Ornamental Turning Book of Knowledge
Materials Used in Ornamental Turning

The Wood Database is a great online reference tool, so links to that site are added where relevant. Images of the wood on this site are courtesy of Eric Meier at The Wood Database. As a side note, Eric has created a poster showing the woods in a form that is really nicely done. I have one in my shop and reference it often.

Eric posted a list of the Top Ten Hardest Woods. I'd bet any of the woods on this list (except Snakewood) would work well.

Finishing: Most ornamental turning pieces are not finished. If you choose to finish your work :

That last bullet is very important : My experience with trying to finish a very hard wood with shellac was a super fail, as was lacquer.

One product I like using is Tried & True's Original Wood Finish. I don't burnish with steel wool as I don't want to mess up the sharpness of the details, but a cloth works well.

Prototyping: Many woods used in ornamental turning are very expensive. If you use one of those, I recommend making a prototype using another, less expensive wood (e.g., Ash or Maple) to :

  1. ensure the design is what you want, and
  2. that you have worked out all the details about how you will achieve that design

Materials Overview: Bonnie Klein put together this presentation on about various materials she uses. She gave a presentation about this at the 2018 Ornamental Turners International Symposium.

Using Multiple Materials: Bill Ooms put together this presentation on using multiple materials in the egg shown on the opening page of this web site. The egg is made from African Blackwood, Maple, Brown Ivory wood, and sterling silver.


African Blackwood

This is an excellent wood for ornamental turning, and gets used often.

It is quite hard (Janka hardness = 16,320 N), so expect to resharpen often. That hardness enables it to hold shapes very well, and the relative plain-ness of the wood allows for the ornamental turning cuts to show well.

More information is in The Wood Database.


Ash

This is a really good wood for prototyping. It is very available, and at a very low cost (or even free).

It's not too hard (unless you are trying to carve it), so you won't have to resharpen often. And it shows cuts well enough to determine if the design is good or not.

More information is in The Wood Database.


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Artificial Ivory

Artificial Ivory is typically made from a resin.

Al Collins has used this material to make some amazing objects (you can see some of his work on his Instagram page). He does this using fixed tool work, and gave a presentation about such work at the 2018 Ornamental Turners International Symposium.


Black Walnut

This is an acceptable wood for ornamental turning. But it is the color, and the relative plain-ness of the wood which is the draw.

Different cutter shapes may be helpful. I have found that a rounded edge (rather like a spoon) leaves a better finish. Pointed cutters leave some "fuzz" on the cut.

Finishing this may be necessary to bring out the cuts.

It is highly available, and moderately priced. Making prototypes is not critical; however it might be useful to ensure the design is what you want.

More information is in The Wood Database.


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Bone

Bonnie Klein has used this material to make some amazing turned boxes. She recently showed some really nice objects made from the femur of a cow. She gave a presentation about this at the 2018 Ornamental Turners International Symposium.


Desert Ironwood

This is an excellent wood for ornamental turning, though it is less used as it has natural beauty, and the ornamentation could easily become gaudy. I have used it to make shaving brushes and it gave some excellent results.

It is quite hard (Janka hardness = 14,500 N), so expect to resharpen often. That hardness enables it to hold shapes very well.

Finishing this may be necessary to bring out the cuts.

More information is in The Wood Database.


Dogwood

This is an excellent wood for ornamental turning, though I have seen little use of it.

The wood is highly dense but not as hard as woods like African Blackwood (Dogwood's Janka hardness = 9,560 N). The high density enables it to hold shapes very well, and the relative plain-ness of the wood allows for the ornamental turning cuts to show well.

Finishing this may be necessary to bring out the cuts.

It is not highly available, but it is also not costly. Due to the lack of availability, I recommend making a prototype as outlined above.

More information is in The Wood Database.


Hard Maple

This is an acceptable wood for ornamental turning, but care must be taken to not burn it with the cutters.

The wood is fairly dense, and it holds shapes very well. But it is the lightness in color, and the relative plain-ness of the wood which is why it is chosen for ornamental turning often.

Different cutter shapes may be helpful. I have found that a rounded edge (rather like a spoon) leaves a better finish.

Finishing this may be necessary to bring out the cuts.

It is highly available, and moderately priced. Making prototypes is not critical; however it might be useful to ensure the design is what you want.

More information is in The Wood Database.


Holly

This is an excellent wood for ornamental turning, and gets used often.

The wood is fairly dense, and it holds shapes very well. But it is the lightness in color, and the relative plain-ness of the wood which is why it is chosen for ornamental turning often.

Finishing this may be necessary to bring out the cuts.

It is not highly available, and is costly. Due to the cost and lack of availability, I recommend making a prototype as outlined above.

More information is in The Wood Database.


Lignum Vitae

This is an excellent wood for ornamental turning, though it is less used as it has natural beauty, and the ornamentation could easily become gaudy.

It is quite hard (Janka hardness = 19,510 N), but the oiliness helps to not have to resharpen often. That hardness enables it to hold shapes very well. It has a natural beauty, but in a simple kind of way that allows for the ornamental turning cuts to show well.

Finishing is probably not necessary due to the inherent oils. If you do choose to finish it, take this into account. As noted, you should test the finish on an unnecessary piece.

More information is in The Wood Database.


Mopane, Mopani

This is an excellent wood for ornamental turning, though it is less used as it has natural beauty, and the ornamentation could easily become gaudy.

It is quite hard (Janka hardness = 15,060 N), so expect to resharpen often. That hardness enables it to hold shapes very well. It has a natural beauty, but in a simple kind of way that allows for the ornamental turning cuts to show well.

More information is in The Wood Database.


Pear

This is an excellent wood for ornamental turning, and gets used often. The wood is easily worked, and it holds shapes well. But it is the color, and the relative plain-ness of the wood which is why it is chosen for ornamental turning.

It has reasonable availability, and is not costly.

More information is in The Wood Database.


Pink Ivory

This is an excellent wood for ornamental turning, and gets used when the color is need for the piece being made (e.g., multi-layered pieces).

It is quite hard (Janka hardness = 14,370 N), so expect to resharpen often. That hardness enables it to hold shapes very well. It has a natural beauty, but in a simple kind of way that allows for the ornamental turning cuts to show well.

More information is in The Wood Database.


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Resin Stabilized Turning Stock

Charles Waggoner has used various woods after stabilizing them with methacrylate resin and a vacuum chamber to reinforce turning stock. He gave a presentation about this at the 2016 Ornamental Turners International Symposium.


About this site
Disclaimer : eMail comments to me at OTBookOfKnowledge @ Gmail.com. The process of woodturning involves the use of tools, machinery and materials which could cause injury or be a health hazard unless proper precautions are taken, including the wearing of appropriate protective equipment.