Best Wood for Turning on Lathe in 2021 – Reviews & Buyers Guide



Working on the lathe takes more than just grabbing a hunk of wood and getting to work. You should take the time to learn what types of wood turn best, how to prepare the wood, and how you can make the wood work for you.

There are a ton of different types of wood out there, so it stands to reason that there are some that will be better to work with than others for wood turning. You definitely want something solid that won’t just break and crack when you work it but you also don’t want something that is incredibly hard to form.

Woods like mesquite, Eastern white pine, and manzanita, we typically recommend that you stay away from when it comes to turning wood but there are plenty of good options to choose from.

In this guide, we will share with you many of the best wood for turning on lathe options and maybe even give you some ideas as to how to put those woods to work!

Let’s take a look.

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JET JWL-1221VS, 12"x21" Variable-Speed Woodworking Lathe (719200)

Why We Like It:

We love this option because is simple but completely effective. The key to turning out good work is to be able to adequately control your machine and you actually get that with these lathes. Variable speed is very nice and you can smoothly go into reverse when you need to. It’s the overall best in our opinion.

Choosing the Best Wood for Wood Turning

Choosing The Best Wood for Wood Turning
Image by antmoreton from Pixabay

Choosing the best wood for working on the lathe isn’t just about choosing a type of wood that you know and you’re familiar with. There are certain qualities that should be considered in order to really have the best options. While we certainly have some wood recommendations to share, we also wanted to give you some insight as to how you can choose good wood for your projects.

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Consider Appearance

The first thing you probably need to consider is what the wood looks like and what your end project will look like as well. Regardless of the type of wood, the way it looks will make a significant difference in the end result.

We recommend looking for high-quality wood that comes from mature trees, rather than new trees. There is just something about that aged and matured look that really works so much better overall. It will smell sweet and woody and it will look awesome when you start creating.


Another important factor to consider is the durability of the wood. You’re going to be honing the wood with sharp tools and utensils and it needs to be able to hold up to the work. Wood turning wood option will be strong and sturdy but will also be pliable enough that you can create without wanting to take a chainsaw to it.

In addition to durability so that it holds up for your work efforts, you also want durability for the circumstances. Will this wood last when your project is complete? Will the wood be able to stand up to climate changes if it travels the world? Will this wood end up destroyed by things like fungus or pests?

All of these are considerations and questions that you should ask when you are choosing your wood. If you’re a beginner, you will get to know these details just by looking at the wood you’re using.

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Color of Wood

Choosing the Best Wood for Wood Turning
Image by antmoreton from Pixabay

One noteworthy distinction for good quality wood as opposed to weak or inferior wood is the color. Strong woods that are good quality typically will display darker colors in the exterior, this is true even of light colored wood choices. Don’t confuse this characteristic with having to use a dark-colored wood for success.

Look for the grain in the core and a darker, accentuating color that is right for the type of wood you are using.

Check Out the Fibers

Another thing that you will want to take a look at is the fiber of the wood. If you’re looking for quality wood to use, look for something that is firm and straight overall. You want to avoid warping as much as possible, especially if you use lumber for your project creations.

Take a look at the grains of the fibers of the wood and note whether they are twisted or whether they are compact and straight as a whole. If there is just a little bit of twisting or warping, you will most likely be fine but you should definitely look for straight overall.


Choosing the Best Wood for Wood Turning
Photo by Facundo Sosa on Unsplash

Obviously, you are going to transition this wood into a masterpiece of creation. You can’t very well do that if the wood is not workable. You want wood that will be versatile and will conform to your standards so you can create.

The best wood will work to anything and will be primarily versatile for you to conquer your tasks. Look for woods that are low in resin as these tend to be far more workable overall.

Check the Sound

That’s right! You can often tell if wood will be good for working with by checking out the sound. High-quality woods will produce clear sound. Try this out. Strike the wood with a tool of some sort, not to destroy it. Does it produce a heavy and dull sound or does it produce a clear ringing?

If the sound is dull and heavy, this wood might actually be rotting inside but it’s not great quality regardless. You want to hear that clear ringing when you strike it to really know that you have good wood!

Wood Elasticity

Finally, your wood needs to have some elasticity. We don’t mean that your wood should stretch like a rubber band. What you’re looking for here is wood that can be shaped and formed but won’t break while you work.

When you consider projects like a bow or even a fishing rod, these are sturdy pieces of wood that have just a touch of flexibility to them but don’t break apart under the pressure they endure when put to use.

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The Best Wood Choices for the Lathe

Alright, we’ve shared some features and qualities to look for when you’re perusing the wood but now let’s get to business and talk about wood and why it’s a good choice.

