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Turning Blanks

The one thing every turner needs is wood to turn - round or square, large or small, well seasoned - but above all affordable.


At every Tuesday demo or member's evening, you will find Brian Collins (right) with boxes full of quality turning blanks in all shapes, sizes, and varieties.


Here you will find a varied selection of oak, ash, elm, walnut, cherry, yew, maple, sycamore, and sometimes even a few exotic pieces.


So valued is Brian's contribution to the Club, that he was awarded Honary Life Membership at the 2007 AGM. If you have won vouchers in the club raffle, Brian will accept them in exchange for turning blanks 

Homegrown and Exotic Timber

The following article on Homegrown and Exotic Timber is reproduced by kind permission of Stiles & Bates :


Section 1 - Homegrown timber

Section 2 - Exotic timber


Section 1

Homegrown Timber

Text courtesy of Stiles & Bates and reproduced with their permission



glutinosa Once a common turnery timber, Alder is not generally available commercially. Once used for clogs, hat stands, broom backs, it also has the nickname Scottish Mahogany because of the light to reddish brown colour it takes soon after cutting in the sawmill. Has a grain similar to Cherry and mellows to a deep honey brown. The timber is softish to turn and seems to finish better with a high shine rather than with oils. Sanding sealer buffed with the shavings followed by a paste wax works well. Alder sands as easily as chalk, great for taking out marks but take care not to sand the shape away. Should be good for use with the Sorby Texturing and Spiralling tool.


APPLE Mallus spp.

Large old Bramley orchards are becoming a sight of the past. The timber is heavy and distorts while drying. As a turning timber it is excellent, peeling easily with gouge or chisel to a good finish and firm enough for fine detail. The colour varies from streaks of brown and dull orange in the heart, running out to a pale sapwood. Not as absorbent as some timbers, it will nonetheless take most finishes well and show a good shine, particularly with lacquers. Ideal for most turning uses, particularly detailed spindle and bowl work.


ASH Fraxinus excelsior.

Widespread throughout the UK, Ash is our strongest timber in terms of tensile strength. Many butts have a core stained by 'black heart' otherwise known as 'olive'. Many of our blanks do contain a proportion of olive stain which has a firmer turning texture than white Ash. Large butts not uncommon - large platter blanks are often available. The texture of the timber is slightly coarse. The timber is also ring porous, so is ideally suited for the use of coloured patinating waxes, even lime waxing. Finishes very well with Finishing Oils (3 to 4 coats and a buff of wax creates a deep lustre) and will take the high shine from lacquers etc. A popular wood for many uses and the favourite wood for tool handles. Larger discs are usually available to special order.


BEECH Fagus sylvaticus.

The most widely used timber in the UK furniture industry, the timber is strong, straight grained and stable. Used for work as diverse as tool handles and treen, being particularly suitable for the latter as it is clean and virtually odourless. The colour of the timber varies greatly according to soil type but is generally whitish to pale brown with characteristic flecks like tiny raspberry pips. As a turning timber, beech cuts as easily as any hardwood to a fine crisp finish, ideal for detailed bowl or spindle work. Accepts stains well and finishes with all finishing products.


CHERRY Prunus avium.

Wild Cherry - rarely grows larger than 2 feet diameter as a useful tree, so blank sizes are limited. Fresh sawn, the timber is pale brown with prominent streaks varying from darker brown to reds and even green, mellowing to a rich honey brown over time, with an almost translucent depth to the grain. It is kind to turn - almost soft - yet is firm enough to take fine, crisp detail. For endgrain hollowing too, it is probably one of our easiest timbers, so is suited to a wide range of projects. It sands easily so care must be taken to keep definition on spindle work. Accepts all finishes very well and will darken to a deep honey colour with age.


ELM Ulmus spp. principally U.

Procera A timber becoming scarce due to continuing Dutch Elm disease, though this does not affect the timber. A favourite with turners for its strong grain and colour - brown heartwood running out to pale sap in English Elm and brown throughout with green streaks in Dutch Elm - the timber is course, grained and slightly tough to work. Blanks might contain some clusters of pippy knots. Despite the tough grain, this timber is a favourite with turners for bowl and spindle work, being one of our darkest timbers and working to a deep, rich satin finish with oils and a high gloss with lacquers. As with other open grained woods like Acacia, Ash and Oak, a shellac sanding sealer followed with a soft paste produces an excellent finish.


ENGLISH TULIP Liriodendron tulipifera.

Not to be confused with Brazilian Tulip, this timber is related to the Magnolia and is also known as Whitewood, Tulip Poplar or Yellow Poplar. Pale beige in colour with light green heartwood, this timber is fine grained and soft, with cutting properties a tad easier than Sycamore. Commonly used by carvers and rocking horse makers.


