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In search for the perfect wood for the North American model ship builder

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I began model ship building many years ago, and I still do not know if the perfect wood specie exist for model ship. In Europe , the favorite wood is pear wood and boxwood, 2 fruit woods with no grain pattern. These 2 species grow well in few countries in Europe. Pear wood has an excellent workability and it is easy to sand. Boxwood is probably the perfect wood for carving.


In North America, what choice do we have, if we want to use native woods. I do not know if we have in Museums scale model ship before 1800. If so, what would have been the wood they would have used. In Canada, around 1750 in Quebec city, René Nicolas Levasseur built around 10 full size ship in oak. I did not see in the archives if he did small scale model ship.


What choice do we have in Canada, more specifically in Ontario and Quebec? The best woods have to be the fruit woods. Apple wood could be probably the best choice, but there are 2 problems availability and I read that few furniture was made from this wood but likes to crack. If I want to build a large size model like by example 1/24, supply would be extremely difficult.


I do not know of any fruit wood specie that I could buy in large quantity, so I have to turn to the hardwoods.

Some people use maple but the grain is very large and sanding is very difficult. 

Birch, may be, could be good, but availability  is a problem.


The last one cherry wood, is it really a fruit wood or is it some kind between the size of maple tree and apple tree. I do not know what the wood of cherry tree like in France look like? 

To build a model ship  at this scale I would need about 10 X 2'' by 10'' by 12 feet, the cost may be $500. The reason why it is preferable to use domestic wood is the price. The same quantity of exotic wood would be more like $5000.

Workability and sanding are very excellent, nice edge retention, but at least 0 to 5% has perpendicular grain in a plank. These trees grows relatively fast and the grain if not carefully chosen can be out of scale.


So is there a perfect fruit tree with oak grain in miniature for the grain pattern? The best I know are fruitwood without grain pattern.


If I do not find the right wood, does that mean that I cannot build a model? If I really want to build at least one, I have to make a choice.


What would be your choice and why???


Capture d’écran, le 2019-09-23 à 08.52.16.jpg

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Cherry for sure.....But many dont like the dark color that develops.   On that list if you prefer a lighter wood that is hard,  I would choose yellow birch.   It is as hard as cherry.   BUT....you must really pick out your boards by hand because you have to hunt for the pieces with little to no grain.   Grain is a problem with most of those woods.  So you need to select the clearest premium boards.  


On the softer side.....if you like the lighter woods.....Yellow poplar is really good.  But again you have to pick out the good pieces that arent greenish and have little grain.   


Then there is of course Yellow cedar which isnt on your list.   But it has very little grain at all but is very soft like basswood.  It holds a sharp edge but takes some getting used to in order to use it especially after you have been used to a harder wood.  It is my preferred wood after boxwood but it is about 1/4 the price.


Here is my 1/4" scale frigate in yellow cedar which is common and easy to get in large 2 x 6 or 2 x 12 billets.








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My evaluation of your list:

Not good choices, because of obvious and out of scale grain and pores   - 

Ash - all three


Oak - both      editorial comment: is really awful  in how it looks in scale - hits you between the eyes.


For framing

Not good choices, because it is soft,  blunt (not crisp) edges,  fibers roll  - 

Aspen - both     ed.  a trash wood put in service for economic reasons


Maple, soft/ especially silver

Poplar, balsam   ed.  a trash wood put in service for economic reasons

Sycamore, American  -  "lacewood"  I hate it.  When I started with this I bought a large supply because of what Underhill wrote about Sycamore.  Turns out - what the English know as Sycamore is actually a Maple that is a bit softer than Hard Maple, but close enough.  The North American Sycamore ( Platanus occidentalis  ) is different - it is similar to Black Cherry in hardness and looks close enough to Hard Maple in color to be difficult to isolate.  The fibers roll, it fuzzes when sanded or cut, it stinks when cut.  It has flecks in the grain - the "lace".


From what is left.

