HELP. Woods that complement

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Forum topic by USCJeff posted 12-08-2007 06:29 AM 10278 views 3 times favorited 27 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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1063 posts in 4093 days

12-08-2007 06:29 AM

Topic tags/keywords: wood species design finish exotic

Need a little help from some more visionary or artistic LumberJocks out there. I’m planning on making some holiday gifts very soon. Specifically, three candle boxes, one inlaid cutting board, a few inlaid trivets, and several of those nifty business card holders that have been posted here several times. I want to use more than one species on several of these to break the monotony and to make the gifts somewhat unique from the others with the same design. Up until now, I haven’t experimented much with pairing species to add interest. I like the look of dark walnut on light species such as maple, but I’ve done that one too many times and am looking to branch out a bit.

  • What’s everyone’s favorite combinations?
  • . . . and, is your favorite Dependant on a particular finish that alters the natural look?

~Note: I have on hand several different walnut species, some select cherry, white oak (not quartersawn), some very vibrant cocobolo, poplar, and pine. I also have a few dozen different types of 8”X12” exotic veneers.

Thanks in advance!

-- Jeff, South Carolina

27 replies so far

View dennis mitchell's profile

dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 4339 days

#1 posted 12-08-2007 06:33 AM

I’ve always like cherry and walnut, trimed with purpleheart.

View scottb's profile


3648 posts in 4352 days

#2 posted 12-08-2007 06:46 AM

maple walnut seems to be a classic (And tasty) combination, but I agree it feels overdone (but I haven’t worked out any of my own pairs either). I think any two of the woods you mentioned would tend to look good, adding a third would make things more challenging – achieving a proper visual balance of color, contrast, texture, grain, chatoyance…

Maybe picking woods that grow together, it works for recipes, would likely work for pairing two species visually. I suppose you could also pick fruit and nut woods that are used together in cooking/baking. Apple/Walnut, Apple/Cherry, Come to think of it, I’ve seen a nice project made of mostly butternut and ash.

Even pairing woods with the same apparent color would be fine, with contrasting grain patterns.

-- I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it. - Van Gogh -- --

View Ethan Sincox's profile

Ethan Sincox

767 posts in 4199 days

#3 posted 12-08-2007 07:23 AM

Given the woods you have, I’d suggest Cherry and Cocobolo. Both have reddish tones to them, but the Cocobolo is quite a bit darker, so you’ll still have some contrast to them. The white oak and walnut would also be a good combination, but I’d probably avoid the poplar and pine. That’s probably because they’re generally considered secondary woods (drawer sides, dust skirts, etc.) in most furniture, but also because I don’t think they’d hold up well to cutting board or trivet use.

Upon further consideration, however, pine might be quite interesting for the candle box…

-- Ethan,

View Dick, & Barb Cain's profile

Dick, & Barb Cain

8693 posts in 4324 days

#4 posted 12-08-2007 12:57 PM

I have a few projects made with Ash, & Walnut, I like that combination.

Click on Tags, Clock, & Thorsen.

You’ll see a variety of wood combos that L J’s have used.

-- -** You are never to old to set another goal or to dream a new dream ****************** Dick, & Barb Cain, Hibbing, MN.

View Karson's profile


35125 posts in 4425 days

#5 posted 12-08-2007 02:57 PM

Maple and Cherry is also nice. Close in colors, but different.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Southern Delaware soon moving to Virginia †

View dalec's profile


612 posts in 3913 days

#6 posted 12-08-2007 04:06 PM

I am playing with bloodwood and maple. I have always liked contrast dark to light, intense to muted. I sometimes think about changing up and going with differing tones, but seem never to finish those thoughts in terms of doing something with that notion.

This is a bit off subject, but it would be a fun idea to find scraps of various woods and to create a couple of color wheels or a chain of samples so those woods could be viewed side by side in combinations. Kinda of like going to the paint store or home design shop.


View Bill's profile


2579 posts in 4186 days

#7 posted 12-08-2007 11:53 PM

My favorite is Red Oak and Purpleheart. Nice contrast between the two woods. Maple and Purpleheart is nice as well.

-- Bill, Turlock California,

View Alin Dobra's profile

Alin Dobra

351 posts in 3913 days

#8 posted 12-09-2007 12:01 AM

I like maple and cherry. Maple and walnut. Both me and editors at (was in one of their articles) would recommend against cherry and walnut together. In time (for small boxes left in the sun, as little as few days) cherry changes from a light pinkish color to a brown or deep brown/red. Walnut lightens up. This means that in time you will have two different kinds of brown on your piece instead of contrasting colors. The maple does not darken significantly (neither does pine) so it would provide a nice contrast.

