It is important to remember that although many people may, or may not, be sensitive to any given wood, the only experience that truly counts is your own, so use reported side effects as guidance but not as a substitute for cautious and safe practices.
Appropriate protective equipment is therefore always recommended when working with this, or any other, wood, exotic or domestic, unless you have worked with the species before and are certain you are not sensitive to it.
Complete information about health hazards associated with a wide variety of exotic hardwoods is available from The Wood Database. Additional information about how to best use a dust collection system and personal protective equipment, such as respirators, can also be found through this excellent and comprehensive resource.
Fortunately, I experienced no negative side effects when working with American Holly.
My Personal Experiences :
Personally, I found American Holly to be a bit difficult to work with. I started with green wood bowl blanks and as is generally true with rough turning bowls it was pretty easy since I wasn’t at all concerned with a final smooth finish. Once the rough bowls were dry the challenges began.
American Holly has a fairly high rate of movement when drying, with a ratio tangential to radial of 2:1. In practice this meant that my rough bowls were fairly warped and were out of round by almost 0.5”, which is quite a bit to try to bring back down to round.
The exterior was fairly easy to re-round using the Easy Wood Tools Rougher. It wasn’t much more complicated that rounding any rough cut blank. The interior was a bit more of a challenge but using the Easy Wood Tools Finisher with a negative rake cutter I was able to, slowly and carefully, bring it back into round, albeit with a very thin edge wall due to the degree of warp that had to be cut out.
I used a standard Nova Chuck and the Cole Jaws attachment in the process.
Achieving a nice final sanded finish was very difficult on the cross grain areas where the interlocked grain really presented issues. Finally I had to lock the lathe spindle down and focus sand on the end grain areas. The other areas cut very smooth and didn’t require the aggressive sanding the end grain areas did. I used Green and Yellow Wave sanding discs from Packard Woodworking.
For a finish I chose to use clear gloss polyurethane which is very different from the finish I normally use. I chose this because I thought it was the best option to preserve the uniquely pale white color of the American Holly wood. I feared that a shellac based product would discolor the wood. Polyurethane is rated for outdoor use so it is also a very sturdy and protective finish as well. I used a Minwax Wipe On Clear Gloss Polyurethane.
Given the cost of American Holly and how difficult it is to source, I don’t think I will be in a hurry to experiment with it again. It is unique in appearance but some of the difficulties in working, coupled with price and availability, make me feel that I would rather spend my turning time with other more accessible, both in terms of availability, price, and working characteristics, woods.
As always, I wish all my readers a great experience in whatever their wood working interests happen to be and to those who like working with lathes especially, do a good turn today!