Materials Used in Ornamental Turning


A lot of materials can be used by ornamental turners to make their pieces. The ones listed below is not an exclusive list, but covers the ones I have used or others have submitted to me. If you find a good one that is not listed, please do send it to me for inclusion.

General Recommendations

  1. Avoid woods that have open pores, meaning avoid woods like walnut and ash.
  2. Depending on your design and decoration goals, it often makes sense to avoid woods with striking grain patterns that compete with subtle decorative cuts.
  3. Pay attention and adjust cutter speeds on woods that are more prone to burning, like cherry and maple.
  4. Many of the fruitwoods are great, if you can get them and successfully season them. I particularly like plum, pear, apple and the citrus woods like orange.
  5. Last, but not least, consider Gorst du Plessis's adage: Life is too short to turn crappy wood.

The Wood Database is a great online reference tool, so links to that site are included on the pages accessed from this one. 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 would work well.

Bonnie Klein gave this presentation, Turning Materials, on about various materials she uses. She gave this presentation at the 2018 Ornamental Turners International Symposium in Seattle, Washington.


Most ornamental turning pieces are not finished with a high gloss; though some do. If you choose to finish your work :

  • using something simple with a low sheen is recommended, and
  • test the finish on an unnecessary piece.

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.


Many woods used in ornamental turning are very expensive. If you use one of those, particularly if you want to make something you've never made, I recommend making a prototype using another, less expensive wood (e.g., Ash or Maple). This enables you to:

  1. ensure the design is what you want, and
  2. that you have worked out all the details about how you will work achieve that design (i.e., the order of operations).

Using Multiple Materials

Bill Ooms gave this presentation, Making an Egg, on using multiple materials in the egg he made which is similar to a Faberge egg. The egg is made from African Blackwood, Maple, Brown Ivory wood, and sterling silver.

Index of Woods

Index of Non-Woods


Artificial Ivory


Resin Stabilized Turning Stock

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About this Site

Disclaimer: eMail comments to me at OTBookOfKnowledge @ 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.