17 Best Woods for Woodturning (and When To Use Them!)

Woodturning produces gorgeous pieces of furniture, instruments, and even sporting equipment. If you’re new to the practice or just want to change up the type of material you’re using, you might be wondering which kind of wood is best suited for the job.

Here are the 17 best types of wood for woodturning:

  1. Birch
  2. Maple
  3. Chestnut
  4. Cypress
  5. Walnut
  6. Hickory
  7. Pine
  8. Ash
  9. Rosewood
  10. Cherry
  11. Cypress
  12. Boxelder
  13. Poplar
  14. Elm
  15. Sycamore
  16. Yew
  17. Cedar

In the following sections, I’ll take you through each of these stunning wood varieties and what makes them so well-suited for the practice. I’ll also outline some of their most common uses. Let’s get started! 

1. Birch

Up first on our list is Birch—a staple wood in furniture, plywood, flooring, and wood turning. Birch has beautiful reddish-brown coloring and is a softer hardwood that is very durable so that it won’t splinter as easily.

There are many different species of Birch trees, so the wood isn’t hard to find and tends to be pretty affordable. The best types of Birch for wood turning are Yellow Birch and Cherry Birch.

When To Use Birch for Wood Turning

Birch is an excellent option for turning furniture pieces, like chair legs, table legs, lamps, and railing for banisters (just to name a few). Its durability and strength allow the furniture to support a substantial amount of weight and hold up for long periods of time. In short, the material offers excellent value for its price.

2. Maple

The next wood variety, Maple, is a hardwood with a classic dark brown look that fits well in any space. It’s a stable material that works well with a lathe. Ensure you use sharp tools when working with Maple, or you risk tearing the flesh.

Maple may be hard to stain because it’s so porous, but the natural color will still look good without it. I recommend that you only try to stain Maple if you’ve had a lot of practice.

When To Use Maple for Wood Turning

Maple is known as a tonewood, so it is best used for making musical instruments—pieces of tonewood act as soundboards, which send musical sounds across the room. You can turn a piece of Maple wood into violin or guitar necks, drum shells, or bassoons.

3. Chestnut

Chestnut is a light-colored softwood. Like Birch trees, Chestnut trees come in different species. One particularly good variety for wood turning is Horse Chestnut. Wood turners may enjoy working with Horse Chesunt because it sands easily and finishes nicely.

However, Chestnut does have a few flaws. For one, it may move as it dries. Another is that it absorbs the moisture surrounding it, allowing the wood to rot quickly.

When To Use Chestnut for Wood Turning

Chestnut wood turns well into clocks, bowls, and cabinets—all indoor fixtures that should stay away from moisture. As a bonus, Chestnut makes an especially good fruit bowl as its ability to absorb excess moisture keeps your fruit fresher for significantly longer.

4. Cypress

Another harder soft wood that’s great for turning is Cypress. It’s a stable wood that should dry well. To avoid tearing, use sharp tools when working with this type of material. Take caution while turning to ensure your tools don’t begin to dull as you work.

Bald Cypress is a variety of Cypress wood that turns well. This tree originates in the swamplands of Louisiana—it can withstand all types of weather.

When To Use Cypress for Wood Turning

You can make Cypress wood into tables, chairs, and other sturdy furniture pieces. Because it’s a weather-proof material, many woodworkers use Cypress for outdoor furniture. However, the variety works just as excellently indoors, which is why this type of wood is viewed as highly versatile.

5. Walnut

If using a lathe is the primary way you turn wood, try out Walnut for your next project. Walnut is a harder variety, so you’ll need to use sharp tools. It can also be difficult to sand. However, when handled correctly, you’re left with a great result.

When To Use Walnut for Wood Turning

Walnut is another tonewood, so it works very well as a piece for a musical instrument, such as a guitar or mandolin neck.

Walnut wood can create a lot of dust as you turn it, so I recommend you wear a dust mask when working with it. I love the 3M Particulate Respirator N95, available on Amazon. You’ll get a box of 20 for a reasonably low price.

6. Hickory

Hickory is a wood native to the U.S., so it’s widely available for woodworkers to access. It is a shock-resistant variety that turns effortlessly with sharp tools. This hardwood is incredibly durable and stains easier than other types, like Maple. 

One big drawback of Hickory is that it scratches easily, so use caution when woodworking. 

When To Use Hickory for Wood Turning

The toughness and durability of Hickory allow it to work wonderfully for tools and other objects where shock resistance is essential, like baseball bats.

You may have to experiment a bit when drying Hickory as it tends to crack. Change up the sizes of your project until you find the best method.

7. Pine

Pine is one of the most popular varieties on today’s list. This wood is soft and not as dense as other types, so it is easy to shape. Pine is also stable while turning.

One watch out: fresh Pine wood can be sappy or leave behind what is called pinch. If the sap builds up on your tools while you work, stop and clean the blades. Repeat the process if necessary because your tools should stay sharp throughout your work.

When To Use Pine for Wood Turning

Pine is a cheap variety, and it’s easy to work with; thus, it is a great wood for beginners. Try out making some decorations for your house or around your desk, like round picture frames and shelves. Be careful, as Pine can scratch or dent easily.

8. Ash

Ash trees are a hardwood option for wood turning and are native to North America, so they are broadly available across the states.

Ash wood has all the markers of a good turning wood: it’s durable, shock-resistant, and works well with tools (such as a lathe) without breaking. Even though it is a hardwood, Ash also bends easily and finishes well.

When To Use Ash for Wood Turning

Because of its durability and shock-resistant quality, Ash is best used when making baseball bats—this wood can withstand the damage, collision, and impact of a fastball. In fact, while Hickory was the most popular wood for bats, nowadays, Ash has taken the reins.

