Wood?

This would of course depend upon the type of wood you use for your project. Douglas Fir and other similar pines are some of the cheapest varieties, as well as some of the easiest to find. Quality-wise they are fair and tend to be even better when purchased at a lumber yard versus a retail store. 

Red Cedar is also a softwood and has a beautiful red color and a highly desired scent. Although it is a little bit more expensive than pine it still isn’t considered an expensive wood.

Yew is one of the hardest conifers and is also one of the rarest. It doesn’t grow abundantly and is rather an expensive wood as a result of this. It is commonly used for bows and arrows due to its flexible nature, although at times it was used for furniture as well, it is uncommon because it is not very hard. 

Do you need to Prepare or Treat your Conifer for Turning?

Properly drying pine is very important. Most advise that this wood be kiln dried, as this helps ensure the sap dries out. Additionally, adequate time to adjust to local conditions is a must. 

Conifer is a softwood and is easily affected by the local climate and weather, and waiting for the wood to adjust is important especially if it’s being used for construction. You wouldn’t want to have your wood warp after you build. 

Conifer receives stains well, and it is a great option to help handle any dents or scratches which may result from turning it. 

What Finishes can you Use on Conifer after Turning?

Polyurethane is the most commonly recommended finish to use on conifer, as it helps to protect the wood from damages from use. There is also a pre-stain conditioner which is recommended for conifers that helps keep the wood’s beautiful color. 

Sanding is recommended when finishing conifers, as it smooths out the uneven grain and allows it to be more receptive to stains and finishes. Sanding on a lower than 100 grit is highly recommended to avoid gunk building up and causing tears in the wood. 

What can you Make with Conifer Wood?

This, of course, depends a lot on which variety of conifers you choose to use. 

Yews are used a lot for bows and arrows, canoes and other ships, and in furniture where the flexibility is an asset such as on chair back and arms. 

Douglas fir and other pines are best used for furniture which is not heavily used (tables for example are not recommended). Although, headboards and footboards are an excellent project to use this wood for. 

Floors are not highly recommended, even though the color is beautiful, the hardness is not suitable to withstand the wear and tear of time.