Elm, white  - I do not know

Elm, rock  -  I think I have some.  I bought what I thought was Black Cherry from a picker who got it in an estate sale.

                    it is very hard, not as unobtrusive in grain as I would wish, but acceptable.  Dulls blades.  Color is similar to aged Black Cherry


Elm, red  -   got a "deal" for a couple of planks from a cabinet maker in Lexington, turns out - he shed it because it was too cupped  to plane to a reasonable thickness.  I do not need it in a 4 or 8 foot length, so I salvaged more processing shorter lengths.  I advise giving cupped boards a pass if you can.  The wood is similar to Black Cherry in hardness.  Too much grain.


Sassafras   - way too much grain - got some with the Red Elm -  the way the grain presents, I think it will make an interesting base board, especially if dyed blue or green - it looks like ocean waves.


Beech,  American  -  similar to Hard Maple  except for a grain peculiarity - visible but not obvious "dashes"

Beech,  European  -  similar to Hard Maple - just a bit darker

Birch,  Yellow  -   similar to Hard Maple


Yellow Poplar   -  Tulip Poplar  ( Liriodendron tulipifera )  soft, easy to work, sharp edges, no visible pores,  can get really large boards  not expensive -  the problem is the color - it is streaky - nice yellow to green  to  a color that reminds me of a treated pier piling.   If you can select  out the yellow, it is great.


Black Cherry  -   Excellent - hard enough - has grain, but it is not obtrusive -  it will oxidize to a darker color over time - similar to steamed Pear.   it is softer than Pear  I harvested some Sweet Cherry - the wood is near identical in grain and hardness, but the color is yellow green.   Black Cherry has small inedible  fruit,  but Black Cherry syrup - pharmacy compounding - is made from the bark.  If you want darker but beautiful frames, this wood is the champion.  What you get from a lumber yard now will be light pink - color development takes time.


Hard Maple  -  (sugar)   about twice as hard as Black Cherry.  The closest in a commercial domestic wood to Buxus.  Not near as hard, but hard enough.  Color is similar to Buxus, but more blonde than yellow.

                       The Maple that I buy is plane cut.   I like two inch unplanned.  I slice off frame thickness boards for my thickness sander from this.  Maple has peculiar grain characteristics.  The plane cut surface has the normal faint oval pattern.  A slice perpendicular to this can yield a variety of faint patterns.  From the desired scale parallel layers, to flame, to tiger striped  -  it all depends on the distance from the pith.

The flame and tiger on the face of a frame timber is certainly not scale, but it is not bluntly obvious.  I think it adds interest.  Hard Maple is strong, holds a crisp edge,  is hard enough to keep your from getting into trouble when doing aggressive shaping. 


I think both Hard Maple and Black Cherry will serve your purposes excellently.  I can get either for less than $10 bf - maybe half that for Cherry, but  I sense that there is a covert inflation in play - from my increase in food costs.   I mill my own wood and I find rough, unplanned stock provides more wood - even if it does not sit against a saw fence as sweetly as planned stock.  If you like it, buy more than you think you will need.   I remember getting already dark red, clear Black Cherry from Homer Gregory Mill for $1 bf way back when.  Both the quality and cost are long gone. 

Edited by Jaager
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To add to this:  if you are a chainsaw harvester,  even if you own a wood lot with Hard Maple or Black Cherry or Black Walnut,  it is highly probable that it is better to buy the rough sawn and kiln dried product from a hardwood mill or dealer.  Better to sell it to  the industry and buy it back processed.  Seasoning takes time and the wood may not play nice as it dries.  The work of a lumber jack is more than a little dangerous and most of them do it full time and know what is hazardous as a matter of experience.  For non commercially available species, this is about the only way, and if extreme care is taken , should work out OK.  But if you can get it another way, it is very false economy to play lumber jack.

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Thank you guys for your inputs.


Yellow cedar, may be I could get from British Columbia, it would be expensive to ship in Quebec but the look of the grain is interesting


Maple, very easy to get here in Quebec. I think I would need to get lucky  to get a nice batch. The problem is the large spacing between each year which I think is larger than cherry. In comparison sanding maple and cherry are 2 different world.


