When I think of a good turning wood, my mind does not immediately jump to cottonwood. Cottonwood trees are pleasant to walk under on a hot summer day. They provide a beautiful, shimmery, green haze as their new leaves emerge in Spring. But turning wood? not in my books–until recently, that is.
Last October we received 24 inches of wet snow in about 24 hours. The trees still had leaves so down came a rain of branches. An abundance of branches is a situation not to be resisted. That abundance can even overcome the inertia of fixed ideas about what woods are worthwhile to turn.
Our cottonwoods are Lanceleaf and have a dark heartwood and white sapwood. Crotch wood shows a mix of light and dark color plus showing interlaced grain. I have lived among other varieties of cottonwoods, but I regret to say, I did not turn them to know how they compare to what I now have available.
I have found it best to turn cottonwood green with a sharp gouge. A scraper pulls the grain, especially on green wood, and the fuzz builds up under the cutting edge. Hollowing a vessel with a scraper is a slow task. A ring tool may work better.
Once the vessel is turned, I let it dry before sanding. I apply three coats of walnut oil and top off the finish with a coat of beeswax. The first coat of oil should not be very heavy as the wood acts like a sponge until you establish a coat of cured oil to seal it.
Turning cottonwood may be a little more work than turning some other woods, but my revised books now state: “Worth the Trouble.”
by Ellis Hein