Different woods have different properties and this renders some safe for food and drink items and some unsafe. Below is a list of some of the woods I use and their properties. Each one mentioned has many varieties within it's specis so this is just a rough guide.
Wood is a natural product and as such can be susceptible to change with it's environment. Increase in humidity, temperature etc can cause wood to move and in some cases even change colour as with purple heart, yew and other highly coloured woods.
Ash: Ash is a white to pale brown wood with a straight grain. Staining will enhance the grain as can texturing. A strong wood, ideal for any piece needing strength.
Acacia: This is a wood that is often seen in gardens, it has a wonderfully varied colouring and figuring and is a hard, durable wood. Not available commercially, mine is sourced from tree surgeons and gardeners.
Beech: Perhaps the most common all round wood for treen though it is a bland wood with little in the way of attractive grain or markings. It is ideal for almost any purpose but as said can be bland and characterless unless it is spalted. (see note below)
Blackthorn (Sloe): Better known as the wood that is used for shillelaghs (irish clubs) this wood is a beautiful wood and extremely hard. It is usually bent and twisted and so larger pieces are rare. I use it for mortars and pestles and rolling pins as it is both food safe and durable as well as often having a lovely figuring in it.
Cherry: is close-grained wood that can have a variety of different colours and grains. Used by me for a variety of different pieces. It can split easily when being seasoned but once dry is stable. Food safe for bowls, goblets etc
Elm: Not as common now but I do obtain it occasionally, sometime from reclaimed furniture. Often has a wild grain that can be very attractive.
Hawthorn: Occasionally I acquire some pieces of this gorgeous wood and am able to use it for treen. It is food safe and can have some really gorgeous figuring. As it is often part of a hedge the grain can be twisted where the hedge has been laid or bent by the weather giving the grain a lovely natural look to it.
Hazel: Generally this is obtained only in smaller pieces and so doesn't get used as much as I would like. It is food safe however and I do make some items with it. Can be almost white like holly.
Laburnum: This beautiful wood has toxins in all parts of it not just the seeds therefore it is used purely for decorative items. Colour is usually greenish brown heartwood at the centre with a paler cream sapwood.
Mahogany: One of the great furniture woods, mahogany has a reddish-brown to deep-red tint, a straight grain, medium texture. True Spanish mahogany is a protected species and any I use comes from reclaimed old furniture. It is a lovely wood for decorative platters and bowls. There are modern equivalents such as utile and sapele that are used.
Maple: This includes the sycamore found in the UK. Sycamore supposedly contains a natural anti bacterial property and is popular for use in food items. Usually a bland colour unless seasoned flat in which case it can have grey streaks that can be attractive in decorative pieces.
Oak: Oak is one of the most used woods for furniture. I use it green for making medieval style goblets allowing it to move and develop shakes which I then fill with contrasting materials. (see note below) It has many varieties however and can range from the black of reclaimed wood through to the pale wood often seen in furniture.
Parana Pine: A wood that was once used a lot in the furniture industry it has, like many woods, been over harvested and is now not seen as much commercially. I source most of mine from old furniture that I purchase and then refurbish for use. It is a pale wood with striking red streaks often showing once turned. A hard, durable wood I only tend to get it in smaller pieces unfortunately.
Poplar: (Tulip wood) A pale wood often with markings that can go through to dark green. It is a wood that is ideal for general use and is very stable. Used a lot in the furniture industry for the carcasses as it isn't considered an attractive wood in its own right. Safe for food items
Sycamore: This is arguably the best wood for food items and apparently has natural antibiotic properties. It also tends to be bland and characterless unless it has been seasoned lying flat when it can create grey stain effects in the wood which can at times be quite attractive.
Walnut: has fine texture and is strong, easy to work with. American walnut tends to be darker whilst english wlnut can hav pale sections especially min the sapwood. It resists shrinking and warping and can take all types of finishes very well. Can vary in colour from the pale sap wood to the dark heart wood. Used by me for bowls, platters, goblets and some decorative pieces.
Yew: Yew is, despite what some would say, potentially toxic and therefore I do not make any items that are intended for use with food or drink from it. A beautiful wood that has a dark reddish heart wood and a pale sap wood.
Spalted woods: Some woods can acquire fungal presence which will leave marks in the wood that can vary from the dark streaks common in beech to a variety of colourings.
Burrs: are tree growths in which the grain has grown in a deformed manner. It is commonly found in the form of a rounded outgrowth on a tree trunk or branch that is filled with small knots from dormant buds.
I use a lot of green wood, deliberately allowing distortion and shakes to occur. Any shakes or splits I then fill with a mixture of epoxy resin and various other materials some of which are listed below
Metal powders: These are either brass or aluminium powder creating either a golden or silver effect in the fill
Glass & stone powders: I use a variety of glass and stone powders which can be of various colours.
Sawdust: I save sawdust from various different woods and use these with the resin to create fills of contrasting colours. These can range from the pale dust of beech to the black of ebony or the purple of purple heart.
Pewter: I use pewter to create decorate areas in some of work. The pewter I use is generally recycled pewter mugs and ornaments that are made in the UK so have no lead content. Contrary to popular belief lead has not been a part of the pewter alloy for over a hundred years apart from in possibly the bottom end of the market. Today it would be hard to get pewter that has any lead content in the UK.
I mainly use two types of polish, carnauba wax and microcrystalline polish. Both are hard waxes and give a soft shiny finish that is durable and easily maintained. On items that are likely to be handled a lot I use the Microcrystalline wax, a finish that was developed for the British Museum to protect items as varied as paper, wood and metal. It has a very high temperature melting point and is resistant to moisture and finger prints. For items that are going to be in direct contact with foods I use a food safe oil that is allowed to impregnate the wood and leaves a soft satin sheen that can be renewed easily after use. Drinking vessels are finished with numerous coats of a lacquer that is specifically for use in food areas. It is liquid proof and alchohol resistant and builds up a hard liquid proof finish that is easily maintained with a quick rinse in luke warm water.