What is your favorite wood to work with? Why?

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Blog entry by reggiek posted 04-06-2011 12:09 AM 5642 reads 0 times favorited 25 comments Add to Favorites Watch

This weekend I was able spent some time discussing wood types and benefits with an Arboriculturist and tree biology expert . It was most enlightening. We discussed fibre content, strength and growth characteristics. We discussed color and grain. We discussed ages of trees, sustainability and wood ratings. I was amazed at all the science involved.

Anyway, I thought this might be an interesting area to discuss. Perhaps learn something new or interesting about different woods and their pro’s or con’s. Hear what others think about different species….their likes and dislikes.

My favorite wood to work with flat (lumber) is Maple. I like it’s hardness and ability to hold a detailed shape. I really like the different figures available – Tiger, BE, Hard, Soft, etc…etc. Maple is not real forgiving though…and finishes can blead into it if you are not careful. It is not as brittle as some hardwoods like Cocobolo…but it can still be hard to put in a screw or some brads etc. Maple can run the gamut on prices….depending on the figure, the size etc…..but mostly it is in the medium price range. There are quite a few domestic species available so you do not have to pay more for importing it.

When it comes to turning, I have a couple favorites….but if I had to pick one…I would haee to go with Cocobolo. It is beautifully figured, turns easily and holds the detail quite well. Cocobolo is very chip happy….it tears out easily…and will crack or break easily from screws, brads or other insertions (a pilot hole is mandatory on this wood). It is an oily wood and care must be taken when glueing and when finishing in order to insure that you get a decent bond. this wood is also expensive and very heavy/dense – since it is imported this weight adds significantly to the cost.

I haven’t worked with every wood available, so my choices are limited to what I have had experience with. I really enjoy trying a new species….I just puchased a couple of Australian burls to try out (I have never turned these woods so I will have a bit of a learning curve.

-- Woodworking.....My small slice of heaven!

25 comments so far

View chrisstef's profile


18138 posts in 4289 days

#1 posted 04-06-2011 12:40 AM

Sounds like you had an awfully interesting conversation with the arborist. Its kind of wild to me all of the different properties wood can take on.

Right now my favorite wood is reclaimed lumber of any species. I love taking a 100 year old piece of lumber knocking the dirt off and running it through the planer, hopping to the other side wondering whats going to pop out. The wood shows its age and once in a while tells you a story of where its been and what its done for all that time. All the nails that have been pounded into it, its dents and dings and its signs of the past amaze me every time.

I like the topic reggie and im looking forward to reading everyones replies. Thanks.

-- Its not a crack, its a casting imperfection.

View stefang's profile


17040 posts in 4617 days

#2 posted 04-06-2011 12:56 AM

My favorite wood to work with is mahogany because of it’s stability, it’s workability and the way it takes finishes. I love Alder for carving, not necessarily the looks, but the way it cuts. Not too soft or too hard. Otherwise my favorites are what looks most appropriate for the project I’m doing. White oak is another I’m fond of.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Gene Howe's profile

Gene Howe

12436 posts in 4711 days

#3 posted 04-06-2011 01:20 AM

Walnut, White oak, and Mesquite.
Walnut because I get high from the aroma as it’s being worked, It’s beautiful and easy to work.
White oak because it’s another gorgeous wood, very stable and also easy to work.
Mesquite because it’s so darned hard, very pretty and offers a challenge to work. It’s a real treat to turn, I’m told.

-- Gene 'The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.' G. K. Chesterton

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27249 posts in 5105 days

#4 posted 04-06-2011 02:05 AM

I have to cast a vote for cherry. It is readily available, fairly inexpensive, is fairly easy to work and it has a gorgeous color/grain that only improves with age.

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

View gbvinc's profile


629 posts in 5229 days

#5 posted 04-06-2011 03:31 AM

My favorite wood is free wood, of course! Preferably Walnut.

View Gregn's profile


1642 posts in 4266 days

#6 posted 04-06-2011 03:52 AM

I can’t really say that I have a favorite to work with as I’m just starting to dabble in using different hard woods. As for the wood that I have worked with mostly in my woodworking career has been Southern Yellow Pine. Unlike White Pine, Yellow Pine is harder and has a wonderful fragrance when working with it. Its oily pitch can be difficult to clean off of tools requiring added maintenance of machinery. With the use of wood conditioner it stains easily and finishes nicely. Yellow Pine tends to be a heavy wood due to its resin content and fairly stable to work with.

Another wood I have an abundance of is Aromatic Cedar, and am beginning to tap into. I enjoy working with Aromatic Cedar but it requires a respirator when working with. Its also soft and brittle and is light wood. I enjoy its fragrance and its color. I have worked very little with this wood and other woods. I have used some Red Oak, Walnut and Purple Heart but not enough to have an informed opinion on.

