Favorite woods to use with hand tools

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Forum topic by RT31 posted 03-20-2015 02:44 AM 912 views 0 times favorited 9 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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54 posts in 1078 days

03-20-2015 02:44 AM

Like the title says. What are your favorite (and least favorite) woods to use with hand tools?

Recently I’ve been incorporating more hand tools into my work and have found do not like working purple heart at all but find sapele a pleasure. Poplar, Paduak and walnut are nice too. Maple so so.

What does everyone else think?

9 replies so far

View TheWoodenOyster's profile


1275 posts in 1356 days

#1 posted 03-20-2015 02:55 AM

My first dovetailed box was made of purpleheart… I’m such an idiot. It was rough on the hand tools. I had to return a saw because it looked I tried to change a transmission with after that purpleheart box.

Anyway… ones I like: walnut is my hands down favorite, cherry is pretty nice, eastern white pine is a dream, ash isn’t bad

I’m with you on the maple. Not a huge fan. It’s funny, when I started woodworking I thought hard woods were “cool”. Now I have come to the realization that they are just a huge pain. Wood workability can be the difference between a miserable project and a blissful one.

-- The Wood Is Your Oyster

View Brad's profile


1129 posts in 2161 days

#2 posted 03-20-2015 05:06 PM

Walnut, hands down. I get consistently beautiful results with hand tools.

Mahogany-I like working it and enjoy the beauty of he grain but I struggle with tearout.

Cherry-has been a joy to work and get good results.

Hickory-God awful with hand tools.

Maple-hard-can be difficult to work but great results.

Maple-birdseye-love the grain, but it’s a bear to plane. I get lots of tearout. Put a 5-degree back-bevel on a #4 iron and this helped.

Poplar & Pine -no problemo.

Oak-not a problem with sharp tools.

-- "People's lives are their own rewards or punishments."

View RT31's profile


54 posts in 1078 days

#3 posted 03-20-2015 05:08 PM

Ouch. Thanks for telling me that. Now my L-N dovetail saw will never touch purpleheart!
My problem with maple is planing, just not my favorite. I love the way it looks and feels.

I haven’t worked with Cherry yet, which is kinda crazy. I need to change that.

View jdh122's profile


878 posts in 2238 days

#4 posted 03-20-2015 05:32 PM

Definitely eastern white pine. If you can get some that is clear and knot-free it planes beautifully (leaves a surface that positively shimmers). Easy to saw too.
It does require sharp tools, especially with chisels or involving end grain.
Most of the common North American hardwoods work well unless you get a lot of figure. Hard maple is fine but not when it has birds eye or wavy grain. Oak is easy to plane unless it’s quartersawn, in which case the ray fleck will make you swear.
The way the board was sawn is probably as important as species. Christopher Schwarz (somewhere) says that one of the things he does to make handtool use easier is buy better grades of wood. I’m too cheap to pay those kinds of premiums, but can see his point.

-- Jeremy, in the Acadian forests

View MrFid's profile


793 posts in 1325 days

#5 posted 03-20-2015 05:49 PM

Mmmmmmm Cherry. Yum. So nice to plane and saw. Tight, fairly straight grain. Behaves so nicely.

-- Bailey F - Eastern Mass.

View HornedWoodwork's profile


222 posts in 635 days

#6 posted 03-20-2015 06:27 PM

Walnut and Cherry top two. Oak is ok but I find you need super sharp tools and they dull pretty fast. Pine is a breeze but the end results are iffy. Poplar is nice to work but looks like garbage when finished. Butternut is a dream, works beautifully and looks great as well. Ash and hickory are far too hard to work to make anything really big, but are perfect for smaller projects. Beech is a dream to work and holds edges beautifully, but you have to work it at the right moisture content, air-seasoned maybe 1 or 2years at most, once it gets older and hardens, it is absolute murder.

-- Talent, brilliance, and humility are my virtues.

View JayT's profile


4680 posts in 1632 days

#7 posted 03-20-2015 07:05 PM

Another walnut fan. No problems with oak or ash, either. I haven’t worked with cherry enough to have an opinion—hope to change that soon. Interlocked grain in exotics can be difficult, but overall haven’t really had any issues in limited experience.

Least favorite so far? Osage Orange. Nearly impossible to plane and murder on chisels and saws because of the hardness and density, but the final results are oh, so beautiful.

-- "Good judgement is the result of experience. A lot of experience is the result of poor judgement."

View bobasaurus's profile


2587 posts in 2605 days

#8 posted 03-20-2015 07:20 PM

I love walnut and honduras mahogany for hand tools. I haven’t worked much with ash or cherry, but I’ve heard they’re good hand tool woods as well. Hard maple is split-prone and tears out easily, but can be planed to an almost mirror-like surface with sharp tools.

Least-favorite is chinese elm… so interlocked, impossible to plane correctly. I also don’t really like African mahogany as it’s soft and stringy, making it hard to get cuts started.

-- Allen, Colorado

View RT31's profile


54 posts in 1078 days

#9 posted 03-21-2015 01:50 AM

Bob. +1 to what you said about maple. If my plane isn’t set up perfect with a sharp edge it’s tear out central. But if everything is set up perfect the maple looks great and I try to skip sanding if I can. That’s why I said it was so so for me. It’s a pain but the rewards can be worth it. Just depends on my mood.

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