Here we take a look into some of the most popular woods that you may be familiar with, and whether they are good to use for your woodturning hobby.
Here are Woods that are Great For Turning
Woods such as cedar, beech, oak, and holly are great for turning as they are considered a hardwood. Softwood such as birch, elm, and poplar can also be turned however care must be taken not to tear the wood. Turning each of these woods requires sharp tools, care, different skill sets and techniques.
Table of Contents
1. Is Oak good for Woodturning?
White and Red oak wood are two of the most popular woods to make furniture with. Red and White oak are both harder wood, and have a high durability rating.
Products you make with oak will likely last a while, and resist damages such as scratches and wear down from use.
Both are relatively popular for flooring as well. Red is recommended for its coloring, however, white wood is a little cheaper and some find it to be a better option for this reason.
Both hold stain beautifully, and the natural patterns and grains really add a nice touch to a finished floor or cabinet.
Some of the best items to turn with oak include chairs, tables, and various spindles and banisters. Bowls are also very popular due to the patterns throughout the wood, creating a lovely finish.
2. Is Birch good for Woodturning?
Birch has a nice light coloring with streaks of dark ribbons running through it. Many highly prize it for this reason and find it to be perfect for smaller projects such as candlesticks, coasters, banisters, and bowls.
Birch is also used for veneers rather often and is loved for its colors and unique patterns.
Birch is a softer wood which is why it is easier to turn. However, the soft nature can also make it tear when you try to turn it, and become worn down and damaged easily.
For this reason it’s best to use sharp tools when turning Birch, and to make items which will not be over exposed to wear and tear. Its best not to make outdoor furniture with this wood.
3. Is Elm good for Woodturning?
Elm has both soft and hard varieties. The distinction is made through the different patterns and pores found within the wood itself, with the softer varieties having more pores and wet regions.
Some hard varieties include winged elm and rock elm, and the soft varieties include American, Wych, and Red elm.
The hardwood is definitely the more popular variety, although it does not tend to have the nice grains and patterns many love for turning bowls.
Although, it is good for products such as tables and chairs, especially if you want to make outdoor furniture. The smell of elm is very distinct and may not be the best option for indoor use.
4. Is Willow good for Woodturning?
Willow comes in several varieties and colors, but white and black are certainly the most common. Of the two, white is extremely hard to turn and does not dry well at all.
Willows grow in very wet conditions and require almost constant moisture and water to thrive.
Black willow is very wet as well, however, the grain in the wood is less difficult to work with and is a better choice for anyone looking to turn this wood for bowls or other small projects.
Again, it is a soft and wet wood so it is not recommended for use in furniture making; but it can be used decoratively.
5. Is Ash good for Woodturning?
Ash wood has a large variety of types, ranging from blue, olive, black, white, and many more.
The olive is said to resemble the coloring and texture of the actual olive tree rather well, and it can be used to make lovely decorative pieces such as tool handles and carved pieces.
Black Ash is the most commonly used commercial variety of Ash, with White being a close second. White ash is a bit harder and more expensive than the black variety and does not have the ribboning of the black variety and is not as popular for these reasons.
Black ash is especially popular for making baseball bats. It is not too hard, but has a strong resistance to shock and does not shatter easily.
6. Is Conifer good for Woodturning?
Conifer is a blanket term for any tree which has the pine cone or similar method of seed dispersion. Therefore, it is hard to lump these together in any one specific category and say “yes” or “no” to whether you should turn it.
Some of the most popular and common varieties include Junipers, Cypress, Red wood Cedar, pine, and Spruce. Each of these is very different in how you would handle them when turning, and what you would use them for.
Spruce is a soft and sappy wood and should be turned with sharp, well-cleaned tools. It makes beautiful furniture, but be sure you don’t make heavily used products out of this soft wood. Headboards are commonly made because the patterns are beautiful but the softness can be problematic.
Cypress and Sequoia are not as soft or sappy, but their hardness makes them better for well used objects such as tables or cabinets.
7. Is Pine good for Woodturning?
Turning Pine can be a bit like turning Spruce. It is very wet and sappy and soft by nature. But, it can make beautiful decorative pieces, especially when you finish it well and add a good varnish.
This is one of the best woods for a beginner wood turner since it is so soft. Just be careful of the sap build-up and be sure to clean as you go.
For wood bowls, the knots of this wood can be a beautiful design throughout it, if positioned well when turning it.
You want to be sure the knot is centered to avoid it from interfering with the chiseling of the center and looking sloppy when complete.
8. Is Holly good for Woodturning?
Holly is a beautiful wood for turning, as many praise its milky color and smooth texture. Although, it is very plain and it tends to turn a bluish hue after drying out.
Two of the best ways to combat this issue is to dry it in small batches (cut into pieces about 5” across) and to use a nice stain when it is finished.
Although holly is a harder wood, you should be sure to allow proper time for drying to avoid warping in your final product.
The best products to make with holly are broom and tool handles, some inlays and decorative pieces for furniture. Or, furniture that isn’t used roughly.
Holly wood chairs are beautiful, but make sure it is dried well beforehand to avoid warping and shrinkage.
