I work with over thirty species to hardwoods, all found right here in the southeastern United States.  The vast majority of species that I use come from central and eastern North Carolina, so I have a lot of access to species that span multiple habitats.

All hardwoods have varying degrees of hardness and densities.  Softer hardwoods make the best choice for utility pieces, as they are more shock resistant.  Any other species work fine for decorative and sculptural work, although some are more stable than others.  When I sign a piece I also put a species mark that corresponds to the legend.

Utility Species

Red Maple
Rock Elm
Box Elder
Sweet Gum
Red Bay
White Ash
American Elm
Winged Elm
Black Gum
River Birch
American Beech
Green Ash

Species Legend

Red Maple (RM) Acer rubrum
American Beech (B) Fagus grandifolia
Black Walnut (W) Juglans nigra
Black Cherry (C) Prunus serotina
Red Mulberry (RMB) Morus rubra
White Mulberry (WMB) Morus alba
Chinese Elm (CE) Ulmus parvifolia
Magnolia (MG) Magnolia grandiflora
Pecan (PE) Carya illinoinensis
Hickory (HI) Carya tomentosa
Red Oak (RO) Quercus rubra
White Oak (WO) Quercus alba
Chinaberry (CB) Melia azedarach
Holly (HO) Ilex opaca
Persimmon (PM) Diospyros virginiana
Dogwood (DW) Cornus mas
Rock Elm (RE) Ulmus thomasii
Chinese Chestnut (CC) Castanea mollissima
Box Elder (BE) Acer negundo
Sycamore (SY) Platanus occidentalis
Sweet Gum (SG) Liquidambar
Tulip Poplar (POP) Liriodendron tulipifera
Cottonwood, eastern (ECW) Populus deltoides
Cottonwood, western (WCW) Populus fremontii
Honey Locust (HL) Gleditsia triacanthos
Rock Maple (HM) Acer saccharum
Red Bay (RBY) Persea borbonia
Mimosa (MI) Mimosa turneri
Hackberry (HB) Celtis laevigata
White Ash (WA) Fraxinus americana
Bradford Pear (PR) Pyrus Calleryana
Black Locust (BL) Robinia pseudoacacia
American Elm (AE) Ulmus americana
Winged Elm (WE) Ulmus alata
Black Gum (BG) Nyssa sylvatica
Catalpa (CT) Catalpa bignonioides
River Birch (RB) Betula nigra
Green Ash (GA) Fraxinus pennsylvanica
Basswood (BW) Tilia americana
Water Tupelo (TU) Nyssa aquatica
Eastern Red Bud (RD) Cercis Canadensis


Burl, Crotches, Spalting, and Ambrosia

Occasionally while wood gathering I come across some burl in the tree.  A burl is a growth defect on the tree that results in an abnormal formation.  A burl formation in a tree is generally the tree’s natural response to some external influence, usually resulting from injury, insect damage, disease, mold, fungus, etc. While a burl can look somewhat grotesque on the outside, the distortion in the normal grain pattern usually leads to very dramatic and colorful figure in the wood (Figure 1-3). The grain distortion in the burl is usually perpendicular, or off angle, to the regular grain direction of the tree and is what, visually, forms the patterns of the swirls and/or packed clusters of nodes.

Crotches are another potential area of the tree where distinctive figure in the wood can be found.  The area where the tree forks also leads to a distortion in the normal grain pattern.  While there is generally nice figure in that area, the wood also tends to be extremely unstable and will move a lot as it dries.  I like to turn some hollow forms and let them warp, so this wood works well for that purpose.  I also have found that the crotch of a tree tends to spalt more quickly, so its possible to find nice figured wood and different colorations from the spalting.

Aside from the general figure in wood, spalting and ambrosia are two other things that I look for in trees.  Spalting is the visual evidence that the tree has been subject to fungus/mold and the very early stages of decay.  This will result in random patterns developing in the wood, as well as the possibility of multiple colors (Figure 4).  The coloration often is influenced by the specific mold or fungus that has started to attack the tree.  The trade-off, however, is that spalting does start to deteriorate the quality of the wood, so heavily spalted wood can be too decayed to work with well.  Ambrosia is very similar to spalting in that it is a staining of the wood left by a fungus.  The fungus is carried by the Ambrosia beetle, which bores into trees, and helps the fungus spread.  As a result the tree will typically develop long streaks or stripes of blues, reds, and yellows (Figure 5). Ambrosia develops almost exclusively in maple trees, while spalting occurs in all trees, though the effects are more pronounced depending on the species of tree. Since spalting and ambrosia develop due to the presence of fungus and mold, it is most common to find in wet environments and high humidity climates.