We have 3 different opinions and cherry is in everyone list. I remember very well in 2013, I did participate in a kind of contest for model ship builders. Here is what a judge wrote about cherry: ''The biggest issue with this model was the choice of wood used. In many cases, the grain appeared out of scale.  Reading the rest of his comments, it was  very clear that it was impossible to satisfy this gentleman; but he was not completely wrong. If I had 1 question for him; it would have been: if cherry was wrong, then which wood would have been right?


Exactly as Chuck and Jaager previously wrote, we must  carefully select the boards we are going to use.  


Here is an example of cherry wood enhanced with tung oil. Although I am probably more selective today, and I could  even get a step higher in the quality control to select ''the perfect look wood'',  all along the cutting procedure from a 2  by 12 inches up to few millimeters thick. 




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Cherry looks really good if you like the darker color after it oxidizes.   The annoying part is getting good boards.  You have to get the best grade that doesnt have any sap or gum pockets.   You need to shoot for as little grain as possible and I prefer the lighter boards.  I have had a great deal of success getting super clean 30" long boards 2" x 6" from Cherokee woods on the west coast.  I have talked with them extensively and they understand what we need as ship modelers.  They dont sell sheets but if you can mill your own with a band saw and thickness sander its really nice stuff.   The shipping from the west coast to new jersey wasnt bad either.  I usually by 20 of these boards at a time and it costs me $90 for shipping.   About $300-$350 for the cherry.


Look at these two boards of cherry.....bottom came from Cherokee.   The one on the top is considered the same grade as the one on the bottom.  The top board came from a source in vermont.  They were both called black cherry.   These are boards I milled myself.   Because I wasnt there to pick them out in person you will sometimes get some clean boards that arent perfect for ship modeling.   The grain is too pronounced on the top board but its still considered a clear top grade board.   The grain on the bottom is more muted and about the best you can hope for with cherry.   




They also have an excellent quality of Alder wood which is super clear.   Alder tends to be knotty but if you ask for crystal clear cut-offs 30" long they have a bunch in this length range.  They are happy to get rid of them.  Excellent finish and it is a bit lighter than cherry....although not my preference.  It has small rays in it similar to birch.




Cedar is super soft....you really need to get used to it.   But it finishes wonderfully.   It holds a sharp nice edge.  Here is a partially framed cross section model in yellow cedar.  Edges of the frames are crisp and the end grain doesnt darken or turn black when you apply a finish to it.    Along with it is a close up of planking in cedar.



I buy mine locally believe it or not at




because they use it for log cabins and to make moldings for houses.   They have huge beams 12 x 12 and 16 x 16.   Its amazing to watch these guys.   Check out there site.   This is the only wood they have that I can use for ship models.   Its unfortunately cash and carry.  Unless you want to buy a truck load.  Again I get 2 x 6 x 30" cut offs that are crystal clear and I can pick them out in person.   


Dont get the port orford cedar....its not the same stuff.   Not good at all for ship models.  You would be surprised where you can find it.....


Its a west coast wood so you need to look in British Columbia......see here.   https://www.carlwood.com/lumber/softwood/yellow-cedar/



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You are spot on about the difference in effort expended in sanding or cutting between Black Cherry and Hard Maple.  Maple requires a lot of work. But, Buxus s. is significantly harder than Hard Maple. 

In light of the obsession with Boxwood,  Buxus s. is about 1.5 times harder than Castelo, which is 1.25 times harder than Hard Maple.  Depending on your focus, relative hardness has not been a determining factor.


If no grain is the important characteristic,  Chuck has the answer with Alaskan Yellow Cedar.  It does not get much more reduced than that.  I think Port Orford Cedar is similar.  But it is not much easier to source than AYC.   


Out of necessity, I concede some grain.  We are using wood after all.  I am happy if the wood does not have open pores and the difference between Spring and Summer bands is moderate..  Oak, Ash, Hickory when scaled have pores large enough to be soup bowls @ 1:48 and most Walnut species are not much better. 


