random #1: Walnut Wood - I just need to know...

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Blog entry by Gary Fixler posted 02-26-2009 01:51 AM 8682 reads 0 times favorited 19 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of random series Part 2: Just realized exactly how tiny my shop is :( »

Does anyone else – when working with black walnut – think it smells delicious? I just want to eat it whenever I’m cutting it. I was recently cutting out a ball blank from a glue-up of walnut, maple, and wenge, the latter two of which don’t really have a smell when cut. But the walnut! My dull band saw blade was more burning than cutting, and I was just about drooling all over the table. It smelled like warm cinnamon chocolate bread pudding. I almost ran to the bakery in defiance of my new year’s diet. What torture!

What other woods do you love to work with for the smell (or taste! :) alone? Which ones stink too much to enjoy?

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator

19 comments so far

View brianinpa's profile


1812 posts in 4111 days

#1 posted 02-26-2009 01:58 AM

Gary, it smells great but in my opinion the taste does not match the smell. For me I really like the smell of cedar.

-- Brian, Lebanon PA, If you aren’t having fun doing it, find something else to do.

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27250 posts in 4210 days

#2 posted 02-26-2009 02:01 AM

Another wood that has a nice odor to it when you work with it is cherry.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View Craftsman on the lake's profile

Craftsman on the lake

2975 posts in 3826 days

#3 posted 02-26-2009 02:17 AM

I like Gabarelli. It’s a wood found only here in Maine and near the Canadian border at that. It smells like cheese melted in a fondu kettle but only if the wood is cut wet. If it’s put dry on a jointer or planer it smells like shredded cheddar. When I’m done I just bury my face in the pile of shavings on the floor of the shop. That is until my wife comes in as she knows that I’m just full of it (ah.. not cheese).

I’ve dulled more planer blades than I care to mention producing enough for dinner engagements.

On a serious note… hand planing dry sitka spruce is a very woodworking sort of smell. Guitar makers know what I mean.

-- The smell of wood, coffee in the cup, the wife let's me do my thing, the lake is peaceful.

View John Ormsby's profile

John Ormsby

1288 posts in 4125 days

#4 posted 02-26-2009 02:21 AM

Padauk has a slight chocolate smell. But, it is toxic and a respirator must be used.

-- Oldworld, Fair Oaks, Ca

View oldskoolmodder's profile


801 posts in 4068 days

#5 posted 02-26-2009 02:25 AM

You’re not alone about Black Walnut. Does any other wood REALLY exist?

Unfortunately, I’ve tasted MUCH more MDF sawdust lately, and my palate is slightly off. Not good considering I’m a chef. hehehe

ok, so… Red Cedar is nice too, as is American Black Cherry & Apple.

-- Respect your shop tools and they will respect you - Ric

View kiwi1969's profile


608 posts in 3830 days

#6 posted 02-26-2009 02:53 AM

Years ago my dad turned a lidded bowl out of some New Zealand native ( not sure which one, it was a long time ago) and no matter what we did it stank of puke, seriously it was pungent and it just wouldn,t go away and the longer the lid was on the worse it got. Funny thing was customers in my dads craft shop would always lift the lids on bowls and smell them, not sure why people do that but we left the puke bowl on the shelf and it was always amusing watching their reactions after enjoying the smell of Kauri ,apple wood, pear and walnut when they lifted the lid on the puke bowl. That joke never got old. Funnily enough nobody ever bought it.
Personnely i,m a sucker for the smell of pine, spruce and fir, I guess thats from the years in sawmills.

-- if the hand is not working it is not a pure hand

View sIKE's profile


1271 posts in 4142 days

#7 posted 02-26-2009 03:00 AM

I love the smell of walnut in the morning….

-- //FC - Round Rock, TX - "Experience is what you get just after you need it"

View Gary Fixler's profile

Gary Fixler

1001 posts in 3770 days

#8 posted 02-26-2009 03:02 AM

Brian – Agreed. The taste of the wood shavings was a big disappointment after that build-up :)

Scott – Good to know! I have yet to work in cherry. It’s been on the list for months.

Rob – Hadn’t heard of pinion pine, adding it to my list, and I’m quite curious about olive wood especially.

Daniel – your fancy ‘only in one part of Maine’ wood makes me realize even more the difficult task that lies ahead of me in collecting samples of every wood there is. I don’t find any hits on Google for the wood. Does it go by another name, or is it part of a larger species?

John – I have some padauk now – a 2’ plank from Rockler that’s been sitting around for awhile, waiting for a purpose (it was on sale). I’ll be curious to see how it smells when I finally cut into it. Thanks for the warning about the toxicity. It’s such a small piece, I probably would have mistakenly assumed it was safe.

Ric – seems like fruit trees by nature smell nice. I actually have 3 bundles of firewood from Home Depot and the grocery store that I wanted to practice resawing on, and see if I could make something nice out of them, and the HD bundle claims it might contain some fruit wood. It’s hard to identify quartered logs, but I have Bruce Hoadley’s book “Identifying Wood,” and am scouting for a small handheld miscroscope. I’m not giving up yet.

