This is a section from A Beginners Guide to Woodworking: Helping New Woodworkers Make Better Projects, which is available on Amazon. Over the next month, you will be able to read the entire book, and I hope that you like it enough to get tour own copy. Enjoy.
My Favorite Types of Wood
Over the years, I have been fortunate to work with a lot of different wood species, and have developed a list of my personal favorites. Depending on the type of projects that you are making, your list may be different, but this is a good place to start your adventure.
I tend to be on the cheap side, so I naturally gravitate towards wood species that are much better looking than their price would suggest. There are very beautiful types of wood that are abundant in nature, and therefore do not carry much of a price tag.
These are your best bang for the buck pieces, and many of them are little known to anyone that doesn’t work with wood as a hobby or profession.
This is my list, in no particular order. Start looking for some of these in your local wood store, and you will find a lot of value in the look that you can buy.
African Mahogany – This is a wood that looks just like the more expensive Mahogany but is a little lighter in color with more stripes. It mills and works nearly the same, and costs far less.
This is a great wood to use for any number of projects, since it finishes well and has a really classic look that many people love.
Depending on the cut, you can have waving grain lines on the surface, or nice straight lines running from one end of the board to another. There are also nice sections of lighter and darker wood that shimmer when you rotate the piece in a light.
Bubinga – This type of wood has a nice grain structure, and comes in shades of pink to reddish brown. The streaks that run through the board give it a great look, and it is interesting to inspect when finished.
The board is a little more dense than Mahogany, but it still cuts, and works easily, and takes a finish really well. You can also find it with a waterfall figure, or with nice straight grain.
Goncalo Alves – This dense species of wood is a real treat to work with, and darkens over time when exposed to the air and the sun. The even brown coloring is beautiful, though it can also be found with chocolate streaks running through the pieces. This is a heavy wood, and it’s very strong.
Padauk – Padauk is naturally orange to red colored wood that darkens to a deep brick red and brown over time with exposure. When freshly cut, the wood is a bright orange/red, and it’s almost unbelievable to see.
Over time, the color deepens, but you can apply a finish and slow down the process greatly.
When working with Padauk, be careful not to get the sawdust on anything you care about. Lighter colored woods can be stained by the dust, and clothes too. It’s best to use edged tools when shaping Padauk, because there will be less dust creation than when sanding.
If you do get some dust on a piece, you can typically scrape the surface and it will come off. For your clothes, I have had some stains come out but others are there permanently from the red/orange dust.
Maple – This is a very common type of wood in America, and since the figured types are common too, the price for a really nice looking piece is not very high. This is one of the reasons that Maple is a great species to start out with.
Another reason is that the wood itself is pretty hard, and it can make projects that are strong.
When looking for Maple, ask your hardwood store employee if they have any figured Maple. Typically they will, and in many cases it is not that much more expensive than the plain stuff.
Walnut – A nice piece of Walnut works like a dream, finishes well, and can be tinted with dyes to look like far more expensive types of wood. The wood itself is very common, and the price is low.
It releases a pleasing smell in the shop when milled, and is a nice strong species that will make a good looking project.
There are certainly more types of wood that can be on a list for great looking and low price, but this is a great start for any new woodworker. The Maple and the Walnut are going to be the last expensive as of writing this book, with the others being somewhere above.
Try out a couple of these for your project, and you will be able to tell if you like working with the species or not.
As you use different types of wood, your knowledge of what is available increases, and you will have a wider range of species to choose from than someone who only works with a couple. It’s worth the time to try out something new every now and again.
My Favorite Expensive Woods
These types of wood are a little on the expensive side,but if you are making smaller projects then you may want to see if you can get a piece to work with.
They by no means make a better project than any of the woods mentioned in the last section, but they offer you the ability to create a different look.
Having made mostly smaller projects for the majority of my woodworking, these pieces of wood have been within my price range. The advantage to smaller projects is that you don’t need a ton of wood, which makes trying out something really exotic much easier on your wallet.
Briar – Most Briar comes from the Mediterranean area of the world, and is actually a burl that grows under the Heath tree. They are harvested, dried, cut and stored for many years, and then sold primarily to people that make tobacco pipes.
This is one of the most interesting looking pieces of wood in the world, and the grain just explodes with detail when you finish it properly.
Due to the nature of tobacco pipes, the sizes of Briar available are pretty limited. Most are going to be the size of your fist or smaller, and they can range in price from around $10-$50 each.
The price will depend on the type of cut, as well as the age and the location where it was harvested. If you are making a very high end tobacco pipe that you might sell for several hundred dollars, then you will typically spend more on your block.
However, if you are a woodworker looking to work with a fun new species, you can buy on the lower end and still be very happy with the piece you get.
One characteristic of Briar that is really interesting is that it polishes to a smoothness that you have to feel yourself to believe. The wood is closed grain, and very smooth after sanding. When you buff it (which is what tobacco pipe makers do) the wood takes on a smoothness that in just a wonder to feel.
Ebony – There are a few types of Ebony in the world, but the most interesting is Gabon Ebony. This is the blackest of the blackest wood that you can find, and in good pieces the color is uniform throughout. It’s a closed grain wood, and polishes like a stone.
Ebony has been used in instrument making for a very long time, and it can be found in smaller pieces if you keep your eyes open. There is not much of this wood left in the world, so it has a higher price.
However, if you are making something small, like wooden rings, or instrument parts, Ebony is a really fun species to work with.
Kauri – This is a very rare piece of wood, harvested from beneath the surface of the earth. It’s thought that the logs were downed by a tsunami 50,000 years ago, and there are companies that dig up the logs and mill them for sale.
This is an average looking piece of wood, but the real value is in the fact that you are handling something that is as old as time, and an interesting conversation starter as a woodworker.