An interesting species is Bradford Pear.  It is hard and has a bit of a waxy surface.  But it grows fast and it is possible to get a surface for a frame that has 1 - 1.5 year's growth rings. It is a bear to cut with a chisel too. It was/is popular for municipal street planting,  Attractive blooms, leaves, relatively compact, easy to care for, but for one characteristic = it branches a lot and the branches are at an acute angle.  Their mechanical attachment to the main trunk becomes less as the branches increase in size over time.  A powerful wind storm can split off most or all of them.  It sort of looks like a peeled banana  with just the peel.  After a major storm, it is easy to get a serious supply.


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  • 1 year later...

I was wondering about aspen.  I was recently at my local big box store and picked up a piece that is 48x3x1/4 inch and it is pure white with no real visible grain.  Was thinking for deck planking with no complex curves or carving it may work out well.  It is a bit soft but doesn’t seem to “fuzz” too much.  Not sure about staining/painting but for less than 4$ it was worth a try.

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I second Jaager on Bradford pear aka Callery pear, a very commonly planted non-fruiting ornamental. It's a true pear, Pyrus sp. and the wood is nearly indistinguishable from true pearwood, in some ways better, much less knotty and twisty. It's disadvantages would be wide growth rings and sometimes curly grain, usually a plus for woodworkers. The limb wood is outstanding. They grow very vertically so there's no reaction wood to them. The grain is tighter. It carves amazingly. Dries easily without degrading. Can be subject to worm damage, so best to remove all bark early on.  But the best wood all around for ship modeling would probably be apple. It's slightly harder than cherry, carves better, and doesn't show as much ray fleck on quartered surfaces. It's tan to brown, and oxides to a amazing color. Think of an old North American handsaw handle. They were usually apple wood. Disadvantages are: different heart wood and sapwood color, apple trees are not known for straightness and worms love it. It's also sort of hard to dry, but so is black cherry. They will check rapidly if left out in the sun. Most anything ship model wise could be made from apple, except maybe the smallest details where boxwood would be the choice. Even very small boxwood twigs can be used for turned stanchions, blocks, stern details, figureheads etc. Another advantage of apple would be the numerous bends and crazy branch structure can yield just the right shapes for knees and other parts of the ship that were historically made from such crooked lumber.

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Just now, Carlos Reira said:

the best wood all around for ship modeling would probably be apple

I completely agree.  The main problems are obtaining it in useful sizes and getting it dry before it checks or fungus gets to it.

When I see it cut into chunks to flavor meat, it is to cry.


If I had it to do over, I would make a effort to harvest as much Apple as I could.  I would also actively seek:  Hophornbeam and Washington Hawthorn.

And explore Honey Locust.

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The North American wood marketed as "cherry" is Prunus serotina, black cherry, a not fruiting species. Well actually it does bear very small fruit, but it's not the same as the sweet cherry, Prunus avium and the sour cherry, Prunus cerasus, both old world varieties from which the fruiting cultivars have been derived. The wood of black cherry is more reddish but the texture probably similar to the European cherry. American black cherry trees also can grow to very large size, yielding top grade lumber, similar to black walnut in that regard. Large cherry trees are more rare than large walnut trees due to the fact that they like to grow at the edge of the woods and along fence rows etc. Walnut trees grow sometimes in pure stands and release juglone, a chemical that makes many competitors die off.

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Here's some examples of the French variety which they call bois merisier or simply merisier. I believe it's prunus avium, but not sure. The color is less red than American cherry. I suspect the first buffet in the Louis XV style is stained. BTW none of these pieces fetched over 600 Euros.





Edited by Carlos Reira
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  • 1 month later...

Because the question of choosing which wood to use for model ship building comes and comes again, I wanted to write another page about it.


At the end, the choice you will do will be a personal choice as many activities like you can prefer to cut a plank with a hand saw or an electric saw. There is no good or bad choice, it is a strictly a personal choice guided by our preferences.


