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Timber - Robin's Notes

These are my personal views on the timbers we sell – how best to use them and how well they turn or carve. I am not a well accomplished turner although I have made the odd pen or two (or several hundred), nor can I particularly carve well (I just need more practice on this one), so take these notes as they are meant – just a few ideas on using our timbers. If you have any feedback or comments, please let me know.

Part 2. Larch to Ovangkol


A tree that can identified from a long way away (if you don’t get the reference, you’re too young, and if I explain it, I’m too old).

Larch is a softwood so not often considered for turning, but the timber is a little tougher than basic pine, so if you are looking for something like pine then this is the wood to choose.

Some care is needed to avoid lifting the grain, but otherwise Larch turns well. It can be polished to a high gloss.


From the same family as, and very similar to Basswood (see above), but I find it varies a little more – both in colour and in density; Lime is often a little harder than basswood and ranges from very pale to a cream colour. I also find that local sources tend to be a little knotty, but that may just be the local timber.

The wood is ideal for carving and pyrography decoration, but otherwise can be a little dull.

Mahogany (American)

There are several timbers referred to as 'Mahogany' - we sell three, Brazilian Cedar, Sapele and this. 

The classic orange-brown timber - starts a pale orange but slowly over time will turn a darker, more even red-brown.

Quite light and not too dense, mahogany is easy to turn and polishes well.


Mango is becoming one of my favourite woods to turn. First impressions may not be great – the grain is uneven with a rough, open texture, but the colour is a mid to dark brown with pale orange-brown streaks which can be striking once finished.

Mango turns quite easily, but tear-out may be an issue as tools become blunt.

Although Mango will not finish to a high shine, it will polish well. The open grain is best finished with a grain sealer and a few coats of wax polish. Adding some gold finishing wax during the process will emphasise the pores.


Maple and Sycamore (the same family, different species) are the classic pale woodturning timbers. ‘Maple’ can refer to a number of similar sub-species from around the world, but generally means either American or European varieties. The characteristics are very similar.

The grain is often straight or just a little wavy but does not often tear-out. The timber turns well and is ideal for pyrography and staining.

Muninga (Mukwa)

Also known as ‘Brown Padauk’, which sort of describes it well enough. The timber has a range of colours from a dark honey to darker shades of chocolate brown. Straight to interlocked grain and a course, open texture.

Very easy to turn as it is not too dense.

Finish with a sanding sealer and wax finish. The open pores invite decoration with colouring waxes.

Oak (American Red)

Colour can vary from a cream to a light biscuit colour, often with a slight hint of pink. With age the colour deepens to a rich brown.

The main difference between English and American Oak is the latter has a more open structure and less figure in the grain.

Red Oak is apparently ideal for liming - not something I have tried yet, but definitely on the To-Do' list.

Oak (English)

English Oak can vary a lot in colour, from a plain biscuit-cream colour to a wonderful deep mottled brown (which we sell as Rustic Oak when we can get it). Most of the timber sold as Oak tends to be a mid-biscuit colour, but this will darken over time to a rich golden-brown.

Oak turns very easily, with only a minor chance of tear-out.

Use a sanding seal and finish with a satin wax polish


Olivewood varies a lot depending on where it has been sourced. Italian Olivewood tends to be less figured as the trees grow stronger and have larger, straighter branches; Spanish olivewood can often be very heavily figured, but this can lead to a lot of voids and open areas in the timber making it near impossible to turn (but great for chopping boards). We are currently sourcing Tunisian Olivewood, which has a nice combination of figure and solid structure.

As long as you have a good solid piece of timber, olivewood turns very well. It also polishes to a high sheen.

Osage Orange

Although popular for its bright yellow colour, this really does not last more than a year or so before the yellow fades to a mid-brown colour. But this should be highlighted as a feature of the timber and not a disappointment – the piece will retain its finish and grain pattern, but instead will be a fine honey colour.

Using UV-reducing Melamine-based finishes is supposed to reduce the colour change, but the only sure way to keep the colour is to keep the object in a sealed bag inside a dark drawer.


Another of my favourite timbers – finished Ovangkol for me has an antique appearance straight from the lathe – no waiting years for the patina to develop.

The timber is moderately dense with a course, open texture. It turns well and finishes to a rich sheen.

The only drawback is the mildly unpleasant smell you get when turning the wood, but this fades once the piece is polished.

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