Book Review – Wood for Woodturners

Reviewer: Spinning Brewer

Want to know why some woods make better bowls and which species will deliver the fancy figure or the austere appearance best suited to your project? These two books will help you choose.

Wood Identification and Use by Terry Porter, GMC Publications.

Wood for Woodturners by Mark Baker, GMC Publications.

Why review two books at the same time? Quite simply, because they are as similar as not quite matched pairs of candlesticks or condiment mills. Both authors have or edited “Woodturning” magazine; both books were published in 2004 and revised in 2006; both have a similar format and many of the photographs of the turned pieces, with which they are lavishly illustrated, are the same.

 Both these books include short notes on health risks associated with each timber.

However, neither is a book you would sit down and read like a magazine. Rather, they are both reference books to dip in and out of as the need arises, such as the first time you turn an unfamiliar species.

 Porter details 200 species and summarises a further 200. Baker considers 50 commonly used woods in detail and summarises a further 100. For most of us, either menu provides a surfeit of required knowledge.

Wood Identification and Use starts with the tree and is probably more useful should you need to decide what species that anonymous log or blank might be. A combination of clues, including the pictures and density allowed me to identify some large planks of Afzelia, originally used as alcove shelves in our bungalow. This book describes all the typical uses of each timber, from plywood to furniture to polo mallets and axe handles, as well as turnery. This wide-ranging approach will be useful to a whole variety of woodworkers, rather than just turners.

Wood for Woodturners assumes you know which species you have on the bench and presents straightforward, practical advice, starting with how best to season a fresh log, right through to which finishes are best suited for your turned piece. Along the way there is plenty of advice about whether each timber should be cut or scraped, dry or wet sanded and how green turned pieces are likely to move – or not. In addition to the main text there is a buff coloured “Hint” box that includes a specialised aspect for each timber, for example how to prevent the vibrant colour of purpleheart fading over time – but you will need to check out P 93 yourself for the answer.

These are a couple of similar, yet different books. Both give excellent cover of wood, but from slightly different viewpoints.

Porter wins if you want to be sure what wood you are using and that its basic properties are fit for the use in mind.

Baker’s strength is the wealth of advice on how best to use the wood on your lathe. No more is a blank just another piece of wood the same as all the others.

Which one would I recommend you to buy? The short answer is both, but if funds are limited, Baker wins by a short nose simply because his book focuses on the turner rather than the general woodworker.

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