November 4, 2021

What Wood Works Best on a Lathe?

So, what wood works best on a lathe? Let’s look at that in some detail. You can use a lathe to turn wood into parts for other wood products, furniture, or other products. They can also make decorative objects like pictures, clocks, candleholders, and boxes. Woodworkers use various types of lathes, including bench, floor, and portable ones. A bench lathe is the most common type and can be used on a tabletop. A portable lathe is smaller and can be used on the floor or even attached to a portable workbench. There are also portable electric lathes, which are used for smaller projects. You should see our post on the best wood lathes.

Things to consider when choosing wood for your lathe

As much as you can turn any wood, consider your needs first. Below are features to consider when considering suitable wood for your lathe. Make a priority list and start ticking. 

Appearance and color

The most straightforward wood to work with comes from mature trees, and you can easily recognize them by the sweet smell, beautiful gran, and bright tones.

Durability and elasticity

Pick a wood that is resistant to moisture and climatic changes. It should be elastic enough to bend without breaking easily. You would not want to work with wood that gets easily attacked by termites and harsh weather conditions.

Fire and moisture resistant

Denser wood easily resists fire and absorbs excess moisture to prevent decay. The moisture causes the rotting and heaviness of timber. Eventually, the wood starts growing molds. That increases the life of the wood regardless of what you are making.

Compact fibers

Look closely at the grain of your wood. It has to be straight and tight, and Lower-quality woods have twisted fibers. 

Hardness and toughness

High-quality wood is tough, making it withstand deterioration, abrasion, and shock. It becomes perfect for multiple uses since it endures the natural elements that destroy it.


When investing in your turning projects, high-quality wood is a priority. However, that is not enough. Make sure that the wood is versatile. You should be able to use it for most projects. That way, you save money and space. You cannot buy different wood each time you have a project. 

Solid wood vs. Plywood 

Solid wood is stronger than plywood since it is a homogeneous material. Plywood is a product of sheets artificially glued together. If the glue shear strength is low, the individual plies can come apart. However, that depends on the quality of the plywood though.

Plywood is wood made by gluing several layers of veneer in different directions, and these veneers are obtained from logs of wood, peeled into thin layers of sheets. In contrast, Solid wood is natural wood obtained from trees, and plywood is more affordable than solid wood. 

Tips for keeping wood from splintering

Run masking tape over the wood before drawing the cut line, and then cut through the masking tape. Taping holds the surfaces of the wood together, and that prevents splintering.

  • Use a zero-clearance insert.
  • Keep your lathe machine sharp.
  • Maintain an accurate cutting position.
  • Be consistent.

Safety Tips

  • Use the correct dressing.
  • Always stop the lathe before making adjustments.
  • Do not change spindle speeds until the lathe comes to a complete stop.
  • Always wear protective eye protection.

Best woods for turning

Failure to master your turners skills leads to damaging your wood’s grain. Before running your lathe and handling more challenging woods, find out which timbers are the easiest ones to turn. These include beech, hickory, ash, ebony, sycamore, yew, cherry, and rosewood. 

These comprise softwood and hardwood, and it is now a matter of preference between them. They are easy to handle, have a fine grain, and are versatile. Avoid using what is available in your area but what is best for your project. 


Beech is a hardwood and a native of Northern America. It has a distinctive grain pattern and a light color. It is a good choice of hardwood because it comes with heavy density, is abrasion-resistant, and is highly durable. That makes it ideal for projects such as bowls, wooden toys, woodenware, and instruments.


Ebony is a highly dense hardwood with a dark color and heavy density. Ebony wood requires several finishes, showing a beautiful texture and grain when correctly polished. Ebony might not be the best budget wood to experiment with for a beginner. 

When it comes to availability, it takes time to grow. Its beauty made it popular. There is a high demand for wood and a low supply, which explains the price. It makes luxurious ornaments, jewelry, black chess pieces, wooden animal carvings, and musical instruments. 


Hickory is a hardwood for heavy-duty designs. It is a tough and dense hardwood that makes beautiful items. Using a lathe on this wood makes it easy to handle and shape. It makes cabinetry, furniture, tool handles, and floor decorations. It is shock-resistant and durable, although it scratches easily. To avoid scratching, seal it in the grain’s direction.


Ash makes beautiful baseball bats. It is more durable than other wood types and resists most damage from impact. What makes it unique is that it changes color when a new surface contacts air. Leave your item dry for some weeks, and then turn it in a little more for the desired coloration. 


Sycamore is an attractive type of wood for turning. What makes it unique is the distinctive grain pattern. It has an interlocking grain, making the wood difficult to split or break. What makes it friendly is that it does not pass on smells or colors, ensuring safety when creating bowls and plates. 

Yew (European Yew)

What separates the European Yew from the above wood is that it is softwood. However, unlike many softwoods, it is dense and highly flexible. Flexibility prevents it from breaking and snapping; it bends and moves but does not break easily. 

It has a darker heartwood with tones ranging from orange to brown in colors and texture. The uniform grain makes furniture, musical instruments, and archery bows. 


Cherry wood is ideal for beginner woodworkers. It has an extensive color range, and Cherry wood responds well to coating and finishing. For attractive textures, you can add varnish, clear lacquer, and other finishes. 


Rosewood is a Jamaican native with a sweet smell of dark, purple heartwood and noticeable interlocking fibers. It comes with good grain and quality, and it also responds well to polishing and finishing, and you can bring exquisite designs to the surface. 

It makes high-end furniture and instruments. Rosewood comes with a foul smell that triggers respiratory issues such as asthma in sensitive subjects.

Is Pine suitable for turning?

Pine is ideal for beginning turners, and softwood is easy to shape on the lathe. Cutting with a gouge or skew chisel gives a better finish than a scraper when turning between centers. When turning bowls, use a burnished scraper to produce a good surface.

Is it better to turn green wood or dry wood?

When it comes to turning, choosing between greenwood and dry wood is a personal choice. 

Wet wood is easier to turn and produces an uninterrupted ribbon of shavings. However, greenwood is prone to change after the final product, and it shrinks, which is not ideal for more detailed designs on bottle tops or glued pieces.

Dry wood does not change shape over time, but it is difficult to shape into perfectly rounded designs, and it requires more woodturning time and effort. 

Is Oakwood a good wood for turning?

Live oakwood turns smoothly. Green live oak wood is for turning balls. No dust, and it scrapes well. It makes better natural edge bowls and cuts rim bowls. Oaks come in three groups: red, white, and live. White oak wood is easier to turn into pens and is smooth and soft.

Is Mahogany good for turning?

Mahogany increases its appeal to woodworkers. It works with both hand and power tools, and it also glues well and takes a finish with ease. Use breathing protection to keep the dust out of your lungs.

David D. Hughes

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