Mixing And Matching Woods (Combination) Specifically Boxes?

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Forum topic by Blackie_ posted 06-05-2013 12:27 PM 4397 views 0 times favorited 17 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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4883 posts in 2684 days

06-05-2013 12:27 PM

I did a search on what I’m looking for before posting this but didn’t find anything that really answered my question.

Being a novice, I find myself spending the biggest part of the day on a project when it comes to mix and matching woods such as splines (feathers) or inlays trying to find the best color combo, is there any set pattern? Is it just a matter of preference to the builder?

I am currently working on a jewelry box 14” tall x 8” wide x 7” deep main body of wood is Rosewood (Bubinga) with inlays, after several hours of placing other woods up against the rosewood trying to find the right combo, I settled on a combo which consists of a two walnuts 3/16” wide on each side of a single center 1/4” wide strip of wenge on all four sides to stretch the full length bottom to top centered on all four sides, all dark colors, I had light colors such as maple in the mix but just thought it stood out to much shrugs.

This as much as I hate to say has become one of my biggest struggles and a pain.

-- Randy - If I'm not on LJ's then I'm making Saw Dust. Please feel free to visit my store location at

17 replies so far

View Kreegan's profile


1452 posts in 2318 days

#1 posted 06-05-2013 01:59 PM

I think that’s largely a matter of personal preference. The only broad guideline I know of is to avoid woods that have a tendency to stain other woods, like padauk.

View fisherdoug09's profile


123 posts in 2846 days

#2 posted 06-05-2013 02:18 PM

I have to agree with Kreegan, personal preference. Take a look at some of the boxes here on LJ’s and see what kinds of combos of woods used. Good luck

View patron's profile


13635 posts in 3513 days

#3 posted 06-05-2013 02:41 PM

i mix my woods by weight (density = hardness)

when i pick up a board
the weight tells me (in my hand) that hardness (more or less)

i have found that soft woods
and hardwoods don’t ‘settle’ the same
in my inlays
and when sanding the harder ones stay high
while the softer ones dimple down
leaving a ‘washboard’ surface

and they both dry and expand and contract differently
and take a finish differently too

even when cutting thinner pieces of many ‘dried’ hardwoods
i have found i need to sand them flat after glue-up
and wait for about a month to sand again
(i learned this from boxes i had delivered
and had to re-sand and re-finish later)
as the surface was slightly uneven
after the woods finally dried completely

-- david - only thru kindness can this world be whole . If we don't succeed we run the risk of failure. Dan Quayle

View longgone's profile


5688 posts in 3480 days

#4 posted 06-05-2013 03:03 PM

I have always taken a few scrap pieces of different woods and sanded them and put a finish on them.
Some woods appearance changes quite a bit after a finish is applied, so this makes it much easier to get a true idea of what they will look like when used in a box…or any project…I keep the finished scraps for future combination experiments.

View blackcherry's profile


3338 posts in 3995 days

#5 posted 06-05-2013 03:54 PM

Here a few of my fav combo….cherry and Birdseye Maple just a great pairing…rosewood and curly maple … Walnut and any kind of figured maple….walnut and Birdseye Maple I call this one salt and pepper…yellow heart and walnut…cherry and curly maple….any burl wood goes great with walnut and cherry….good luck with your pairings….BC

View Woodwrecker's profile


4196 posts in 3747 days

#6 posted 06-05-2013 05:23 PM

Well put Patron.
I have found the same as David.
And Blackie, your skills have jumped you out of the novice bracket !

View Blackie_'s profile


4883 posts in 2684 days

#7 posted 06-05-2013 05:30 PM

Great info and thanks for the input and comments.

Thanks Eric I’m sure I’m at the point to where I could write my own book as for as my designs go but there’s still a lot I don’t know.

-- Randy - If I'm not on LJ's then I'm making Saw Dust. Please feel free to visit my store location at

View hoosier0311's profile


706 posts in 2197 days

#8 posted 06-05-2013 05:34 PM

I like to see projects that people mix woods together. I would have never thought of doing anything but contrast. It amazes me what guys on this site dream up some really.

-- atta boy Clarence!

View Jim Finn's profile

Jim Finn

2684 posts in 3094 days

#9 posted 06-05-2013 06:53 PM

I mix woods when I am doing image inlays . I have found that Oak and Red Cedar do not go together well. I just do not like that color combination. I also avoid Cedar and Mahogany for this same reason. I have settled on using soft maple for my white inlays into cedar or Oak and dark walnut inlayed into oak is my favorite. I have used Basswood as a white inlay but when sanding the red from the cedar gets imbedded into the basswood so I no longer use it.