9. Is Poplar good for Wood Turning?
The most commonly used Poplar tree is actually named the Lily Poplar due to the flowers resembling a lily when they blossom in the Spring.
The genus isn’t the same as the other less common Poplars; however, this is the tree most commonly thought of when hearing the name and the most commonly used.
This tree grows straight and tall, so it is extremely popular for plywood and industrial usage. It is a beautiful milky, creamy color, but does not have any distinctive coloring or ribboning.
It isn’t popularly turned, since it is soft and tears very easily if the tools aren’t cleaned and sharpened enough.
The most popular products made with poplar are sheds and other construction projects. It can be turned, but it isn’t recommended. If you do want to try it, make sure you have sharp tools.
10. Is Cedar a good Wood for Turning?
Cedar is an excellent wood to turn, and both the red and white varieties have a nice grain and scent which is what makes it so highly prized.
It is highly rot-resistant and termite and pest resistant due to that iconic scent. In fact, people often make furniture from this wood such as dressers and similar storage containers for clothes to deter bugs.
White cedar is easier to turn than the red variety, but it is softer and screws and nails do not hold well. But, it does turn and finish very well.
Red wood also turns very well, but it does have a lot of silica which can damage tools if you are not cautious.
11. Is Beech good for Woodturning?
Beech wood is a very hard wood, and is notably good for woodturning. The hardness makes it difficult to carve and it can chip or break during turning.
Additionally, if you sand the wood be careful not to sand at too high of a speed or else it could scratch the wood.
The best products to make with beech wood are tables, chairs, cabinets, and various cooking utensils. It’s especially good for cutting boards due to its hardness and durability.
12. Is Basswood good for Woodturning?
Bass wood is a soft, light wood that does not have much scent at all which makes it ideal for storage containers. It is ideal for carving since it is soft, light and holds glue well.
Some of the best products to make with this wood are picture frames, food storage containers, and any products which would lend themselves well with carved designs.
You can stain this wood, however, it can be difficult to have it hold the stain due to the irregular grain. This can also cause turning to be a little difficult since it might tear or get jammed.
13. Is Bradford Pear good for Woodturning?
Bradford Pear is a hardwood, and it is also rather dense and heavy. It can take a while to dry, and you want to be sure you allow for a good environment that is dry and warm.
It is best used for smaller pieces, with turned pens being an excellent choice. Other great choices are clocks and ornamental boxes for jewelry.
It is similar to turning other fruit-bearing trees with the moisture and it has nice ribboning and patterns inside. Although, because of the moisture you want to be careful it does not check or warp after it’s turned.
14. Is Eucalyptus good for Woodturning?
There are quite a few types of eucalyptus trees, but most are moderately hard, with good grain. You want to be careful it does not crack while turning, as it is a harder wood and not overly moist. Most varieties range from copper to deep red color.
It has a high rot resistance and is great for outdoor furniture and fencing. It is also popularly used in veneers and flooring, and when finished it compliments the natural patterns of the wood.
For turned bowls it is okay, but because it tends to crack easily you want to be careful and have glue on hand to be sure it comes out well.
15. Is Hawthorn good for Woodturning?
Hawthorn wood is a hardwood, which has an even grain and texture. The color is creamy, and it makes some lovely bowls, small, carved items, and cabinets.
It does not have a high rot resistance or infestation resistance, and so you should avoid making outdoor furniture with this wood.
The one downside to this wood is it does not grow very large (in fact many types are categorized as shrub). Therefore, it is not an industrial wood, and although hawthorn cabinets are lovely, they are difficult to make due to the available pieces.
16. Is Hemlock good for Woodturning?
The most popular variety of Hemlock wood is the Western Hemlock. Western Hemlock is the largest of its variety and tends to grow all over the Pacific Northwest, and British Columbia.
They can grow up to 200 feet tall, live over 500 years and get to be 6-8 feet across.
It is very popular for industrial purposes. It is hard, straight-grained, and even throughout. It has a nice white, yellowish color. Water-based finishes are best, and it has diverse uses. It makes lovely furniture and does not crack or tear as easily as its eastern relative.
17. Is Mahogany good for Woodturning?
The original, popular mahogany was the Cuban variety. It was popularised in the 1700s as a high-quality, rich wood which was used to make expensive furniture.
The color is a rich yellow, and the grain is lovely and even. However, Cuban Mahogany is very rare and expensive as it was overused in the past.
Honduras mahogany is a new variety that has been replacing the Cuban variety, as it has a similar texture and coloring. Mahogany makes excellent furniture and turns very well.
The grain is even, and it finishes well. The downside to this wood is the price and availability.
18. Is Yew good for Woodturning
Yew has been used for a variety of purposes for centuries. The berries are toxic and were commonly used in poisons in the past, and the flexible wood has been used for longbows by both the English and the Native Americans.
The color is a light yellow and it does not have a very pronounced grain or pattern. It is fairly easy to turn, and it is most commonly used for furniture and lutes.
It can tear and dry out too much, so adding some oils when finishing is a good idea and it compliments the colors very well.