Here is why I chose cherry wood to be the only wood I use for model ship building.


apple wood.jpg

cherry wood 1.jpg

cherry wood.jpg

exotic woods.jpg

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Elm has a nasty reputation for being stringy, tough to split and for its tendency to warp.  These characteristics belong to one of the two most common elms, Ulmus rubra, AKA red elm, slippery elm, gray elm or soft elm.  Ulmus americana, AKA american elm, soft elm (again), water elm or white elm does not have these characteristics.


The trees look a lot alike but a close look at a cross-section of a flake of bark will show red elm's bark a solid reddish color.  American elm's bark shows alternating stripes of red and white.  If a leaf is available, the top surface of a red elm's leaf is very rough; you can't slide your finger across it.  The top surface of an american elm's leaf is relatively smooth.


These clues can be of help when scrounging through a pile of "urban" elm logs.


I'm not sure of elm's usefulness for modeling, but there is a lot of it available for free in piles of urban logs.  It is a pretty wood with utility in cabinets and furniture. 

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I was penny wise and pound foolish in doing a Craig's list purchase.

A picker was disposing his estate sale load of 50+ y/o attic or barn loft stored hardwood.

Most of the Maple was a disaster - part had deep checking and fungal rot (firewood)- one was Ambrosia - no use to me

What was supposed to Black Cherry - was significantly harder than Maple and very dense (about twice as heavy as Hard Maple) - the red is bit more red - the grain is a bit open.  It looks like Elm in its grain pattern.  I bought some surplus stock ( too twisted to machine plane) from a KY cabinet maker just to see how his species would fit.  The Sassafras is terrible - the grain looks like ocean waves - the Elm (red) is too soft and open.  But the grain pattern is close to that of the harder (cherry) Elm - I am tentatively  identifying  it as Rock Elm.  I have not found any other source of it for comparison.  Extinct due to Dutch Elm disease?  At any rate, I would not go out of my way to obtain any more.

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Are there some basic rules that I can use to choose a wood? Like SG and Janka hardness? Is it preferred to use the natural color or is staining an accepted choice? No grain seems to be an obvious choice. I can get Yellow cedar easily but it's very oily and I wonder if it would stain well. I'm seriously considering Hazel as it seems very similar in workability to yellow cedar but isn't oily. it takes a stain very well. I also have a lot of it😃 I could also get Red Alder as that's what most woodpiles are around here.

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4 hours ago, Don Case said:

Are there some basic rules

hardwood, if you use a softwood like cedar, you will get a fuzzier model. If you look a softwood to the microscope, there will be much more fuzziness than a hardwood.


4 hours ago, Don Case said:

No grain seems to be an obvious choice

this is why it is a personal choice


4 hours ago, Don Case said:

but it's very oily

not desirable oil and glue are no friends


4 hours ago, Don Case said:

 I could also get Red Alder


I would consider the properties of this wood like a softwood.

As I said, your personal choice will be the final judge, and if you choose a soft wood, you will succeed but you would get much better results  with a fruitwood.

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5 hours ago, Don Case said:

I can get Yellow cedar easily but it's very oily and I wonder if it would stain well. I'm seriously considering Hazel as it seems very similar in workability to yellow cedar but isn't oily. it takes a stain very well. I also have a lot of it😃 I could also get Red Alder

AYC has slight grain, is tight,straight, no open pores, holds a sharp edge, the fibers do not roll  - but is very soft, but it is harder than Basswood


Red Alder seems to have an unobtrusive grain pattern, you would have to work it to see how well it holds a sharp edge  - similar to AYC in hardness.

( As firewood, I suspect that a log does not last long and the ash to heat ration is not that favorable.)


Hazel  -  a search yields ambiguous results as far as what it really is like as timber.

One fork leads to Birch - which is close enough to Hard Maple in hardness and texture and reasonable grain figure (depending on how it is sliced off) to warrant a prime position.

Another fork leads to Hornbeam (American) harder than Hard Maple, a texture that is at least as favorable.  If this is it, it would rate a higher position.

A third fork has no data - you would have to explore its possibilities.


Impish humor is my intent from here on.


I prefer hard,  so I would investigate Hazel first in your place.  If it is everything that can be wished for, horde it, get way more than you think you will ever need.