When you’re looking at wood, you will find some that are hardwood and some that are softwood. You can use from either category for woodworking but you just need to be familiar as you might handle the wood differently.

Here’s what you should know. Hardwood typically has a rough texture and is more fire-resistant and sturdy overall. They are dense and complex by design. These types of wood also tend to be more expensive. However, people will pay for products made with them and they are often used for high-end furniture and projects.

In comparison, softwood has a simple texture and is non-porous. This makes it slightly less durable overall. It’s less dense and complicated to work with. However, despite being inferior in some ways, the proper ones are still quite great and can be used for quality products. The majority of timber is made from softwood.

Here are our favorites for wood turning. You can also take a look at this tutorial for some hardwood options with recommendations.

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Beech Wood

Brown wooden kitchen utensils made of beech wood
Photo by Ryan Christodoulou on Unsplash

Beech is a great hardwood that is light in color and is known because the patterns always stand out. This wood is durable and won’t hold a bunch of moisture. Some people find beech to be on the plain side but there is just something about it that also stands out and is very appreciable.

Beech wood is noteworthy for a light color that might have a tinge of pink or even reddish brown in the color. It’s creamy share overall and the density is hard. The grains of beech are fine and consistent, with a uniform look to them.

Beech works well because it’s not overly pricy like some other hard woods and because it is durable and will stand up to the tests of hard work when you turn it.

Here are some project ideas for beech.

  • Bowls
  • Pens
  • Wooden dishes and utensils
  • Wooden toys
  • Instruments


Mini male head ornament made of ebony wood

Ebony is a gorgeous hardwood that is extremely thick. It might take some skill to work with but beginners can certainly learn. This is one of those high-end wood choices and anything you make will be stunning. Ebony is considered to be rare because it takes a long time to grow.

If you can find ebony, the texture will be beautiful and if you work it right, your end results will be smooth and stunning. It’s an ornamental option that is deep, dark brown colors. It might even be black.

Here are some project ideas for ebony.

  • Ornamental furniture
  • Decorative items
  • Animal carvings
  • Instruments
  • Chess pieces


Brown cabinet made of hickory wood
Photo by Jose Losada on Unsplash

Hickory is best for heavy-duty projects but it’s a good wood turning option. It’s tough but it’s easy to find. You can work it if you have sharp tools and your end result will be beautiful in color and design.

Hickory can scratch when you work it so you will need to pay attention to detail and not get careless. The best way to work hickory is to go along the grain. Your colors will be light or possibly cream colored and some hickory is a tan or red in the center.

This wood is more flexible than most of the others but it is firm and durable still. Here are some awesome project ideas for hickory.

  • Cabinetry
  • Furniture
  • Tools
  • Sporting equipment (fishing rods, bows, etc.)
  • Wooden ladders


Wood working tools made of walnut wood
Image by
Octavian Iordache from Unsplash

If you’re willing to turn at a medium speed, walnut is great! It’s a hard wood that can be pretty tough but if you have tough tools, your projects will be exceptional. Walnut is a common wood so it can be pretty easy to get your hands on.

This may not work as well for bowls because of the end grain but you can use it for a lot of different projects still. Here are some ideas.

  • Cups and utensils
  • Decorative items
  • Pens
  • Letter Openers
  • Benches
  • Rolling pins
  • Tools


Wooden boxelder jewelry box with a ring
Photo by
Peter Hansen from Unsplash

Finally, boxelder is a really great wood to work with. This wood is incredibly unique and the coloring will produce a raspberry tint in some areas. We love this for making decorative pieces and various types of dishes because they are so colorful without you having to modify them.

Many wood turners and customers find these to be attractive and stylish when you want something ornate and unique. This wood is related to maple and is really pretty easy to work and turn on your lathe as well.

Here are some good project recommendations for boxelder.

  • Bowls
  • Dishes
  • Vases
  • Cutting boards
  • Lamps
  • Chests
  • Jewelry boxes

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If you want a good, reliable wood for turning on the lathe, you will find some great options here. Always be sure to look for quality and character. While these are some of our favorite woods to use, there are a ton of options out there and some of them are easier to get your hands on than others.

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XtremepowerUS 1/2HP 4 Speed 40" inch Power Wood Turning Lathe (14" x 40") Benchtop Wood Lathe Adjustable Speed
  • Perfect for Home Use - Complete accessories, the lathe is compact, allowing fit in tight space, which can be perfectly set at your house to do some wood pattern projects & handwork, such as straight fluting, grooving, drilling, layout, & much more
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  • Accessory Options for Versatility - With several accessories available to customize the lathe, you can tailor it to fit your different needs. The versatile wood turning lathe, you can improve the accuracy of your craft.

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