As a tonewood, you can also use Ash to make drum shells and the necks of electric guitars because it is such a stiff material.

9. Rosewood

Rosewood gets its name from the smell it gives off—sort of like roses and citrus, so you can imagine it is a fun variety to work with. This tree type is hardwood, so it features that coveted durability of a good wood for turning. Rosewood also polishes very well for an exquisite finish.

One big con with this type of wood is that it can be hard to find. Rosewood trees are native to Africa and Asia, but the trees are endangered. If you get your hands on any, take caution. Because this wood is a rarity, it may be expensive.

When To Use Rosewood for Wood Turning

Rosewood, like Walnut and Maple, is a tonewood. The best way to use this type of material is to make musical instruments—especially guitars.

Be aware of the embargo restrictions on Rosewood, should you ever try to hunt them down. Making musical instruments is an exception, according to the CITES.

10. Cherry

Cherry is one of those woods that has a range of beautiful colors, especially once finished. Since this wood features a fine grain, it has a smooth finish. Cherry wood works well on a lathe, so it’s very easy to turn. Black Cherry wood is the species American woodworkers most commonly use because of its availability.

Like other woods on this list, you must dry Cherry carefully to prevent cracking in your final product.

When To Use Cherry for Wood Turning

Because this type of wood is so easy to turn, I recommend that Cherry is the wood beginners reach for when they first try their hand at wood turning. Like Pine, it is softer, so an experienced hand is not necessary to get the results you’re looking for. You can make some beautiful furniture or decorative pieces.

11. Holly

Though you may associate Holly with Christmas time, the wood of a Holly tree is an excellent choice for wood turning. Holly is a stunning wood with a creamy, white look. However, it does have to dry for a long time. I recommend that if you are just starting, try turning it dry to avoid long wait times and discoloration.

When To Use Holly for Wood Turning

Due to Holly’s natural, beautiful colors, the wood makes gorgeous bowls, boxes, ornaments, and door handles. The hardness of Holly also makes it a good choice for items like tool handles. And though it’s not a tonewood, Holly can make both accordion and piano keys.

12. Boxelder

Boxelder is a type of Maple tree with wood that is also excellent for turning. It is a bright and beautiful wood with stunning, colorful patterns. Boxelder is a soft wood, so it smoothly turns on a lathe. Keep in mind that it has a strong smell when wet, so proceed with caution.

When To Use Boxelder for Wood Turning

Because of its beautiful color, you should use Boxelder when turning a bowl into a piece of decorative furniture. Like Holly, Boxelder is not considered a tonewood, but the Native Americans used the wood to make flutes, drums, and pipe stems.

13. Poplar

Poplar is a softer hardwood that works well with a lathe. Because of its soft nature, you’ll find that it sands better with a finer grit. You will need sharp tools when turning, or your wood will tear; but when you finish, you should notice how easy it is to paint.

However, staining is a different story. The wood’s porous nature can make your finished product splotchy rather than smooth. Use a pre-stain treatment or conditioner before you attempt to stain Poplar for a more even result, like the Minwax Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner from Amazon.

When To Use Poplar for Wood Turning

Poplar is a wood that works well for woodworking novices, experienced professionals, and anyone in between. Like Pine wood, it is inexpensive and easy to get your hands on, but the finishing process does require a bit more time and effort.

14. Elm

There are countless different species of Elm trees that bring a variety of woods. I suggest you try a softer wood for turning, such as Red Elm or American Elm. If you choose a harder wood, you’ll need to use sharp tools for the best result.

Another big watch out with Elm is that it has a strong odor, so keep that in mind for your workplace and the final product placement.

When To Use Elm for Wood Turning

Soft Elm is best used for household decorations, like clocks and bowls because the material isn’t really known for its durability and weight support. Hard Elm is great for furniture pieces, such as tables, cabinets, and chairs, because it is more durable.

15. Sycamore

Sycamore is another species of Maple tree. This wood is hard—it doesn’t split or break easily, so it can be difficult to cut yourself but easy to turn if you have sharp tools. Quarter-sawn Sycamore wood is the kind woodworkers search for: it has a more intriguing pattern than your average Sycamore wood.

When To Use Sycamore for Wood Turning

Sycamore wood has a natural pleasant scent that will leave you intrigued; however, it isn’t a strong smell, and it doesn’t transfer to other objects. This ability makes the material an excellent option for wooden plates, bowls, and utensils. You can also use Sycamore wood to construct the back of a violin or viola.

16. Yew

Yew wood is one of the hardest softwoods, which comes in a wide range of gorgeous varieties you can choose from. This type of wood has a yellowish color, so it is one of the most unique woods you can find on this list based on that alone. It finishes well and turns easily.

When To Use Yew for Wood Turning

The Native Americans used to use Yew wood to make bows for their arrows and string instruments. You can do the same, or you can use the wood for cabinetry or other pieces of furniture.

However, it would be best if you take caution when turning Yew. The tree parts were used for making poison for years, so wear a dust mask when working.

17. Cedar

Cedar is a turning wood with many benefits: certain species have an appealing, earthy scent that bugs can’t stand, so it smells great and keeps insects away from your projects. The smell may dissipate over time due to oxidation, but you can lightly sand the wood to get it back.

When To Use Cedar for Wood Turning

Because Cedar wood is naturally resistant to insects, water, and wood rot, it is a wonderful choice for outdoor projects like patio furniture. I should note that Cedar wood tends to expand and contract based on the weather and its surrounding environment. Take care to turn your projects at a size that takes a potential contraction into account.

Damien Madeira

Damien has been doing woodworking for the last 5 years. He began as a hobbyist with hand tools and slowly worked his way up to own larger machines and mill rough wood into beautiful creations. While still considering himself a hobbyist, he has a passion for woodworking and enjoys working with epoxy as well.

Recent Posts