Ideally, you would stumble across an old farm with large sound but past their prime Apple trees, do a Canadian chainsaw massacre,   seal the ends, debark, billet, and sticker enough to fill a walk-in storage unit.  But since Apple sap has a lot of sugar, kiln drying it is probably prudent.


Unless you go meshugena as far as scale (Gaetan, do you have a walkout garage door, or will you have to blast a hole in a wall of your basement to get that 74 out?)  or prefer large versions of small craft - 1:48 should be the upper range of your scale.  Look at a piece of Oak and imagine what the grain and surface would look like were it 50 times smaller - there would be no grain pattern and the surface would be tight and smooth. 

This is the ideal.  If going with natural wood, the color of the wood for your model falls into the world of artist's choice.  

Aniline wood dyes offer the possibility of a wider pallet - usually darker - than just wood as it comes - but I do not see anyone using them.

To dye wood is not the same thing as staining it.

A stain is a type of paint.  Using a stain on quality wood is like tagging the Mona Lisa.  Erase the thought of using a stain from your mind.

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You might find it of interest that one of America's best ship model makers, August Crabtree, who perfected his craft a century ago, used only local sourced woods for his models. He lived in Portland, Oregon and could not afford wood from East Coast suppliers (there was no Chuck in those days) so he experimented and found the following woods most useful in his work:


Apple wood for planking because it was hard, pliable and took a nice finish. Laurel wood for contrast

Elm for curved areas because it was easy to bend

Cascara wood or "buckthorn" for deck beams

Tropical limewood for small fittings like deadeyes

English and French walnut for some fittings as well as cedar on some inside frames to discourage insects

Dense whitethorn hardwood (firethorn) for carving


He seasoned all his wood over a 2-3 year period before use. Anyone who is running out of interesting reading material during Covid will thoroughly enjoy

The Miniature Ships of August & Winnifred Crabtree, by Vincent P. Scott (Mariners Museum, 2011). It's a delightful read!


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7 minutes ago, dvm27 said:

Dense whitethorn hardwood (firethorn) for carving

I made an inquiry at The Mariner's about what this species is.  They sent a copy of data about Washington Hawthorn.  Here, firethorn is a name for Pyracantha.  This is usually a foundation planted species.  It is in the Rose family and is hard enough to serve for carving, but does not usually have much bulk. It is a stick most often.

I planted a mail order lot of Washington Hawthorn while living in KY, but I only heeled it in, lost interest and sold the 5 acres  it was on before the plants grew to any usable size.  I have not found any since.

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Just to perhaps encourage those who are discouraged by the availability of the "perfect" modeling wood, may I suggest that there really are few candidates for that prize, and correspondingly hard to find and expensive. Below are some woods I'd nominate as candidates for modeling purposes. Some are primarily carving wood species good for carving and turning. Others perhaps more suitable for planking stock and larger parts. All are woods I've come across, often in abundance, in dumps and municipal woodpiles and free for the taking. Some are native California species, while others are invasive exotics, agricultural species, or ornamentals. Few are commercially available, usually because they are not large trees and because there is little market for them. A modeler with the resources to snag a few pieces, or more, should find some of them quite interesting to play with. Wood that has no visible grain is something of a "unicorn," but it must be remembered that there is in many species a wide variation in their color and figuring. As color and figuring is highly desired by furniture makers, the un--figured and lighter colored specimens are often much less expensive when available in a retail environment, while also often much more available in "the wild," as milling the plain specimens isn't as profitable as is milling highly figured stock. While it seems that building models of bright (natural finish) wood is greatly in vogue these days, it bears noting that when one isn't constrained by color-matching featureless bright wood, painting opens up many wood species which are as well-suited for modeling as any, save their natural appearance. 


It really costs nothing to experiment. Most city corporation yards will permit "picking" by turners and woodworkers, or even simply by those looking for firewood. There's always the big bay laurel than came down across a road in the last winter storm and the road crew bucked up to clear the road, or street ornamentals that were pruned or removed for one reason or another. Making friends with your local tree service is worthwhile. You never know when somebody decides to cut down that old holly tree in their backyard or to remove a dead birch tree.