FALSE ACACIA Robina pseudoacacia.

Acacia (or False Acacia) rarely grows large or straight in the UK. Flutes, gnarls and low forking are common, so wide planks are rare. The sapwood is narrow and pale cream in colour when first cut, with pale to brownish green heartwood similar to Mulberry and even Laburnum at times, but with a grain as prominent as Ash. A greatly under rated timber, it is a very durable, stable timber that dries easily and is suitable for many turning uses - bowls, boxes, spindles etc. It’s like Ash with attitude! Slightly coarse and hard, but turns and sands well and takes finishing products very well. There is almost a translucence to the grain which can be brought out with a high shine from lacquers etc. For a satin finish use oils and paste wax. High tannic acid content (like Oak, Sweet Chestnut and Walnut) makes this timber perfect for fuming.


HORNBEAM Carpinus betulus.

Generally a small tree with fluted and gnarled trunks, and is often mistaken for beech to which it is not related. Hornbeam is a hard, heavy timber with many uses in musical instruments, wearing parts like pulleys and dead-eyes and was used in years past for cog teeth, skittles and pegs. The timber is not durable and can produce spectacular spalt lines in a very short time. Dries fairly well but tends to move in thicker section. The timber is off white through heart and sap with tiny grey flecks showing. Although often cross grained, it has a firm fine grain which turns to a smooth finish and will work to a high shine with all finishes.


MAPLE Acer spp.

Of the huge Acer family A pale creamy coloured timber very similar to Sycamore but with a more pronounced grain and inclined to show more ripple around branch junctions and forks. Like all Acers, suitable for food use like salad bowls, bread boards etc. Often left without a finishing product when used with food, otherwise use proprietary food-safe products. Turns and sands very kindly to an excellent finish. Timber turns a honey brown over time, a process which is speeded up by the use of oils, particularly Danish Oil. Lacquers and other high shine products which seal the timber help hold the pale colour for longer. OAK Quercus robur. There is a steady demand for turning blanks for restoration or to match existing furniture .Some blanks contain pippy clusters. Planks sawn on the quarter will show medullary rays. Oak turns very easily - if a little coarse - and sands to a good finish on bowl and spindle work. Oils leave a satin finish which can be enhanced with soft wax. A good coat of Briwax alone gives a wonderful shine on Oak and can be re-applied periodically. Give a good coat of the wax, leave it to dry for a while and buff hard.


SWEET CHESTNUT Castanea sativa.

A pale brown coloured timber, similar to Oak but without the medullary rays on quartersawn planks. Strong grain and streaks of darker brown and green give this timber an attractive look. Good burrs are sometimes to be had from old trees although these are prone to ring shake. Turns and sands easily to a good finish, takes all finishes well but like Oak, can be finished with a well buffed coat of Briwax for a satine shine. Being open grained, it is also suited to lime waxing.


SYCAMORE Acer Pseudoplatanus.

A pale cream coloured timber, generally with indistinct grain but prize trees show excellent ripple and figure. Old trees often have brown or green streaks in the centre. Sycamore is winter felled, promptly milled then planks are endracked immediately after milling to preserve the whiteness of the timber which will mellow to a honey brown over time. Traditionally used for food use, Sycamore is widely used in turning. Turns and finishes really well, accepting oils and lacquers or just left bare for food use.


ENGLISH WALNUT Juglans regia.

Prized for its heartwood, sizeable English Walnut is not commonly available commercially. Heartwood varies from grey brown to dark brown sometimes with striking blackish lines or even an orange tinge. Sapwood is cream to pale brown. A wonderful timber with a unique aroma, everything about walnut is kind to work. Turns easily to a high finish, stable, sands easily and looks good with a soft oil sheen or high shine. Section 2 Exotic Timber Text courtesy of Stiles & Bates and reproduced with their permission


AFRICAN BLACKWOOD Dalbergia melanoxylon.

A dense, lustrous timber varying from dull brown to black with cream sapwood. Often mis-named as an ebony, it turns superbly and polishes up to a high shine and is firm enough for thread cutting.


AFRICAN PADAUK Pterocarpus soyauxii.

Wonderful bright red to deep orange coloured heartwood with dark streaks, pale cream sapwood. Heart dulls to rich deep brown on exposure to light. Grain is fairly coarse and interlocking but cuts as though soft so is one of the easier African timbers to turn. Creates red dust however well cut. Sands and finishes to an excellent shine and depth, especially with lacquers and polishes.


ANJAN Harwickia binata

One of the hardest and heaviest timbers from India, this timber has reddish brown heartwood with fine darker brown and purple throughout. The tight grain makes it an excellent timber for turning which will take the finest detail and finish to a very high shine. Many of them have a machined ‘tenon’ on the end as they are only allowed for export as semi finished work to generate local employment in the country of origin.


