May 26, 2021

What is The Best Wood to Turn on a Lathe

What is the best wood to turn on a lathe?

The best wood for woodturning is an essential question for every woodturner. The tools of our craft are sharp and precise and must be used for a material that will give the best results. Each type of wood has qualities and is best suited for different projects. Any wood can be used for intricate and detailed works of art that showcase the woodturner’s skill and for simple, practical pieces.

Be sure to view our Wood Lathe Projects for Beginners post.

What to look for in wood to turn on a lathe

Choosing the perfect wood for a project is challenging since there is a wide range of wood to turn on a lathe. However, there are features to consider that comprise beauty, durability, and versatility. When unsure, a type of wood that makes a wide range of items is ideal. You need to know the requirements of your project so that you make the perfect pick. Below is a list of characteristics to be considered.


I recommend high-quality wood that works on a variety of projects. It contains low resin content. That makes it easier to work with a variety of saws. 


The durable wood material is resistant to harsh weather conditions. These include rain and snow. It is not easily affected by insects such as fungal attacks and termites.


When choosing the best wood for your project, you must look for the best quality. Good quality wood comes from mature trees. They have a sweet smell and a radiant appearance. 


The color of the wood material determines the item’s color, although you add coating or paint. It has a beautiful grain in its grain. Quality woods come in a darker color on their exterior. 


Good wood should regain its original shape without losing its accuracy. It does not have to break. That is perfect for fishing rods and archery bows. I advise a user who specializes in sports equipment.


Top-quality wood makes a ringing sound that is clear when struck. You might have come across items that make this sound when dropped. The inferior quality wood makes a dull and heavy sound. That is a sign of internal decay.


High-quality wood takes time to deteriorate from mechanical wear and tear. It does not get affected by physical abrasions easily. 

Resistance to fire

Dense wood is resistant to fire. That means they do not catch fire easily. 


Good quality wood contains firm and straight grain. Woods with twisted fiber shows that it does not last long.

Wood Types: Best wood for turning on lathe

Figured Maple

Figured maple wood contains aberrations in the grain that forms different shapes. The color ranges from white to brown. It has irregular borders with a maple pattern. It comes in multiple forms, such as tiger and fiddle back, making musical instruments, cabinetry, and kitchen utensils.


The perfect speed for walnut is 800-1,000rpm. It creates an end grain at the bottom of the item made. It is challenging, a hardwood that needs a sharp tool for turning.


Cherry comes in pale yellowish-white to reddish-brown color. It is interspersed with a dark streak that makes lovely patterns when sanded and polished. It responds well to varnish and oil finishes. 


It has raspberry and colored streaks and dots. It is for bright bowls and platters. The red streaks come from a pigment that is from a fungus. The color ranges from brown to purple. It comes with fine and interlocked fibers. It is ideal for high-end furniture. It is strong, durable, and dense.


The rosewood trees are about 100 feet tall, and the trunks are between 35 and 50 feet. The standard diameter is 30inches. The colors vary from 

Pacific Madrone

It comprises heavy wood that has reddish-brown heartwood and yellow-white sapwood. It requires sharp tools for cutting and shaping. However, it tends to chip rather than splinter. It makes durable items since it is strong and durable.

Red Elm

Red Elm is for turning, although it has an odor. It is not for holding food. It comes in brown-reddish. The grain patterns vary. Sometimes they are fine, and in some, they are wild. They do not last very long since they die young.


Sycamore does not interfere with the original flavor of food. That is why it makes bowls and kitchenware. It is ready to move when it is green. Even when it is dry, it keeps moving. Sycamore wood is hard, and it needs sharp tools for shaping.


Mesquite is a hardwood that comes in red to chocolate brown heartwood and lemon-yellow sapwood. It comprises interlocked and closed grains. I advise you to use it on small projects such as making pepper grinders and bottle stoppers. It is sturdy and dense. It comes with a high texture. Although some users struggle to use it, it has unique qualities. I advise you to use it on small projects.


Hickory is a tough hardwood that suits heavy-duty projects. As much as it is tough, it remains attractive. A sharp tool works well on hickory. You must be careful with the sharp tool since it does not cut through easily. I advise you to sand hickory along with the direction of the grain. 


Ashwood is a general term used to describe all types of ash trees. It can be used in furniture or as an adjective like “ashwood furniture.” Ashwood trees are often beautiful in the fall when their leaves turn orange and red. It is excellent for woodturning projects. It is also easy to work with at home. If you prefer, you can purchase pre-made ashwood logs already cut into smaller pieces of wood.


Beech is hardwood. The sapwood is white and cream, and the heartwood is reddish. It is firm and resistant to shock. However, it remains flexible. It comes in pin or reddish-brown heartwood. It is heavy and comes in a linear style. It is for wooden toys and instruments. Its durability and resistance to abrasion make it perfect for turning on a lathe machine. It is for cabinets, furniture, and floor decor.

When to Use each type of wood

After collecting your wood, it does not mean that it is ready for turning. The wood has to be hazard-free. We use a handheld detector as we look for hidden metal. That is growth from waste metal. 

Drying wood is a choice, and it depends on the type of wood you are using. There is a need for rough cutting so that pieces become smaller and safer to control. I advise you to cut them into halves. The building of jigs follows, and keep your fingers away from the machine. You have to cover the ends of the wood with paint.

Cutting with each type of wood

There are specific tools for cutting each type of wood. Softwood is easy to cut with less sharp tools, unlike hardwood. You have to sharpen your cutting tools, such as chisels. Blunt-cutting tools cause inaccuracy. 

Finishing techniques

Crucial to finish is how the next person will use your item. For safety reasons, the item must be protected. If you are holding it most of the time, I recommend melamine, plastic, or CA surface. I recommend a toy or food-safe surface as there is a high likelihood that users will expose their hands to their mouths.

You can stain with spirit stains if your project allows it. Decorative woodturning will attract a sanding sealer after sanding. There is a finishing sander that will polish your items. For a glossy finish, you can apply wax to ornaments. Multiple coats will last longer and be more resistant to wear. Find out how to turn a pen with a mini lathe.

David D. Hughes

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