Common Name(s): Myrtle, Oregon Myrtle, California Bay Laurel, Pepperwood

Scientific Name: Umbellularia californica

Distribution: Coastal regions of southwest Oregon and central California


Note: Quite large old specimens found commonly on creek banks. Windfalls are common.


Myrtle (Umbellularia californica)





Common Name(s): Olive

Scientific Name: Olea spp. (Olea europaea, O. capensis)

Distribution: Europe and eastern Africa


Note: Olive trees are more valued for their fruit than for their wood, so it's rare to find for sale. Wood is available from orchard culls and removed ornamentals.


Olive (Olea europaea)




Common Name(s): Sweetgum, Redgum, Sapgum, satin walnut

Scientific Name: Liquidambar styraciflua

Distribution: Southeastern United States


Note: Photo below is of heartwood. Wide sapwood is near-"white," through butterscotch color, similar to pear wood without significant figuring and sold as "satin walnut." Photo below is of heartwood, sometimes marketed as "redgum."


Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua)




Common Name(s): Paper Birch

Scientific Name: Betula papyrifera

Distribution: Northern and central North America


Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera)





Common Name(s): Persimmon, White Ebony

Scientific Name: Diospyros virginiana

Distribution: Eastern United States


(Note: Related to true ebony. This is a carving wood, used to make golf driver club heads.)


Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana)





Ligustrum lucidum

Ligustrum lucidum_C115-02 Photo courtesy UC Davis Weeds of California

Synonyms: Esquirolia sinensis; Ligustrum compactum var. latifolium; Ligustrum esquirolii

Common names: glossy privet; broad-leaved privet; tree privet

Ligustrum lucidum (glossy privet) is a shrub/tree (family Oleaceae) with white flowers and shiny oval-shaped leaves found in the San Francisco Bay area, Sacramento Valley, coastal ranges and southwestern ranges of California. It is native to China, Japan and Korea. Fast growing, but not large diameter trunks. Similar to boxwood. Listed as an invasive ornamental species. (Leaves and berries are poisonous.)


Large Photo of Ligustrum lucidum




Common Name(s): Pistachio

Scientific Name: Pistacia vera

Distribution: Native to Iran, also cultivated in the 
Mediterranean and Middle East regions, and California


Note: Nuts more valuable than fruit. Available as windfall, culls, and prunings from commercial orchards. Suitable for carving and turning small pieces.


Pistachio (Pistacia vera)




Common Name(s): Holly, American Holly

Scientific Name: Ilex opaca

Distribution: Eastern United States


Holly (Ilex opaca)








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What an interesting discussion - especially as an Australian, for whom most of these timbers are exotic and/or unobtainable except from specialist suppliers (at correspondingly high cost).  I was surprised Holly wasn't mentioned until Bob brought it up, I understand it has been used as an alternative to boxwood in the UK.


Privet (also mentioned by Bob) is quite nice to work, close grained, although the colour is a bit ordinary, a sort of dirty greyish-white in my experience.


I know chestnuts have disappeared from America, but I wonder if it is still available from timber recyclers?  Here in Australia, timber recyclers are a good source of some of the finest local timbers, especially New Zealand Kauri, which was widely used in floorboards about 100 years ago, so is readily available in boards 6" wide and 3/4" thick, in long lengths. Perhaps there is an equivalent in North America?

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1 hour ago, Larry Cowden said:

Has anyone an opinion on American locust

Here there are two types. 


Black Locust - I think it is a legume and is able to grow in poor soil. I had some in my fence row. The seed pods resemble 5x large butter bean pods. If lawn litter is an issue, you do not want one.  One Spring I was in the parking lot at Shakertown, and there were closely planted rows of Black Locust in bloom.  Their perfume was bliss.  The wood is resistant to rot due to ground moisture or termites - fence posts.  As a wood for ship models, it is not very desirable.