BLACK PALMIRA Caryota urens.

One of the few palms suitable for turning, this dense Asian palm has a structure like compressed bundles of quills which show as black and dark brown against the pale brown timber. Care needs to be taken to cut this timber cleanly.


BRAZILIAN TULIP Dalbergia frutescens.

A spectacular timber that varies from pinkish yellow to pale brown with darker stripes of brown and crimson, Tulipwood has long been popular for furniture making and turning. Turns well and will make some special pieces.


BUBINGA Guibourtia demeusei.

Heartwood varies from reddish to pink brown sometimes with darker brown stripes. Sapwood is off white to pale brown. A hard, fine grained timber which turns to an excellent finish. Oil finish will leave Bubinga matt whereas cellulose and acrylic sealers and lacquers give a deep, high shine. Very good for fine detail spindle work.


IMBUYA Phoebe porosa

Yellow to chocolate brown timber with darker streaks. Funny smell (but not unpleasant) when first turned, but turns really easily and is often used as a substitute for Walnut due to it’s stability and easy working properties. A favourite for pot pourri boxes.


INDIAN EBONY Diospyros ebenum.

These carefully kilned spindles are black with only faint dark brown streaks. A very dense and even timber, Ebony hardly needs an introduction, but for handles, knobs etc, these blanks will be superb. Many of them have a machined ‘tenon’ on the end as they are only allowed for export as semi finished work to generate local employment in the country of origin.


JATOBA Hymenaea courbari.

Commonly known as Brazilian Cherry, Jatoba varies in colour from rich red to reddish brown and will darken with age and exposure to sunlight. The timber is straight-grained with a uniform, smooth, satiny texture which finished to a good shine. Compares to a light mahogany with a texture similar to Bubinga.


KINGWOOD Dalbergia caerensis.

Purple brown timber streaked throughout with blackish to dark purple, Kingwood is straight grained and aptly named. Most exotics turn well, but Kingwood is one of the very best. nly available in spindle squares.


LEOPARD WOOD Flindersia maculosa.

Similar to Ropala but lighter in colour and weight but with even more prominent medullary rays and flecks on quartersawn faces. The timber is tight grained and is slightly coarse, but cuts to a fine finish with sharp tools. The end grain is hard and striped, so turned boxes made from this wood show a sharp and attractive contrast with the side grain.


OVANGKOL Guibourtia ehie.

Also known as Amazaque and Amazakoue, this timber is yellow to chocolate brown in colour with variable amounts of darker brown streaks in the grain. Turns to a very good finish despite having a coarse texture and slightly interlocking grain. Finishes well with oils or a high shine product.


PAU AMARELO Euxlophora paraensis huber.

Bright yellow timber with straight to wavy grain that matures to a golden yellow. Turns and finishes very well.


PURPLEHEART Peltogyne venosa.

Brazilian timber with distinct purple heartwood which shows brown when first cut before turning purple on exposure to light. A hard timber with coarse interlocking grain, tough to turn but rewarding for the deep purple colour and high shine using cellulose and acrylic sealers and lacquers. Used a lot by turners of plums and grapes.


ROPALA LACEWOOD Roupala brasiliensis.

A deep orange-brown heartwood with prominent medullary rays that show as fine golden flecks. With an interlocking grain with a slightly coarse texture, it nonetheless turns fairly easily and is best finished with a high shine.


SAPELE Entandrophragma cylindricum.

An inexpensive mahogany type with a fine texture and sometimes interlocking or wavy grain. Ideal where projects are to match mahogany furniture etc. Used widely in furniture and joinery, Sapele turns well, albeit with a sneezy smell when freshly cut and sanded. Colour is usually an even reddish brown but sometimes with pale streaks of straw colour to add interest. Stains up really well. Turns and sands to a fine finish and accepts high shines well.


SONOKELLING Dalbergia latifolia.

Sonokeling Rosewood is pale to brown, subtly streaked with darker brown and slight purple. Like all available rosewoods, this timber is used widely in furniture making and for turning. It will cut and finish to a high shine.



A wonderful pink timber that will cut like soap. Dense yet yielding easily to the cut, this timber is sometimes obtained from the Service or Chequer tree (Sorbus torminalis), but this is German pear. Ideal for carving or turning.


ZEBRANO Microberlinia brazzavillensis

Honey brown heartwood with streaks of black and brown showing the ‘zebra’ stripes on quartersawn timber. A coarse grained timber with interlocking grain and the odd resin pocket in the stripes. Coarse and hard to turn, but works to a spectacular finish. Suited to oil or lacquer finishes, this timber is one of the most striking of the common exotic timbers.


The contents of this section must not be shared or copied without the permission of Stiles & Bates Ltd.


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THEME : Square Edged Items