Wood Species

We are often asked what species of wood do we like to turn.  Here is a list of woods that have worked with.   They are all hardwoods with the exception of the Red Cedar.  You may notice that Oak is conspicuously absent.  Our success rate with Oak has been pretty low given our method of green turning and drying.  Others experience may vary.  It is hard to define which are our preferred; it depends on the turning project.  Probably the top five (5) are Chinese Elm, Osage Orange, Walnut, Cherry and Hard Maple.


Ash is a native, deciduous tree which has important cultural significance to Native Americans.  Alternative common names are descriptive of the preferred habitat and the primary use of the species.  Black ash is a small to medium sized tree with opposite branching and compound leaves.  American white ash is used principally for nonstriking tool handles, oars, baseball bats, and other sporting and athletic goods.  Principal uses for the white ash group are decorative veneer, cabinets, furniture, flooring, millwork, and crates.

Beech, American

Only one species of beech, American beech, is native to the United States.  It grows in the eastern one-third of the United States and adjacent Canadian provinces.  The greatest production of beech lumber is in the Central and Middle Atlantic States.  Most beech is used for flooring, furniture, brush blocks, handles, veneer, woodenware, containers, and cooperage.  When treated with preservative, beech is suitable for railway ties.

Bradford Pear

The Bradford pear grows 30 to 50 feet tall and 20 to 30 feet wide.  It has a narrower and more erect canopy than the species.  The Bradford pear may be grown as a specimen, screen or street tree.  When considering this tree for use in a design, be mindful of its short-to-moderate life span, requiring replacement in about 25 years.  It can be used in urban settings because of its tolerance to pollution.  The Bradford pear grows best in full sun but will tolerate part shade.  It requires low-to-medium fertility.  It tolerates most soil types and conditions, including occasional wet soils or drought.


Eastern red cedar is a small evergreen tree, commonly 10 to 40 feet, of pyramidal shape becoming rounder in age.  Fruits pale-blue with whitish bloom, fleshy ‘berries’ (cones), 1/4 inch diameter, ripening the first season, seeds 1 to 2 in each cone, bony-coated; flowers small, cone-like on end of short twigs, male and female borne on separate plants.  Leaves opposite, scale like, covering older twigs closely in alternating pairs to 1/8 inch long, on new shoots awl shaped, sharp pointed and spreading, 1/4 inch long, dark green.  Stem single with upright or spreading branches, bark reddish-brown, thin and shreddy, branchlets very slender; roots deep, widely spreading.

Cherry, Black

Black cherry is sometimes known as cherry, wild black cherry, and wild cherry.  Black cherry is found from southeastern Canada throughout the eastern half of the United States.  Production is centered chiefly in the Middle Atlantic States.  The heartwood of black cherry varies from light to dark reddish brown and has a distinctive luster.  The nearly white sapwood is narrow in old-growth trees and wider in second-growth trees.  The wood has a fairly uniform texture and very good machining properties.  Black cherry is used principally for furniture, fine veneer panels, and architectural woodwork.  Other uses include burial caskets, wooden ware, novelties, patterns, and paneling.

Chinese Elm

The Chinese Elm is a native of China, Korea and Japan.  It was introduced into the United States.  It has proven to be highly resistant to both the Dutch elm disease and the elm leaf beetle, both of which have been highly destructive to our native American Elm.  The distinctive bark of the Chinese Elm is smooth, mottled brown, and sheds in thin flakes, exposing orange to reddish brown inner bark.  The Chinese Elm grows well in moist soils in humid, temperate regions.  Landscapers and gardeners have planted it successfully across the southern United States, especially in the Pacific and Gulf regions.  Cultivators of trees plant it as an ornamental shade tree on lawns, along streets and in parks.

Crab Apple

Southern crab apple is commonly found from southern Virginia south to northern Florida, west to Louisiana, and north to Arkansas.  Southern crabapple is a shrub or small tree, 20 to 30 feet in height, with a short trunk 8 to 10 inches in diameter; with rigid, spreading branches forming a broad, rounded, open crown.  Leaves are elliptical or oblong, blunt at tip, wavy saw-toothed, hairy when young; dull green above, paler underneath.  Bark is gray or brown; furrowed into narrow scaly ridges.  Fruit ¾-1” in diameter, like small apples; yellow-green, sour with long stalk.  The fruit remains on the branches into fall, providing food for wildlife, and the branch structures on many varieties provide interesting forms in winter.


Flowering dogwood is a small, bushy tree which rarely attains a height of more than 40 feet or a diameter of 12 to 18 inches.  The leaves are opposite one another and from 3 to 6 inches long.  The deeply ridged and broken bark resembles alligator hide.  Flowering dogwood has large, showy, deeply notched bracts, 4 of which surround each cluster of inconspicuous perfect flowers, in bloom from May to June.  The fruit clusters on this shrub-like tree are scarlet red.  Flowering dogwood is adapted to most upland sites but grows best on rich, well-drained soils on middle and lower slopes.  It develops best as an understory species in association with other hardwoods.  Flowering dogwood is distributed throughout the eastern United States.