Also, keep in mind that cherry is one of the most surprising woods. It is very hard to predict the final color. It could be some nice brown that contrasts with the darker cocobolo, or it could be a deep red that does not contrast at all. To see how cherry and maple go together, look at my bandsaw boxes:


-- -- Alin Dobra, Gainesville, Florida

View rpmurphy509's profile


288 posts in 3879 days

#9 posted 12-09-2007 03:36 AM

Agree with Bill, the Purpleheart / Red Oak and Maple / Purpleheart look great together.
Purpleheart can be a little overwhelming with the lighter shades of both species though,
would recommend doing some hand selection if considering these combinations (I love working
with Purpleheart, and more importantly, my wife loves it too).

-- Still learning everything

View USCJeff's profile


1063 posts in 4093 days

#10 posted 12-09-2007 05:02 AM

Thanks Alin, I actually saved the images of your box a few weeks ago and plan to use it as a starting point when I take a shot at it. I’m going to start a new thread as I have some questions about Cherry specifically so I won’t get into it here. I’m going to have to check out the book in your project notes. Very cool looking from the samples you’ve posted.

PURPLEHEART? I’m a bit suprised to see so many fans of it. I personally don’t care for it much. I used it for inlay and small accents. I might have to reconsider and give it a shot. One lucky thing is that my local supplier, Woodzone, recently bought about several thousand BF of it rough. Their shorted pieces (I’d guess less than 36” long) and they are selling it very cheap. I did notice the color had a wide range as “RPmurphy509” stated. Some looked almost bleached, others look like a dark purple crayon.

-- Jeff, South Carolina

View USCJeff's profile


1063 posts in 4093 days

#11 posted 12-09-2007 05:10 AM

FOLLOW UP: Thanks for all the feedback. I’m still curious as to how everyone finishes their choices above. I think that the finish is a make or break choice for the overall continuity. Since I’m making projects designed to make the wood combos the focal point, I would think a natural finish wood most likely work best. BLO, Linseed, Danish, etc. . . ? Glossy or Matte? I’m looking for a “Sam Maloof” type finish that makes the wood beg to be touched. Nice finish, but retaining the species properties.

-- Jeff, South Carolina

View Thos. Angle's profile

Thos. Angle

4444 posts in 3987 days

#12 posted 12-09-2007 01:40 PM

A funny note on Purple heart; one of my suppliers, High Desert Hardwoods, tells me that they order in units of 8/4 for use as decking on lowboys to haul heavy equipment.

-- Thos. Angle, Jordan Valley, Oregon

View Muzhik's profile


173 posts in 4163 days

#13 posted 12-09-2007 04:44 PM

I like mahogany and maple, cherry/maple and walnut/maple. I’m also a big fan of figured maple, even though it’s a pain to work with, I usually go for birdseye or curly maple. I rarely work with plain stuff. The bed I’m finishing up this week (look for pics Thursday) is walnut and curly maple with purpleheart accents and koa veneered panels in the headboard and foot board. It’s been months in the making, but I’m happy with the way it has come out. Here is a link to the sketchup drawings I posted in the spring.

I will admit, though, that I used transtints to darken the walnut down a touch and redden the koa, but I didn’t drastically change the color of either. I did them just enough to make it about the same colors as I selected in sketchup.

View rpmurphy509's profile


288 posts in 3879 days

#14 posted 12-09-2007 05:08 PM

Finishes for purpleheart, I prefer using blonde shellac, 1/2 lb mix. Applying it as the color
oxidizes, freezing the color just where I want it. For a more natural finish I like Tung or Boiled Linseed Oil.
Using either on purpleheart will darken it a couple shades though, so be prepared for it if you go that route.

I have some scraps of maple and cherry out in my shop, held the jointed edges together
and wiped some acetone across them, very nice, complimentary appearance. Mahogany with
birds-eye maple would be very nice as well.

Looking forward to seeing your final choices once you’ve made it.


-- Still learning everything

View Bill's profile


2579 posts in 4186 days

#15 posted 12-09-2007 07:07 PM

There are also a couple of other “heart” woods you could use, such as Red Heart and Yellow Heart. Obviously, their color is as their name says. I have seen these for Pen Blanks at least, but not sure about regular lumber sizes. At least it is something different to try if you do not like the other colors.

One thing about Purpleheart is as it oxidizes, it turns more purple in color. When it is first cut, it can be a dull brown. A few days later, it turns to a nice purple color. A little longer, and you get the deep purple color.

I use either Shellac or regular varnish on pieces with Purpleheart. It brings out the nice rich color of the Purpleheart, and gives a nice glow and depth to the Red Oak as well. On my cutting board, I used mineral oil (Maple and Purpleheart). It gives a nice color when wet, but not the deeper purple I am used to with other finishes as it dries. Of course, with a cutting board, I would not use varnish or shellac.

-- Bill, Turlock California,

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