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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 1. Padauk to Zebrano


Popular for its vivid terracotta colour when freshly cut, Padauk is another of the colour-changing timbers, where this colour will darken quite quickly when exposed to light (in only a few weeks). Luckily, the resulting colour is also quite a feature, being a deep red-brown.

Padauk has an open grain and obvious pores. One of the finishes I like to use is a gold finishing wax which fills the pores and really stands out against the colour of the timber.


Another odd one – technically a grass rather than a timber, this is the ‘wood’ from a particular species of Palm tree.

The ‘wood’ is made up of long dark, almost black fibres in a mid-brown base. When turned, you get a unique pattern with the fibre strands.

Unfortunately, Palmira is very difficult to turn. The strands have a habit of tearing-out and ripping the blank to pieces. I have found that soaking the rough-turned blank is a thin superglue will help a lot, but you may need to do this more than once as you turn-down the pen.

I am experimenting with vacuum-stabilising Palmira blanks which will hopefully reduce this problem – I’ll update this once I have tested a few blanks.

Panga Panga

A deep dark brown timber with paler layers – very similar to Wenge (see below) except the layers are closer together. The timber is moderately dense, and the texture is quite course.

Tear-out can be a problem with panga panga as the bind between the annual rings is not always strong. Stick to very sharp tools and avoid tungsten-carbide tools as they can list the grain.

When finishing, use a sanding sealer and a hard wax finish, or consider using a CA finish if you want a high gloss.

Pink Ivory

Of course, nothing to do with elephants, the timber is supposed to look like Ivory when finished – I still make the point of calling it ‘Pink Ivory Wood’ in my listings. The colour varies between cream to a bright pink, and this will deepen to a pinkish brown with age.

Not endangered, but very difficult to get hold of, and VERY expensive.

Pink Ivory is very dense and will blunt tools quickly.


There’s little you can say about this other than yes, it’s purple, but not for long. Another colour-transient wood, freshly cut purpleheart is often a dull chocolate-brown but within a few hours in the sun this will turn to a vibrant purple. Over the following few months, the colour will darken to a dark brown purple. The colour change can be reduced by using UV-blocking Melamine finishes, but this will only slow the change.

Purpleheart is moderately dense and turns easily.

Ropalo Lacewood

There are several different timbers called ‘Lacewood’ – ours is of the Ropalo species. The timber is a mid-red brown with a texture is supposed to look like lace – personally I think it looks more like snakeskin.

Lacewood is prone to tear-out, so some care is needed when turning, but when polished the results are well worth the effort.

Rosewood (African)

Another timber on the endangered list, although not technically endangered it is restricted as all sales of Rosewood are.

African Rosewood is a very attractive wood – a pale rose-pink in colour with interlocked darker bands.

Quite dense and hard but turns and finishes easily.


For me, this timber will always remind me of the ‘Mahogany Veneer’ chipboard that a certain large DIY chain used to sell. I really shouldn’t be that cruel as when finished, Sapele can have a beautiful deep chatoyance.

Sapele is not overly dense and will turn easily. Keep your tools sharp to avoid woolly edges.


See Maple above


Everyone’s favourite garden furniture wood – Teak should really be used more for turning as its red-brown and dark brown mottled colour can really make attractive pens.

Teak is dense and hard and will blunt tools.


See ‘Goncalo Alves’ above.


Another carving wood, but one also used for larger scale turning. Tulip wood is a pale cream colour which will darken to an olive-brown with age. Not much grain pattern so can be a little dull. Ideal for adding pyrography decoration.

Tulipwood is soft and will turn easily.

Walnut (American Black)

Black Walnut varies a lot in colour from a mid brown to a deep purple-brown. While the latter is most popular, it is not always easy to get hold of. Most black walnut is a good dark-brown colour, which darkens further once you start adding a finish.

Black walnut is of moderate density and turns well.

Finish with a sanding sealant and a microcrystalline wax.

Walnut (English)

English walnut is not a farmed timber so can be difficult to get hold of – our main sources are tree surgeons and old felled trees.

Walnut is a very attractive timber and easy to turn.


Very similar to Panga Panga above but with wider spaced grain.

Wenge can be difficult to turn as the grain can tear.

Western Red Cedar

A softwood ideal for carving, although some care needs to be taken to avoid lifting the grain.

Perhaps a little too soft, Red Cedar does turn well but will need a tough finish to prevent damage.


An attractive wood, very similar in appearance and workability to Teak.


Although a very attractive wood, yew is very dense and needs sharp tools.

It is prone to small knots in the wood, but these can often be made into a feature when turning.


One of the most popular timbers for pens as the grain pattern shows up even on the slimline pens.

The biggest problem with zebrano is tear-out. If carving or planing be very careful with grain direction.

Zebrano has a course, open texture and really needs a sanding sealer to finish. Looks good in gloss or satin finishes.

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