Best Wood for Turning (Types for Beginner Woodturning Lathe Work)

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The effort that you put into turning a piece of wood would make you serious about the stock (raw material for turning) you use. You can create beautiful objects from the most unlikely types of wood if you have a woodturning lathe. In this article, we look at some of the best wood for turning that you can get.

Best Types of Wood For Turning

While some of the kinds of wood mentioned here come under the category of exotic and perhaps you may not find them easily, the others are. While you may be interested in reading about these types, you may not get all of them readily. Hence, it would help if you looked around. You may be surprised at what you can dig out.

Figured Maple

Black figured maple
Black figured maple (Image: waOSPI)

Figured wood is wood that contains aberrations in the grain that forms different shapes. You get different variations of figured maple like tiger, spalted, fiddle back, curl, and birds-eye. If you are unable to find this wood locally, you can look for it online


Walnut wood
Walnut wood (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

You can get the best out of walnut wood by turning on a lathe at between 800 RPM to 1,000 RPM. It is a tough wood so you will need sharp tools to work on it. Walnut has a pronounced end grain, which may cause tears at the bottom of a bowl.

It can create a rough surface, which may prove difficult to sand. Hence, you have to proceed with care. However, you will get satisfactory results with a clear finish and several coats of Danish oil.


Cherry Wood
Cherry Wood (Image: CG Masters)

Cherry wood responds equally well to varnish, clear lacquer, and oil finishes. You can get the best results by thinning the first coat which seals the surface. Then you need to sand it with 0000 steel wool or 400-grit sandpaper and recoat after the coating is dry.

The extensive color range of cherry wood from pale yellowish-white to reddish-brown is interspersed with dark streaks. When sanded and stained or polished, you can get some attractive patterns.

Box Elder

Box Elder
Box Elder (Image: Kathy Knorr)

The wood of a box elder tree sometimes exhibits streaks and flecks in a raspberry-like color. This makes the wood attractive to woodturners, particularly for making colorful platters, goblets, and bowls. The red streaks originate from a fungus called Fusarium negundi.


Rosewood tree
Rosewood tree (Image: KailashKumbhkar)

These trees grow up to heights of 100 feet. The trunks are straight and clear so that you can get a lot of wood without any defects or cracks. Rosewood grows in Asia and Africa, but it is difficult to procure as it is an endangered species.

Rosewood enjoys a prized position for its deep reddish-brown color and characteristic fragrance that lasts for years. You can make exceptional items like chessmen and parts of musical instruments from rosewood.

Pacific Madrone

Pacific Madrone bark tree
Pacific Madrone bark tree (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

This species of wood is always preceded by the word “Pacific” to differentiate it from the Mexican variety. However, most of the madrone you find in the United States comes from a mountain range that starts in British Columbia and ends up on the central coast of California. You can make elegant vases from the Pacific madrone.

Red Elm

Red Elm
Red Elm (Image: atalou)

We find about 20 species of red elm in temperate forests around the world. Elm grows up to 140 feet tall in the forest, although open-grown trees may not become so high. The wood has a pale, light-brown shade that takes an excellent polish. You can make uniquely-shaped vases from red elm.

Spalted Maple

Spalted Maple
Spalted Maple (Image: Bob Richmond)

We call the pattern that fungus makes in growing trees and logs “spalting”. The result is black streaks that can create a striking marbling effect on turning spalted maple. Species like maple are prone to spalting. You can make beautiful wooden bowls and other similar articles by turning spalted maple. Because spalting is a kind of damage to the wood, you need to cut it before it ruins the wood.

Quartersawn Sycamore

The specialty of this type of wood is that it displays prominent ray flecks on the surface. These rays form during the growing process when the pith of the sycamore log develops. Quartersawn sycamore gets its name from the way the lumber is sawn to get these flecks. Again, quartersawn sycamore makes some great wooden bowls and vases.

Bradford Pear

Bradford Pear tree
Bradford Pear tree (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Bradford pearwood is a very hard and dense wood, but it turns well. It has a light, orange color but may have occasional pinkish colored streaks. You can sand this wood well to get high quality. However, the wood is not easy to come by and is usually found in urban areas. You can make beautiful bowls and vases with Bradford pearwood.

Live Oak Root

You can use live oak root for your stock instead of the trunk of a tree or its branches. It makes some impressive items when turned, especially wooden bowls and other wooden kitchen items. You need to harvest the wood at the junction between the tree roots and the trunk. This sort of wood turns exceptionally well when it is green and is less likely to split due to interlocking grain.


Cocobolo (Image: Stephan Terre)

Cocobolo is a dense wood suitable for creating high-end objects like chessmen, cane heads, tool handles, pool cues, and a host of decorative wooden items. It comes under the same genus as Brazilian rosewood.

Cocobolo exhibits similar properties to Brazilian rosewood, but you will find it more commonly in the savanna region of Central America. However, this wood can cause an allergy similar to the allergy of poison ivy, so you need to exercise caution while handling it.


Woodturning is a great woodworking activity that you can pursue as a hobby or turn into a professional venture. Whichever form you undertake with woodturning, you will need to have a constant source of stock for your projects.

All wood is not made equal. Hence, some types of wood are suitable for woodturning, while others are not. You would want to know which is the best wood for turning.

We hope that we have provided you with enough types of wood for you to pursue and acquire a few from our list. With the right kind of wood, you will surely be able to create some beautiful wooden items on your woodworking lathe.


Featured Image by Kathy Knorr