ASH: As with most woods, there are various species for each category. By way of example, Ash has 70 known species. As with all wood definitions, I will use the most common species available to me. Ash is native to Central and North America, Europe and Asia. The typical Ash tree can live for over 200 years. These trees also grow to heights in excess of 100ft. The grain on Ash is usually straight and due to its hardness and strength it would be used commonly for baseball bats, tool handles and furniture. In fact, back in World War II, Ash was used to construct a famous lightweight "de Havilland Mosquito" bomber. When finished on a turned piece, it will be of light color with subtle figure.
BEECH: Beech has but 10 species. The most common species is found in North America, Europe and Asia. The Beech tree can reach in excess of 100ft and can live in excess of 400 years. Beech happens to be one of the strongest native timbers. Beech was also used to create beech charcoal, to make gunpowder. What is interesting about some selections of Beech is they begin to spalt or "decay" and unique, beautiful features appear in the wood, making the finished turned object full of lines and shades of varying interest. The challenge turning Beech is its seasoning process (drying of the wood so the item created will not warp). Once seasoned, your finished Beech heirloom will last for generations.
BIRCH (burl): Birch is a beautiful and sometimes amazingly featured wood. The Birch is "Red Listed" on the Threatened Species list of the US Government. This tree has its own nickname called, "The Watchful Tree" because of its unique eye-like impressions on the bark. Its bark was used for boats and canoes. The wood, especially the finely featured ones such as your heirloom, is used to create beautiful veneers and highly finished furniture. A tree with burl, especially one like the Birch, presents itself if indiscriminate patterns, creating rich brown and red colors. Burl is what one sees on a tree as a outgrowth around the trunk. It appears as a tumor. But, as you will see, once a wood art is created from this burl, it is beyond description.
BLACKWOOD: The Balckwood Tree has its origin in Eastern Africa. However, there are many other exotic species of Blackwood that grows in such exotic areas as Australia, Bombay, Tasmania and Vanuatu. The typical height of a Blackwood is rarely higher than 20ft. Therefore, not only is this wood rare, it is hard to obtain. When obtained, your created heirloom will not have the fuller size of a 16" bowl. However, once obtained (usual cost at $30 per lb for the raw wood) this dark purple-brown wood and its deep darkness becomes illuminating, if that makes sense. Pens, pepper mills and specialty boxes make for an amazing sight and feel. Usually this wood must be specially ordered before items can be created. The wait is worth it!
CHERRY: American Cherry is the species most commonly used for turning. The look of a finished Cherry Heirloom will create an aura of warmth and ever lasting beauty. Cherry is known as a medium strength wood growing in North America and Canada. The typical Cherry Tree has a height of 80ft and can grow much higher. Cherry is mostly used in panelling, flooring and furniture. Have no hesitation to have a turning in Cherry. The colors, in a red/brown family, just invite a touch and look. Depending on the piece obtained, there may be different shades of deep and light red, based upon the amount of sapwood (a lighter ring beneath the bark).
COCOBOLO: Another tree commonly referred to as an "exotic" wood, the Cocobolo Tree, grows mostly in the Pacific areas of Central America. The typical height of a Cocobolo Tree may exceed 50ft but with a slimmer diameter not usually exceeding 2ft. Cocobolo is visually an amazingly beautiful wood. It clearly deserves it's high cost as the finished creation will have amazing tones of rich reds and browns with streaks of yellow and orange. Cocobolo is also a very hard and durable wood. So, your heirloom pieces will last for generations and beyond. Cocobolo makes beautiful fine cabinets, fine furniture, chess pieces and of course, hollow forms, bowls and pens. In fact, you can see cocobolo in one of the pens featured in the Gallery.
EBONY: Sometimes confused with Blackwood (see above) this fine exotic African wood is equally amazing in beauty, durability and use. Commonly described as a hardwood, Ebony is a durable wood highly resistant to ware. The typical height of the Ebony Tree can exceed 50ft. Irrespective of its larger (than Blackwood) size, it is still very expensive to acquire the raw wood and the feeling that "wood grows on trees" may not be fitting for such a beautiful specimen. Ebony wood is known to be one of the darkest in color, a deep dark chocolate with grain ranges from straight to interlocked. These grains bring out the subtlest of highlighting that brings intrigue to a finished look. Because the tree can be as large as 2ft in diameter, there is chance to acquire a piece that would fit a 14" or so designed show piece for your home.
HICKORY: The Hickory Tree is a very hard, dense and shock resistant wood. It is known that although there may be some woods harder then hickory, there is no wood known to science that has the hickory combination of strength, toughness, hardness and stiffness. One of the main uses for hickory in the past was baseball bats (now made of ash). Early on, hickory was the main product used to construct aircraft and golf clubs. Due to its durability, hickory is widely used for flooring. When this wood spalts (a fungus causes it to change into a rainbow of color and feature) the wood is used for fine and durable furniture and wood turnings
MAPLE: Maple, one of Alan's favorite woods to work with, has up to 150 species, all native to the northern hemisphere and as far south as Mexico. A North American Maple will usually grow in excess of 75ft. Depending on rare "catches", Alan is at times able to obtain specially featured maple trees that have amazing features (some of which are displayed in the Gallery) on this web site). Although the basic Maple Tree tends to be a light pale base, the various interesting "catches", such as Ambrosia Maple (A maple tree infected with an Ambrosia insect that destroys the living tree. However, as the insect bores into the tree--and dies away--, it leaves a secretion that creates these beautiful strings of rainbow colors that shout out when specialty oils are applied to the finished heirloom. Other species of Maple include Byrd's-Eye (features in the wood that look like byrd's- eye), Quilted, Boxelder (containing bright red streaks throughout the piece), Ripple and many others.