Also known as white, water, and gray elm; slippery elm as red elm; rock elm as cork and hickory elm; winged elm as wahoo; cedar elm as red and basket elm; and September elm as red elm.  American elm is threatened by two diseases, Dutch Elm disease and phloem necrosis, which have killed hundreds of thousands of trees.  Historically, elm lumber was used for boxes, baskets, crates, and slack cooperage; furniture; agricultural supplies and implements; caskets and burial boxes; and wood components in vehicles.  Today, elm lumber and veneer are used mostly for furniture and decorative panels.  Hard elm is preferred for uses that require strength.


Hackberry grows east of the Great Plains from Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, and Oklahoma northward, except along the Canadian boundary.  Sapwood of both species varies from pale yellow to greenish or grayish yellow.  The heartwood is commonly darker.  The wood resembles elm in structure.  Hackberry lumber is moderately heavy.  It is moderately strong in bending, moderately weak in compression parallel to grain, moderately hard to very hard, and high in shock resistance, but low in stiffness.  Hackberry has high shrinkage but keeps its shape well during drying.  Most hackberry is cut into lumber; small amounts are used for furniture parts, dimension stock, and veneer.


American hornbeam is a native, large shrub or small tree with a wide-spreading, flat-topped crown, the stems are slender, dark brown, hairy; bark gray, thin, usually smooth, with smooth, longitudinal fluting (resembling a flexed muscle).  Its leaves are deciduous, arranged alternately along stems, egg-shaped to elliptical in outline, ¾ to 4¾ inches long, with doubly-serrate edges.  During the growing season, leaves are dark green but turn yellow to orange or red in the fall.  Fruits are nutlets surrounded by a 3-winged, narrow, leaf-like bract.  Numerous nutlets are held together in pendulous chain-like clusters, changing from green to brown in September-October.

Maple, Hard

Hard maple includes sugar maple and black maple.  Sugar maple is also known as hard and rock maple and black maple as black sugar maple.  Maple lumber is manufactured principally in the Middle Atlantic and Great Lake States, which together account for about two-thirds of production.  The heartwood is usually light reddish brown but sometimes considerably darker.  The sapwood is commonly white with a slight reddish-brown tinge.  It is roughly 7 to 13 cm or more (3 to 5 in. or more) wide.  Hard maple has a fine, uniform texture.  It is heavy, strong, stiff, hard, and resistant to shock and has high shrinkage.  The grain of sugar maple is generally straight, but birdseye, curly, or fiddleback grain is often selected for furniture or novelty items.  Hard maple is used principally for lumber and veneer.  A large proportion is manufactured into flooring, furniture, cabinets, cutting boards and blocks, pianos, billiard cues, handles, novelties, bowling alleys, dance and gymnasium floors, spools, and bobbins.

Maple, Soft

Soft maple includes silver maple, red maple, boxelder, and bigleaf maple.  Silver maple is also known as white, river, water, and swamp maple; red maple as soft, water, scarlet, white, and swamp maple; boxelder as ash-leaved, three-leaved, and cut-leaved maple; and bigleaf maple as Oregon maple.  Soft maple is found in the eastern United States except for bigleaf maple, which comes from the Pacific Coast.  Heartwood and sapwood are similar in appearance to hard maple: heartwood of soft maple is somewhat lighter in color and the sapwood, somewhat wider.  The wood of soft maple, primarily silver and red maple, resembles that of hard maple but is not as heavy, hard, and strong.  Soft maple is used for railroad crossties, boxes, pallets, crates, furniture, veneer, wooden ware, and novelties.


Silk tree, also known as mimosa, or silky acacia, is a small to medium-sized tree that can grow up to 20-40 feet tall.  The bark is light brown, nearly smooth, and generally thin with lens shaped areas along the stem.  The attractive fern-like leaves of mimosa are finely divided, 5-8 inches long by about 3-4 inches wide, and alternate along the stems.  Silk tree has showy and fragrant pink flowers, about 1½ inches long, that resemble pom-poms and are arranged in panicles at the ends of branches.  Fruits are flat, straw-colored pods about 6 inches long containing light brown oval-shaped seeds about ½ inch in length.  Pods ripen in August to September and begin to disintegrate soon after, but remain on the trees into winter.