Honey Locust - I have a minor supply from a dealer in wood for smoking meat.  I think it has great promise for frames and such, but I did not score enough and the supplier was defeated by the economics and could not sustain the business.


25 minutes ago, Tony Hunt said:

I was surprised Holly wasn't mentioned until Bob brought it up,

Hully is a superb wood for modeling. Hard, tight, almost no grain and has no peer at bending.  The commercial supply is very white.  This requires extraordinary effort to maintain when the wood is harvested, the tree is not large so it comes at a high price and is generally in short supply.  

Old time writers mentioned decks being holystoned white.  This was poetic exaggeration. No tree that is used for decking has white wood.  But it is a modelers convention to use Holly for decks for some of us.  Holly is prone to infection by Blue Mold.  It invades quickly when the tree is cut. It turns the wood grey or light blue. The wood is just as sound as the white wood, but infected wood is not sold.  The infected wood would probably make for a more realistic deck color.  I scored a supply from a strain of Holly that has yellow wood. I am happy with it.  My cousin, who supplied it, has a tree farm, but there is no market for yellow Holly.   Holly takes a dye very well.  Dyed black, it should rival Ebony.  It bends better and does not generate the awful sawdust.   With the right shade of dye, it can be any color desired.


My cousin also sees it as a problem that Sweet Gum is wide spread and prolific on his land.  It is considered little better than pallet wood as far as how much he can get for it.  He had none cut to let me try.

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Don Case asked is there some basic rules? Here are some to begin:


The quest to find the most suitable wood is a story which can last many years. The first step is visual. If we divide in 2 groups painted or unpainted model. If you choose unpainted model, then the wood grain is more important.


You look the wood species available and you try some.  The word available is important.  Apple wood has a nice scaled down grain, the color is perfect but It is not the most stable wood. Unless I know the owner of an orchard, it is probable that supplies will be ... absent.  Then the price, ideally it should be a local wood, in the way that the price will be reasonable.


Once you have chosen a wood grain which would look good at scale, you have to test the properties of that wood and at the end, you will keep this wood in your list or not. Examples of what kind of properties you want to verify: workability and easy to sand ( the worst 2 woods that I tried are maple, it is much longer to sand and bloodwood, if you try to go too fast, it burns and makes the sanding paper dirty), stability, especially for all the framing. Staining, some wood are easily stainable others are not.

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13 hours ago, Jaager said:

I made an inquiry at The Mariner's about what this species is.  They sent a copy of data about Washington Hawthorn.  Here, firethorn is a name for Pyracantha.  This is usually a foundation planted species.  It is in the Rose family and is hard enough to serve for carving, but does not usually have much bulk. It is a stick most often.

I planted a mail order lot of Washington Hawthorn while living in KY, but I only heeled it in, lost interest and sold the 5 acres  it was on before the plants grew to any usable size.  I have not found any since.

Thanks for the reminder. I have stash of English Hawthorn. My sister cut down a tree in her yard a year or two ago and I scooped it. Forgot all about it. I'll take a look today. It's reasonably straight as I was going to use it for bows.

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My two cents worth:


This topic was widely discussed in the NRJ back in the ‘70’s when a modeler living in Chicago named Jack Kertzow (sp?) began investigating locally harvested woods.  He later moved to Florida where he explored the different woods available there.  He published a series of articles in the Journal that have been reproduced in Volume 1 of the Guild’s Shop Notes.  Support the Guild!  Buy a copy if you have not already done so.


I was interested to see Buckthorn listed on the post about August Crabtree’s models.  Here in Minnesota, the state is on a campaign to get rid of this invasive species planted years ago as an ornamental.  It is more like a large bush than a tree.  It spreads like crazy and grows quickly.  There is a supply growing in the woods behind my house.  I cut a piece that has been drying in my basement.  I’ll have to see what it looks like.  


Another unlkely candidate from a quick growing shrub  might be Lilac.  It appears to be a white, hard wood.  The last time I had my Lilac bushes cut down, I saved the larger cuttings, also drying.  Like Buckthorn, they are not likely to yield large pieces but might be good for carvers.



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