Kiwi – that’s great! I got 4 boxes of assorted hardwoods from Rockler earlier this year, and while going through, taking pictures, weighing them, making guesses as to what they might be while researching online (you know, being a wood geek), I found a few here and there that were just awful to smell, almost like you say. I wondered who would ever want to work in those woods, especially with any regularity.

Barry – I have had basswood strips, but never really cut into any bigger blocks of it. You’ve got me curious. I like pine, but at the same time, after awhile, it makes me a bit nauseous. It’s very nostalgic for me, as I built pretty much everything out of it in high school, but the other side of that coin is that I often feel really old when it reminds me of how much more fluidly I could dance around whatever I was building in that younger body :)

sIKE – nice :)

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator

View teenagewoodworker's profile


2727 posts in 4156 days

#9 posted 02-26-2009 04:56 AM

walnut, peruvian walnut, pine, cherry…. those are some of my favorites but ebony though is horrid. i can stand smelling the stuff

View ShopMonkey's profile


26 posts in 3845 days

#10 posted 02-26-2009 05:03 AM

I could lick a cedar or a walnut board. haha.

-- I like trees ...... as long as their by the board foot.

View JuniorJoiner's profile


493 posts in 3828 days

#11 posted 02-26-2009 05:22 AM

not sure about eating it, but you should try port orford cedar, sandalwood, and juniper.
I made a sandalwood burl box a few years ago, still smells amazing.(got the wood for 23 dollars in iran)

I also like putting some alaskan yellow cedar through the planer. I keep a bag of the shavings to throw some into the shopvac whenever i change the bag. that way it dosen’t make the room smell musty when it turns on.

I have exotics that smell awful though. I have some greenhart that smells like fueloil when i plane it.

unfortunately, smell is usually a low priority when choosing wood for a piece. also the best smelling are usually expensive. But a nice smelling object always brings a smile when handled(and they usually sell). So us woodworkers cherish making beautiful things from these woods.
just remember to keep a few for yourself

-- Junior -Quality is never an accident-it is the reward for the effort involved.

View Karson's profile


35188 posts in 4788 days

#12 posted 02-26-2009 05:34 AM

I can usually tell when cutting from the rosewood family. It has a very distinctive smell.

Of course I love red cedar. My cherry scraps go into the smoker for smoking meat.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Appomattox Virginia [email protected]

View lazyfiremaninTN's profile


528 posts in 4341 days

#13 posted 02-26-2009 05:53 AM

I love the smell of Walnut. I also have taken a liking to fresh cut cedar. I recently went to the cedar mill and got 3 beautiful pieces and have them drying on the top of my lumber rack. I have walked by the garage door and opened it just to smell the fresh cedar.

-- Adrian ..... The 11th Commandment...."Thou Shalt Not Buy A Wobble Dado"

View Gary Fixler's profile

Gary Fixler

1001 posts in 3770 days

#14 posted 02-26-2009 01:03 PM

bentlyj – You could just get 1bft of walnut, and keep sanding the end grain, taking hits off of that for your fix ;)

teenage – You’re the second person to tell me ebony stinks. I’m so very curious now. I think I have 4 turning blanks of that in an assortment from Rockler that’s been sitting around since the holidays waiting for me to get good enough on my mini lathe to warrant digging into them.

Jarrod – I’m wondering now about wooden ‘recipes.’ I.e. gluing up certain amounts and numbers of pieces of various fragrant wood types to create aromatic blends when, e.g., turned on the lathe that are practically irresistible to people who want to give me money :)

ShopMonkey – haha! nice.

JuniorJoiner – I know a bit about juniper smell. I have Hollywood Junipers in my back yard, and cut off a pretty big, sprawling limb to make room for a shed I built, and it was about 2.5” at its thickest. It looks amazing in cross-section, like a slice of ham. I cut it up around its small, burlish areas into fairly-straight turning blanks. I’m curious to see what I can get out of them when they finish air-drying.

Karson – I looked into rosewoods recently, and some are just gorgeous. The things I’ve seen made in them online fill me with a deep desire to improve my skills enough to warrant using them. Got me curious about the smell now, too. Also, I didn’t realize cherry was a good smoking wood. Thanks for the info!

Adrian – I got a box of hardwoods, and was stumped on one piece for awhile, looking things up, and then – as with all the pieces in the box – I smelled it. It was immediately identifiable – aromatic cedar! After that, I smelled each piece immediately when investigating it, though I wasn’t really familiar at that point with any other wood smells. I’ve been working to train myself while working in the shop to recognize the smells more quickly. It just feels right, like a captain knowing the sounds of his/her vessel. Oh, and the reason I was stumped by the cedar – it was amberish and yellowish-red. I didn’t realize those were the colors of cedar, as all the cedar I’d ever known – in ball and shake form – had always been purplish. I later read that there are a variety of fragrant trees masquerading as cedars for those kinds of applications (e.g. mothballs), and some of those are more purple. They aren’t cedar, IIRC, but have some shared properties. Also, I think fresh redcedar heartwood is purple, but fades more to tan. More on that. The juniper/cypress/cedar stuff really confuses me.

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator

View joemick's profile


13 posts in 3766 days

#15 posted 02-26-2009 01:08 PM

I’m with some others, the smell of newly cut cedar floats my boat.


-- Joemick

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