-- No PHD just a DD214 Website>

View Roger's profile


20949 posts in 2976 days

#10 posted 06-05-2013 08:19 PM

Everybody has different views of what looks good & what don’t. If you like it, that’s all that matters,....... i.m.o. Everything you do looks good to me. :)

-- Roger from KY. Work/Play/Travel Safe. Keep your dust collector fed.

View redSLED's profile


790 posts in 2064 days

#11 posted 06-05-2013 08:50 PM

I love pictures. Not my boxes:

-- Perfection is the difference between too much and not enough.

View Boxguy's profile


2748 posts in 2439 days

#12 posted 06-06-2013 05:13 AM

Blackie, I agree with Greg, having a bunch of samples with finish on them is a big help. I often will take the boards that I intend to make into boxes and process the inside side. By that I mean I will take a dozen or so boards and plane them down to 5/8+, put a bottom dado on them, sand them to 800 grit, apply a coat of finish or two, and then after they dry I just stack them on end in the finish room, so I can fan through them. Then I start another dozen boards. When I get a board I want to use for a top, I dab some finish on about half of it, and while it is still wet, I can just take it to the stack and compare the grains and colors. Finally, I try to take them outside into the daylight to really see what I’ve got.

Finishing the insides takes time, but I am going to do it anyway and it makes finishing the final box really quick if you can just pick up the side and go to work. Once you get the process going, sizing, dadoing, sanding, and finishing these takes a week or two; but I get my time back when I am making boxes in the winter. Applying finish to the outside side is useless because I will be sanding and shaping that as I make the box. I try to make about 40 of these sides each summer and sometimes hire help with the sanding process. (It is tiresome.) But they can dry outside in the summer sun in a much shorter time than in the winter.

I seldom make a box of one wood. Too boring. Here are some general rules: If the top wood has a simple grain the sides can have more figure. If the top has figure, the side grain should be plane. Yellow woods go well with red or brown. Reds are the most difficult to mix well. White Oak and several Walnuts are some of my favorite mixes. My next box is going to be Zebra Wood and Persimmon. Sometimes despite my best efforts the mixes don’t go well, but to my surprise those are sometimes the first to sell, which tells me that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

When I get that washboard feel from mixing woods of different densities I start sanding again with 80 grit and work my way down to 800…trying not to sand any grit more than needed. The large belt sander or dual drum sander will also do the trick.

-- Big Al in IN

View DocSavage45's profile


8706 posts in 3014 days

#13 posted 06-07-2013 05:31 AM

Patron’s words are wise by experience as well as Greg’s and Boxguy. They have learned through mistakes. The other thing I didn’t see is what I learned from Charles Neil. Do to one side of the wood that you do to the other. When a piece is cut( ripped) it lets moisture out of the inside. He has suggested reversing the pieces and putting them in plastic. Density and grain will also determine the mix and match as well as the color.

A friend of mine who is The Master Woodworker of Miazaki Japan. told me he saw some of Krenov’s work and it had warped. JK had a talent for picking materials and colors in a natural mode but?

I know you are expanding your development. Best of luck. Cherry and walnut change color over time.

-- Cau Haus Designs, Thomas J. Tieffenbacher

View Tony_S's profile


939 posts in 3255 days

#14 posted 06-07-2013 10:48 AM

There is no ‘cut and dried’ answer to your question IMO.
There are so many different considerations involved in the design aspect that it can be pretty overwhelming.

One aspect that I don’t think has been mentioned so far is proportion. It’s just as, if not more important than color combination.
You can find 2 or 3 types of wood that look awesome together….but used in the wrong proportion, they’ll look terrible.
Give 2 members of this forum two equal piles of wood. Lets say Maple and walnut, and the same set of plans. Maybe a Krenov style cabinet. One member might produce a complete work of art, while the other will produce what looks like a jumbled pile of crap(regardless of joinery skills).
Also take into consideration what you’d like the focus of the project to be. Is it the inlay…or the box it’s self? That can totally change things as well.
The first box that redsled posted is an extreme example of design skills imo….at least 6 different types of wood in one project.
For 98% of us, that’s a huge mistake, but in the right hands, proper placement and proportion have created a work of art.
It’s something Ive struggled with for 25 years, but also have made HUGE improvements in those 25 years just due the fact I spend a lot of time wondering and studying why one persons build vs. another’s with similar design and materials can be at opposite ends of the aesthetic spectrum.

People go to school for YEARS to learn this stuff! And STILL suck at it!! LOL!!

-- It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. Aristotle

View Blackie_'s profile


4883 posts in 2684 days

#15 posted 06-07-2013 01:19 PM

Great advise and suggestions, thanks everyone.

-- Randy - If I'm not on LJ's then I'm making Saw Dust. Please feel free to visit my store location at

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