OLIVEWOOD: Another exotic wood, the Olivewood Tree grows mostly in Africa and other Eastern Countries. The tree can grow as high as 100ft and a diameter of 3ft. The various species of this wood can range in appearance from pale brown with irregular beautiful markings of streaks ranging from brown to grey to black, leaving a marbled look and can also appear as a cream color with subtle darker grain features. I mention this wood, amoung the other limited references herein, as I use this wood for pens, pepper and salt mills and other creations where I wish to have contrasting woods in the same form.
PADUAK: Paduak wood can range in color from shades of red to brown and then darker from purple to black. If fortunate enough to obtain a creation in Paduak, you will fine a rather high textured and lustre in your piece. The Padauk tree grow mostly in the Andaman Islands and grows up to 120ft tall with a diameter of 2-4ft. Paduak is a dense wood and very resistant to wear. Although considered a "tough" wood, the finished piece will provide you with depth and warmth. This wood is mainly used for fine office and quality furniture, billiard tables, bank counters and fine woodturning creations.
RED OAK: Red Oak is plentiful in North America. However, was in unique about your heirloom is its unusually deep red/brown color, accented by the burl form.
Red Oak is a heavy and hard wood with high crushing and bending strength. The typical height of a Red Oak can be as high as 90-100ft with a trunk diameter expanding to over 3 ft. This wood is typically used for furniture, cabinetmaking, parquet flooring. When there is a find of burl, woodturners clamor for a chance to re-purpose this tree into a beautiful decorative form.
SAPELE: Sapele is an exotic imported African Mahogany. This wood is mostly used in decorative furniture and ornamental turnings. When the sun light hits the wood at certain angles a glowing effect occurs.
SYCAMORE: The Sycamore tree grows mostly in Europe but can also be found in the USA. The typical height of this tree is 65ft. The basic color of the inside and finished creation of a Sycamore will be a creamy-white that usually ages to a tan color. The special "catch" for a Sycamore is when we can obtain one with special features like we would with Maple. Depending on the catch, one can find a wavy/quilted or byrd's-eye type feature. Alan is presently designing a few sycamore platters and large fruit bowls that should span approximately 17" in diameter and 3" deep. The typical uses for Sycamore include, furniture, wood turnings and decorative veneers.
TAMARIND: Tamarind is another exotic wood that grows mainly in Tropical areas. Although this wood is difficult to work with, the time and care spent in creating a piece is worth the effort.
WALNUT: Walnut is made up of numerous species but perhaps the most common known (certainly never "common" in a finished heirloom) is the American Walnut. The walnuts from these trees use to be a food staple as early as 8000 BCE. In fact, the famed Hanging Gardens of Babylon (2000 BCE) has testimonials left on clay tablets inscribing the importance of the Black Walnut Tree (see below) and its nuts. Walnut has a rich dark chocolate color with darker and sometimes lighter subtle streaks of color that is part of its grain. The typical Walnut Tree grows between 70-90ft. Walnut is known as a hard wood and used for wood turnings, furniture, floors and gun stocks. A walnut pen is stunning. You can also see other examples of walnut in the Gallery.
BLACK WALNUT: Once a finished heirloom is observed, the differences in Walnut and Black Walnut is easily discerned. Somewhat antithetical to its name, "Black" Walnut not only contains the character of the dark chocolate color existing in the Walnut Tree, but, its sapwood contains a bright light creamy color. This light highlight surrounds the underlay of the bark. If a turning artist can position the creamy color in the correct position of the turning, you will see, as illustrated in the Gallery, the positioning of this feature into the work created. The Black Walnut Tree grows in North America and as far as Australia. The tree can grow in excess of 140ft and have a very thick diameter, sometimes in excess of 6ft. Typically, this beautiful wood is used in fine cabinetmaking, quality furniture, decorative moulding and interior decorative framing and, of course, fine wood turning heirlooms.
WENGE: Wenge is an exotic wood that, combined with its light sapwood and contracting dark brown heartwood, creates a stunning look of beauty. The tree grows in the Congo, Tanzania and Mozambique. A Wenge tree can grow up to 60ft tall with a 2-3ft diameter. Wenge is considered to be a heavy dense wood that is highly resistant to scratches. Once acquired, this wood in raw form takes some time for it to cure (dry) and is very sensitive to this process. The typical uses for Wenge are fine furniture, carving, violin bows, boat building, decorative veneers used for fine cabinetwork and of course, for turning creations.