So many different wood types to choose from

6 January 2012, New work, Would you like to leave a comment?

I use many different woods in my work, each wood often lends its self to a particular design. Yew and Elm make fantastic natural edge bowls, while Ash and Sycamore are superbly suited for holding food. If you are purchasing an item from my shop or planning on commissioning a piece, you may find the following information useful in identifying and choosing a wood type.

The below are some of the wood types that I regularly use, all native to the UK. I hope to extend this list with new wood species as an when I get hold of them.


With its distinctive orange heartwood, surrounded by contrasting, pale sapwood, yew is the most vibrant of timbers.

Like walnut, yew is full of cracks and larger pieces are hard to find. Although a softwood, the timber is exceptionally dense and one of the best woods for obtaining a quality surface finish. It’s ideal for making natural-edge bowls.

Spalted beech

This is a very dense timber and the perfect choice for worktops, chopping boards and flooring. Usually a medium grey/brown in colour, but often dark reds and greens are visible when ‘flaring’ is present (this is a natural darkening which occurs in older trees).

‘Spalting’ however, is by far the most dramatic colour change and is caused by a fungus which attacks the tree, quite often leading to its death. This process leaves a myriad of black lines and colours running through the timber, creating interesting patterns and shapes.

A great choice of timber for fruit bowls, but must be dried slowly to avoid splitting.

Wych elm

Characterised by its rich, dark brown colour and distinctive grain, but green streaks and patches of pink and orange are not uncommon. When areas of burr are present, the effect is dramatic. The irregular grain of wych elm gives it a natural resistance to splitting, so it very rarely cracks while drying. Wych elm is becoming quite scarce due to Dutch elm disease.

English elm

Very similar to wych elm, but with denser grain and a darker colour. Personally, I prefer wych elm, because of its better finishing properties and slightly harder grain.

Yew, beech and burr wych elm

Left to right: yew, spalted beech and burr wych elm 


A very fibrous timber, oak is celebrated for its great strength. Standard oak may seem rather grey in appearance, but burr oak has a beautiful colour and texture.

When kiln dried, oak is very hard to turn and sometimes requires more sanding than usual.


Sycamore has natural antiseptic properties which inhibit the growth of bacteria and mould, so it’s the wood of choice for all kinds of culinary products. Its pale, rather neutral tones may not appeal to everyone, but it blends with most colour schemes and when, as occasionally happens, the grain has a natural ripple effect, it’s very attractive. It’s also quite a common wood (so not difficult to source) and fairly easy to turn.


The walnut tree favours the warmer areas of southern England, but can nevertheless be found up here in Cumbria.

The timber is a pleasure to turn and the colour exquisite - it’s one of the darkest woods available. Its luxurious appearance and smooth handling make it highly sought-after by furniture-makers and wood-turners.

Shrinkages of the heartwood – known as ‘heart shakes’ – are nearly always present in mature walnut trees, so it’s very hard to find good, large pieces of the timber.

Burr oak, sycamore and walnut

Left to right: burr oak, sycamore and walnut


A straight-grained wood and, like sycamore, relatively common. Also like sycamore, ash is great for culinary use, as there are no natural toxins in it.

In appearance, the heartwood is much darker than the sapwood, making an attractive contrast. A dramatic ripple effect occurs in some trees.

Ash wood has a naturally low moisture content and is one of the quickest to dry.


A very popular fruit wood, with a beautiful greenish colour and lovely grain. Although very dense, cherry is a pleasure to turn and, like yew, is great for obtaining a really smooth finish and for making natural-edge bowls.

I usually make smaller pieces from cherry wood, but can do larger pieces on request.

Jonathan Leech

Written by Jonathan Leech

Jonathan Leech is a woodturner working and living in Cumbria. He specialises in making bowls, dishes and platters from local sustainably sourced timber. Read more or about Jonathan or see a selection of his work.

Your comments

  1. Gravatar of chris thorpe
    chris thorpe12 February 2013 17:55

    Hi Jonathan

    Love your work man, great style, and beautiful wood. That is all !


  2. Gravatar of jonathan Leech
    jonathan Leech16 February 2013 18:02

    Hi Chris,

    So pleased you like my work - many thanks for the comments.

    best wishes

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