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A Guide to Common Wood Species for Woodturning

Woodturning, the art of shaping wood on a lathe, has captivated craftsmen for centuries. The joy of transforming a rough block of wood into a beautifully turned piece is unparalleled. However, selecting the right wood species for your woodturning project is crucial. Different woods possess unique characteristics that affect the outcome of your creation. We’ll delve into various common wood species suitable for woodturning, exploring their features and ideal applications.

1. Maple (Acer spp.)

a. Hard Maple

b. Soft Maple

Maple, known for its hardness and versatility, is a cherished wood in the woodworking realm. Hard Maple (Acer saccharum) is ideal for intricate details, handles, and furniture components, while Soft Maple (Acer rubrum) offers easier turnability and is great for bowls, platters, and decorative pieces.

2. Oak (Quercus spp.)

a. Red Oak

b. White Oak

Oak, a popular choice, is sturdy and displays prominent grain patterns. Red Oak (Quercus rubra) is ideal for larger projects like furniture, whereas White Oak (Quercus alba) is excellent for smaller, detailed turnings.

3. Cherry (Prunus serotina)

Cherry wood is cherished for its rich reddish-brown hue that deepens with age and exposure to light. It’s perfect for creating fine, elegant pieces like goblets, vases, and decorative platters.

4. Walnut (Juglans nigra)

Walnut is a dark, luscious wood that turns beautifully. It’s often chosen for making high-end furniture, bowls, and ornamental pieces due to its rich color and workability.

5. Beech (Fagus grandifolia)

Beech is a versatile wood, ranging from light cream to pale brown in color. It’s suitable for a wide array of woodturning projects, from delicate spindle turnings to larger bowls.

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6. Mahogany (Swietenia spp.)

Mahogany, a classic choice, boasts a reddish-brown hue and works wonderfully for both furniture and smaller woodturning projects like boxes and ornamental pieces.

7. Pine (Pinus spp.)

a. Eastern White Pine

b. Yellow Pine

Pine is softer and easier to work with, making it suitable for beginners. Eastern White Pine is great for decorative pieces, while Yellow Pine offers a bit more strength and durability.

8. Cedar (Cedrus spp.)

Cedar is aromatic and naturally resistant to decay, making it an excellent choice for outdoor woodturning projects like garden furniture and utensils.

9. Ash (Fraxinus spp.)

a. White Ash

b. Black Ash

Ash is strong and versatile, making it suitable for a wide range of woodturning projects. White Ash is often used for furniture, tool handles, and sports equipment, while Black Ash is preferred for baskets and weaving.

10. Box Elder (Acer negundo)

Box Elder, though considered a “soft” hardwood, displays stunning figure patterns and vibrant colors, making it a unique choice for artistic woodturning pieces.

11. Hickory (Carya spp.)

a. Pignut Hickory

b. Shagbark Hickory

Known for its strength and toughness, Hickory is often used for tool handles, sports equipment, and specialty woodturning projects.

12. Rosewood (Dalbergia spp.)

a. Brazilian Rosewood

b. Indian Rosewood

Rosewood is revered for its exquisite beauty and is often used for creating high-end woodturning projects like handles, knobs, and ornamental pieces.

13. Alder (Alnus spp.)

Alder wood, known for its light color and fine grain, is suitable for a variety of woodturning projects. It’s often chosen for creating delicate, intricate spindle turnings and ornamental pieces.

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14. Mulberry (Morus spp.)

Mulberry wood is highly prized for its unique colors, which range from pale yellow to deep reddish-brown. It’s an excellent choice for crafting artistic woodturning pieces like vases, bowls, and decorative items.

15. Hackberry (Celtis spp.)

Hackberry wood, with its pale, subtle grain patterns, is a versatile option for woodturners. It’s commonly used for turning small to medium-sized bowls and platters.

16. Sycamore (Platanus spp.)

Sycamore wood, characterized by its beautiful figure and pale color, is perfect for creating intricate woodturning projects such as hollow forms, boxes, and artistic pieces.

17. Butternut (Juglans cinerea)

Butternut, sometimes referred to as “white walnut,” is a softer wood ideal for carving and woodturning. It’s often chosen for making intricate wooden sculptures and decorative items.

18. Cypress (Cupressus spp.)

Cypress wood is naturally resistant to decay and insects, making it an excellent choice for outdoor woodturning projects like outdoor furniture and garden decorations.

19. Zebrawood (Microberlinia brazzavillensis)

Zebrawood gets its name from its distinctive striped appearance, resembling the stripes of a zebra. It’s a visually striking wood, commonly used for turning exotic and eye-catching woodcrafts.

20. Osage Orange (Maclura pomifera)

Known for its vibrant, golden-yellow color, Osage Orange wood is exceptionally durable and often used for crafting tool handles and other utility woodturning projects.

21. Pecan (Carya illinoinensis)

Pecan wood, similar to hickory, is strong and durable, making it a great choice for turning functional items like wooden kitchenware and utensils.

22. Birch (Betula spp.)

Birch wood, with its pale color and fine grain, is excellent for woodturning small to medium-sized items like candlesticks, pens, and ornaments.

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Choosing the right wood species for your woodturning projects allows you to achieve the desired aesthetics, functionality, and level of craftsmanship. Experimenting with various woods will not only expand your skills but also open up new creative possibilities in the world of woodturning.


Selecting the right wood species is fundamental to the success of your woodturning projects. Consider the intended purpose, desired finish, and your skill level when choosing a wood type. Each wood species has its own unique qualities, and experimenting with them will ultimately enhance your woodturning skills and craft. Happy turning! Recall that the key to a successful woodturning project lies in both the craftsmanship and the choice of wood.