East Indian Rosewood – There are many different types of Rosewood, and East Indian is the type that is most commonly used in instrument making. The wood smells wonderful when cut, and has a natural oil content that makes it very easy to work by hand.
Pieces range in color from deep brown and nearly black, to others with hints of purple as well.
East Indian Rosewood carves by hand incredibly well, and it’s a pleasure to work with. When making smaller parts, a chisel is a perfect tool, and the Rosewood slices off really nicely.
The natural oils can sometimes make it a little more difficult to glue, but you can remove them from the surface with Naphtha or Denatured Alcohol before you glue the pieces together.
Cocobolo Rosewood – This is one of the more expensive Rosewoods, but the price is worth it in many cases. It can be found in hues of brown yellow, and orange, with a really nice mix in some pieces. A really straight grained piece can have almost a ribbon-like look that is amazing to believe came from nature.
Cocobolo is used for lots of smaller projects, turnings, and for acoustic instruments as well. It can be found in larger pieces, though most of the time the mills cut them down to something that the average person can afford.
Bocote – A piece of Bocote will have dark brown to black hues as well as yellowish streaks that make for a very interesting look. The wood itself is really hard, but it works well and takes a finish well.
Bocote is definitely on the more expensive side, but you can find pieces that are small enough to make the price worth using it.
With all of the types of wood that are available in the world, this list is just the tip of your journey. It’s a great starting point, but please make sure that you are looking around the hardwood store every time you go.
You never know when your next favorite species is going to pop up, and all because you took a second and looked around to learn about your craft.
Other Than Wood Materials
In addition to wood, you are going to be using several materials that are not wood, but end up being worked into your projects. This is very common for people that make smaller projects, but can also carry over into larger projects as well.
Knowing some of these materials can give you a little more understanding about them before the time comes that you will be using them.
Plastics – These are the most common for makers of smaller projects, especially lathe projects. These come in a number of different types, and in a wide range of colors and designs.
They can be found as small as a pen, and as large as a rolling pin. Plastics end up being made into many different things, and then polished to a shine instead of finished.
Bone and Shell – As natural materials, bone and shell are starting to fall out of fashion in favor of man made materials in some cases. Many more people are against using materials obtained from animals, since we do not have the ability to get them elsewhere.
However, most suppliers now are harvesting from already dead animals, and getting bone from places that the animals were already being processed, like cattle being turned into beef for sale.
The instrument making industry still used lots of bone and shell, which are primarily for decorations as well as functional pieces like nuts and saddles. Bone has been the traditional choice for stringed instruments to terminate and set the string length.
This natural substance can be found from many different suppliers online, and you can also find alternatives to bone as well that nearly look identical.
Shell comes in many forms, but the most common are Abalone, and Mother of Pearl. The shiny iridescent insides of the shells are milled flat, and then sold for artists that cut them to fit small cavities dug into the wood.
The pieces are glued in place, and then sanded flush to the surface in a process called inlay. These artists use lots of materials to create their work, but shell is a very important part.
Metal – This material has it’s place in woodworking, but typically for decorative purposes. Sheet metals often adorn table tops, or bench tops, and can give the pieces an industrial look.
In smaller woodworking projects, metal rods and small metal sheets can be inlaid to help create a beautiful design. Metal rods for example can be inlaid by anyone that can drill a hole.
Simply select a metal rod that is made from brass, copper, or another soft metal. Drill a hole that’s the same size, and then press the rod into the hole with epoxy. Cut the excess above the surface, and allowed it to cure.
The next day, sand it flush and you have a nice round metal inlay.
Trustone – This material is a sort of man made rock that has great looking designs and patterns on it. They are made to look like natural stones as well as very interesting looking pieces that still have a small connection to nature.
A piece of Trustone is a little more expensive of a blank to buy, but it can give you a really nice look on a smaller project and a quality feel too.
Stabilized Wood – Even though this is still technically a wood containing product, it is different enough to be put into the other than wood category. Stabilized wood is any piece of wood that has been impregnated with resin to strengthen and harden the material.
The process uses a vacuum pot and liquid resin that is driven into the piece through the use of negative pressure.
Once inside, the piece is completely permeated with resin, which hardens, and then the material is available to use. There are many woodworkers that make their own stabilized blanks, and they come up with some really interesting and creative designs. If you like exotic stuff, then you need to look into these blanks.
Epoxy Inlay Materials – There are going to be some occasions where you decide to embellish a piece, especially if you are making smaller projects.
The most common type of embellishment is an inlay, though traditional inlays require lots of time and practice. There is however an alternative that you can use instead.
Epoxy inlays are simply when you create a cavity in your piece based on a design you are going for, and then fill in the cavity with epoxy. Mixed with the epoxy will either be dye, stone materials, or both, and they create a stone like look to the filler material.
Once cured, you sand the material even to the surface, and you have the look of a traditional inlay without all the fuss.
Inlay materials for epoxy based inlay can be found online or in woodworking stores under the name Inlace. If you buy a kit, it comes mixed for you, but you can also buy components individually and create your own inlay look from them.
To find other than wood materials that you can incorporate into your woodworking designs look online, and in particular look at wood turning suppliers. The turning community uses these kinds of materials all the time, so they will always have something new and interesting to show off.
The woodworking craft requires different materials, and they are not always wood. As you learn about woodworking, spend time learning about the different types of materials that you can possibly use.
The more you know, and the more you have access to, the better equipped you are to make good choices and create more interesting designs in your projects.
Part 13 – Wrap Up
I hope you liked Part 13 of A Beginners Guide to Woodworking: Helping New Woodworkers Make Better Projects. As you can see, this is a different kind of beginner woodworking book, and I encourage you to get a copy for yourself so you have it all in one place.
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