All three mulberry species are deciduous trees of varying sizes.  White mulberries can grow to 80 ft. and are the most variable in form, including drooping and pyramidal shapes.  In the South on rich soils the red mulberry can reach 70 ft. in height.  The black mulberry is the smallest of the three, sometimes growing to 30 ft. in height, but it tends to be a bush if not trained when it is young.  The species vary greatly in longevity.  Red mulberry trees rarely live more than 75 years, while black mulberries have been known to bear fruit for hundreds of years.  The mulberry makes an attractive tree which will bear fruit while still small and young.

Osage Orange

Osage orange trees are a common sight on the Great Plains today although they were not a widespread member of the prairie community originally.  Found primarily in a limited area centered on the Red River valley in southern Oklahoma and northern Texas, they were planted as living fences – or hedges – along the boundaries of farms, and have spread widely from these restricted, linear beginnings.  The trees are easily recognized by their glossy, lance-shaped leaves (see illustration), and their short, stout thorns.  The name of the tree comes from the Osage tribe, which lived near the home range of the tree, and the aroma of the fruit after it is ripe.  Not all of the trees will have fruit because Osage Orange are either male or female, and only the females will bear fruit.


The pecan is generally described as a Perennial Tree.  It is native to the United States and has its most active growth period in the spring and summer.  The Pecan has Yellow-Green foliage and inconspicuous Yellow flowers, with inconspicuous Brown fruits or seeds.  The greatest bloom is usually observed in the Early Spring, with fruit and seed production starting in the summer and continuing until fall.  Leaves are not retained year to year.  The Pecan has a long life span relative to most other plant species and a slow growth rate.  At maturity, the typical Pecan will reach up to 140 feet high, with a maximum height at 20 years of 140 feet.


American plum is a deciduous large shrub or small tree with a broad crown, reaching heights up to 15 feet.  Fruits are red to yellow, almost globular edible plums about l inch in diameter.  Flowers are white, 5-petaled, about 1 inch across, and borne singly or in clusters at the juncture of a stem and leaf.  Leaves are alternate, broadly oval in shape with a sharply tapering tip, and sharply, often doubly toothed edges; they are generally 2 to 4 inches long on slender stalks, dark green above, pale and smooth below.  The plant’s numerous stems are grayish and become scaly with age; its branches are more or less spiny with sharp-tipped twigs.  The roots of American plum are shallow, widely spreading, and readily sprouting.


Native shrubs or small trees to 10 meters tall, with a narrow, rounded crown, the twigs often red-brown to purplish, becoming gray; bark smooth, grayish, striped with vertical fissures and very ornamental.  Leaves: deciduous, alternate, simple, oval to oblong, 5-13 cm long, glabrous above, pubescent and paler beneath, the base rounded or heart-shaped, acute or acuminate at the tip, with finely toothed margins.  Flowers: 3-15 in elongate clusters at the branch tips, before the leaves appear; petals 5, white, 10-14 mm long and strap-like.  Fruits 6-12 mm wide, on long stalks, red-purple at maturity; seed 5-10 per fruit.  The common name: in some regions, the flowers are gathered for church services, hence serviceberry or sarvis-berry; or “service” from “sarvis,” in turn a modification of the older name “Sorbus,” a closely related genus.

Sycamore, American

American sycamore is known as sycamore and sometimes as buttonwood, buttonball-tree, and in the United Kingdom, planetree.  Sycamore grows from Maine to Nebraska, southward to Texas, and eastward to Florida.  The heartwood of sycamore is reddish brown; the sapwood is lighter in color and from 4 to 8 cm (1-1/2 to 3 in.) wide.  The wood has a fine texture and interlocked grain.  It has high shrinkage in drying; is moderately heavy, moderately hard, moderately stiff, and moderately strong; and has good resistance to shock.  Sycamore is used principally for lumber, veneer, railroad crossties, slack cooperage, fence posts, and fuel.  The lumber is used for furniture, boxes (particularly small food containers), pallets, flooring, handles, and butcher blocks.  Veneer is used for fruit and vegetable baskets and some decorative panels and door skins.

Walnut, Black

Black walnut usually matures in about 150 years.  An average site will produce mature black walnut trees which are 70 to 80 feet in height and attain diameters of 2 to 4 feet when grown in a forest stand.  On the best sites this tree may reach up to 150 feet tall and over 8 feet in diameter.  The nut is usually 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 inches in diameter, containing an oil-rich, sweet, and edible seed.  The large fruit ripens between September and October.  Upon ripening the husk softens and turns dark brown to black.  The heartwood of black walnut varies from light to dark brown; the sapwood is nearly white and up to 8 cm (3 in.) wide in open-grown trees.  Black walnut is normally straight grained, easily worked with tools, and stable in use.  It is heavy, hard, strong, and stiff, and has good resistance to shock.  Black walnut is well suited for natural finishes.  Because of its good properties and interesting grain pattern, black walnut is much valued for furniture, architectural woodwork, and decorative panels.  Other important uses are gunstocks, cabinets, and interior woodwork.


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