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Price: This is an indication of the prices of turning timbers, relative to one another. It starts at 'relatively low', which for comparison is about 2-3 times the price of the cheap nasty stuff available from DIY stores. "Sit down before asking" is the other end of the scale - would you believe a piece of rough-cut timber a foot long and three inches square could cost £36? And "master grade" Snakewood is even dearer.
Availability: An indication of how likely I am to have some of this in stock, or be able to get it easily.
Terms: "Spindle turning" means the wood is turned with the grain running along its length, i.e. along the lathe-bed. The blank starts off as a square-section length. This method is used for long or tall items such as candlesticks and lace bobbins.
"Faceplate turning" means the wood is turned with its grain running across its width, and across the lathe bed. The blank starts as a disc. This method is used for bowls, and most items that are shorter than they are wide, such as the bases of my multiple bud vases, perpetual calendars etc.
Some items, such as my pewter collar lamp bases, can be made either way depending on their proportions.
|African Blackwood - Similar to Ebony, and almost as expensive. I occasionally use this when I need a very dark timber and I can find some at a not-too-expensive price,
but I prefer Mgurure as it's more reasonably priced though nowhere near as dark.
Price - expensive. Availability - not generally in stock, but usually readily available in fairly small pieces for spindle turning.
|African Walnut - see Walnut, African.|
Also known as Ovangkol. From Africa, generally a fairly dark brown sometimes with a golden-brown tinge, with irregular darker lines.
Price - fairly expensive. Availability - generally available for spindle-turned items only.
|American Walnut - see Walnut, American.|
|Apple - Quite a colourful timber, but the colour tends to be in quite wide bands, so this one isn't really suitable for small items. Warps readily, especially if not totally dry when turned - as the photo shows! Very rare commercially, as most trees are simply burnt when they reach the end of their useful lives.
Price - moderate. Availablity - not generally available although I have a small amount ready to use and most of a tree drying in the shed.
|Ash - Some people think of this as a plain, pale, fairly boring wood. They've obviously never seen the good stuff!
Example 1 Example 2 It can be very attractive, with bands and patches varying from almost white to very dark brown, occasionally with greenish or greyish areas, and I've even seen pink markings, though these generally fade on exposure. I only buy the most attractive pieces. Coarse grained, so not generally used for very small items like lace bobbins.
Price - relatively low. Avalability - Generally available.
|Ash, spalted - A quite rare timber, but can be very attractive - sometimes! Spalting is the first stage of decay, caused by the action of bacteria and fungus spores.
It causes the wood to change colour in distinct bands and blotches, and black or grey lines often occur between areas of different colours. Ash isn't one of the best timbers for spalting;
generally the main colour change consists of dirty-looking grey streaks and blotches, and it progresses very quickly to just plain rotten and unusable. Just occasionally some spectacular
pieces can be found, and these are the ones I buy, if I'm lucky.
See left picture for the former, and right (actually spalted burr Ash) for the latter.
Price - Moderate. Avalability - Generally available.
From Australia, these odd-looking seed pods make all sorts of interesting items like the bud vases shown here. Very unpleasant to work with: there is a layer of red 'fur' under the outer shell that irritates the skin when it flies off the lathe at high speed, and the amount of dust produced is remarkable. Also, partially cut-through seed holes as shown on these vases can cause difficulties (and pain) when sanding and polishing!
Banksia wood is occasionally available, but there's nothing special about it apart from its relationship to the very unusual "nuts".
Price - More expensive than most equivalent-sized pieces of timber, but simple designs keep item prices reasonable. Availability - 'Normal' sizes are generally available, extra-large ones only turn up occasionally.
From French Guiana, a hard, dark and very dense timber, one of the few that are heavier than water. Quite difficult to work but takes an excellent finish.
Price - Expensive. Availability - Quite rare, but available at the moment for small items.
|Beech - a rather boring wood, close-grained and water-resistant, very good for kitchen items like chopping boards and wooden spoons. I rarely use it, though it makes good dibbers and honey-dippers. Price - relatively low.|
|Beech, spalted - Totally different from plain beech. See Ash, Spalted for a description of what spalting actually is. Beech is one of the best timbers for spalting, it
seems to take a long time to go from slightly spalted to rotten, and the intervening stages can be magnificent.
In the example photos, the pear has unusual markings, with many black lines close together. The bowl (not a great photo, sorry) is more typical.
Price - fairly high, but varies. Availability - variable. Medium-sized bowl blanks are usually available, but large ones are scarce, as are square lengths for boxes etc.