If you were to include Plywood as well then I would have to say I love the stuff for cabinets and utility items as well as for making prototypes.

-- I don't make mistakes, I have great learning lessons, Greg

View rustfever's profile


801 posts in 4593 days

#7 posted 04-06-2011 04:01 AM

Walnut, Claro Walnut to be very specific. I LOVE the smell of CW when sanding, planning, lathing, sawing, or otherwise working with it. In fact, it almost makes me spacey.
I have a very good source of Claro Walnut trees, logs, and even stumps. The stumps have some very spectactular graining. I love to turn the root ball wood. Pens, bowls, plates, vases.

-- Rustfever, Central California

View ocwoodworker's profile


209 posts in 4287 days

#8 posted 04-06-2011 05:50 AM

I tried Cherry, Mahogany and hard maple….but as mentioned above WALNUT. Cherry, mahogany and maple blotch a lot, but walnut doesn’t. It smells great and has a natural earthy look. Just coating it with a teak oil makes it look awesome.

-- I'd like to believe Murphy's Law haunts my woodshop, because if it's Karma it would mean I had something to do with it. - K.R.

View Chelios's profile


568 posts in 4349 days

#9 posted 04-06-2011 06:32 AM

I enjoy working with cherry, walnut, really white pine is a pleasure to work with, I like poplar, ebony, padauk. Maple I like but it is so darned hard to work with. I don’t like morado, red oak, burr oak, sycamore because of the smell. Smells like cat pee.

I do like oak because it doesn’t twist easy.

Having said all of that my favorite is still cherry because it is light and hard and smells nice when you work with it.

View Stormin's profile


193 posts in 4072 days

#10 posted 04-06-2011 06:40 AM

I like pine it is very forgiving. I also like fir when I cut it I think about my dad the aroma reminds me of times when I was a young boy helping him ( probably being in the way ) But purple heart is my favorite.

-- I started off with nothing I have most of it left

View amateur's profile


91 posts in 3940 days

#11 posted 04-06-2011 11:24 AM

Whatever is in my hand at the moment is my favorite. But so far, when I get to choose what is going to be in my hand, it is ash. It works so easily, has great strength, and I love the color. The grain makes for some fantastic turnings.

View RGtools's profile


3372 posts in 3937 days

#12 posted 04-06-2011 03:27 PM

I have never liked a particular species one over the other, it’s usually the Tree itself I have to have and work with. Example: I am not a fan of Beech, it’s boring no colour no personality, yet I have a 12 foot slab of Beech because this piece happened to have this pattern of blue “smoke” that went through it. I new I had to have it before I even asked the price. I did not haggle based on the 1 foot splits on either end, I did not care. I have yet to work that piece of wood, it’s sitting, waiting for a design that can keep that character intact. That’s how I feel about wood, when we work it we need to pay homage to the tree it came from.

I will say I have a soft spot for poplar. What other wood ranges from white to black and all the colours in between? The shavings that come from poplar always remind me of angels.

-- Make furniture that lasts as long as the tree - Ryan

View Bertha's profile


13624 posts in 3976 days

#13 posted 04-06-2011 03:32 PM

Walnut for me all the way. I like the way it tools, love the way it looks. It’s just a very comforting surface for me to look at, hard to explain.

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View reggiek's profile


2240 posts in 4553 days

#14 posted 04-06-2011 06:22 PM

So far Walnut seems to be the favorite. Interesting how alot of folks are inclined towards a wood due to it’s aroma….There are some woods that

Walnut is a fine wood to work with…has some interesting figure…medium hardness and weight. I like the darker varieties myself….There is a Peruvian species that is spectacular also – Forgotten Woods sells it online and locally for me – it makes for some spectacular boxes.

I was surprised to see purpleheart mentioned. I find it a very unforgiving wood….it is beautiful color…but not much in the way of figuring….It is a good wood for contrasting other woods – I use it alot for that. It also has one of the most irritating dusts….very dangerous.

-- Woodworking.....My small slice of heaven!

View MyChipCarving's profile


658 posts in 4408 days

#15 posted 04-06-2011 06:26 PM

As a woodcarver my favorite is basswood. Tight grained, soft, and yields excellent shadows when chip carved. Finishing basswood takes practice to avoid blotchy spots (like pine, cherry)
Second favorite to carve is butternut. A bit harder and chips and splits more easily than bass but soft enough to carve nicely. Too bad butternut trees are getting harder and harder to find.

-- Marty,, 866-444-6996

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