(Mexican Rosewood) I've listed this here rather than with the other Rosewoods as it's usually sold under this name. A yellowish-brown colour with close-set dark brown to black lines throughout. Fairly fine-grained and slightly oily. I use this for small decorative items like boxes and lace rollers - large pieces would make lovely but very expensive bowls.
Price - Expensive. Availability - Generally available in small sizes.
From the Cameroon, Gabon and Zaire, reddish brown, often with a purple tinge. Turns fairly well and takes a good finish, but can be difficult on faceplate turnings as the end-grain tears easily.
Price - Moderately expensive. Availabilty - generally available, but not something I keep in stock.
|Cherry - English - There seems to be three varieties of Cherry grown in the UK, the two most common are shown here. On the left is my favourite, a fairly pale timber but with a slight golden shade. On the right is the more usual paler variety. (They look very similar in the photos, but there is a definite difference of shade in real life). These are almost certainly just slight variations of the same species. The third type has a pinkish tinge and a less pronounced grain pattern, and according to my "World Woods" book, this is how European Cherry should look, but in my area at least, this type tends to be much less common. American Cherry is also sometimes available in the UK; this has a similar grain pattern to the pale UK varieties but is a darker reddish-brown colour.
Price - Moderate. Availability - the pale variety is the most common and this is what most items in 'Cherry' will normally be - I normally have some in stock. When I have any, the more golden shade will be used. The pinkish variety is fairly uncommon and will be described on my item pages as "Pink Cherry".
|Cocobolo Brazil produces Kingwood, but to me it's Mexico that has the real king of South American timbers - this one. It has two colour variants (not generally recognised by books or suppliers) that I refer to as ginger and red-brown. I prefer the ginger, but (of course) it's less common. I usually have to buy this by mail-order as no local suppliers stock it, so which variety I get is down to luck.
Price - Expensive. Availability - Generally available.
|Coolibah Burr Also spelt Coolabah. One of several Australian burrs of the Eucalyptus family. The main difference between all these burrs is their colour, though the outer surface under the bark also varies. Coolibah is generally lumpy rather than spiky, though on this piece this cannot be seen as the bark has been retained. The colour is a pale brown with darker "bird's eye" spots, and very pale sapwood around the edge.
Virtually all Australian timbers are only available as burrs, and many of them are so irregular in shape that I often carve them into elongated and/or irregular oval bowls rather than attempting to turn them.
Price - expensive. Large burrs are very expensive indeed - just the wood costs more than a large bowl in English timber. Availability - I generally have a few Australian burrs available, but size and species varies with my suppliers' stock.
|Elm Mid-brown coarse-grained timber with clearly defined grain pattern, often irregular and cross-grained. Takes a fairly good finish, though on 'twisty' areas the end-grain tends to tear out.
Price - Moderate. Availability - Not that common any more, but still generally available. I try to keep some in stock.
|Goncalo Alves From Brazil, a reddish-brown timber with dark brown stripes and patches.
Price - Fairly expensive. Availability - Sometimes available.
|Imbuya (Also spelled Imbuia) From Brazil, yellowish to olive brown, usually with darker markings. Has a peppery smell when first cut but this is not generally noticeable in finished items.
Price - Fairly expensive. Availability - Sometimes available.
|Iroko Golden to mid-brown, often with darker brown streaks. Can be very attractive, but as most of its beauty is in the subtle variations between fairly large areas, it only looks good in large items like the pictured 12" (300mm) diameter platter.
Price - Moderate. Availability - Generally available, but not something I usually keep in stock.
|Laburnum - An attractive timber with a distinct difference between heartwood and sapwood. When freshly turned it's a greenish to yellowish brown as shown in the pattern holder, but it ages to a very dark brown, see the mushroom. Heartwood is nicely figured and takes a good finish, but the sapwood can often look dirty - the mushroom shows an unusually clean example.
Price - Moderate. Availability - Not common. I have none left at the moment.
|Lacewood - London Plane, European Plane. A light reddish-brown colour with very conspicuous medullary rays visible as a lacy pattern on quarter-sawn flat surfaces and some areas of curved surfaces, hence its common name. Can be very attractive, but I buy with caution as it is prone to the presence of dirty-looking grey patches.
Price - Moderate. Availability - Generally available but I don't often use it.
|Lignum Vitae Very hard and heavy, heavier than water. Varies from fairly dark greenish-brown to very dark brown, almost black, with interlocked grain that can sometimes give a herringbone pattern. Very oily, used for ship's propellor bushes and bearings as it is self-lubricating. Large pieces tend to split while drying, and since they are generally supplied part-seasoned I rarely use them. I usually only make pens from this, using small fully-seasoned pieces.
Price - Expensive. Availability - not usually stocked by me, and difficult to obtain fully-seasoned.