Botanists know the Camphor tree as Cinnamomum camphora. C. camphora is native to the Southeast Asia region with Thailand providing most of the fairly small amount of imported material.
C. camphora trees, due to their large size and use as a shade tree, are widely planted throughout the tropical areas of the world and small hobby mills located in tropical or semi-tropical areas, in the United States Florida or Hawaii, are a good source of C. camphora for turning and other hobby uses.
For the sake of simplicity and common understanding I will hereafter refer to C. camphora as Camphor.
The color of Camphor wood can vary widely depending on the exact species and the growing conditions. In general the wood is of a light brown color that often featuers streaks of color which can include gray, red, or even olive green. There are sometimes even darker streaks present.
The sapwood of Camphor is lighter in color and is not always clearly demarcated from the heartwood.
Camphor burls are commonly seen and as is true of most burls, they are considered highly decorative and desirable.
The grain of a piece of Camphor timber can vary widely from straight, to interlocked, or even wavy.
The texture of Camphor wood is uniformly medium.
Camphor wood often has a slightly greasy feeling due to a high oil content.
Camphor is durable and resistant to rot but its resistance to insect attack is mixed depending of the insect in question.
Camphor has a very moderate density and hardness and that makes it easy to shape and machine. As is always true, any interlocked areas can be difficult to work with, especially due to a tendency toward tearout in plane operations, but this is usually a minimal concern.
Camphor glues and finishes well.
Easily the most notable feature of working with Camphor, especially green wood, is the odor. The odor of camphor is very distinctive and it is for this scent that the tree is named. Anyone who has ever used an inhaled nasal decongestant or medicated chest rub will recognize the smell immediately. While most pronounced during active working, the scent will linger in the shop for days or until every bit of shavings and dust are collected. Fortunately most people do not find the scent offensive.
Pricing and Availability:
Camphor wood is rarely, if ever, exported in the form of lumber. Most of the time it is seen as burl veneer.
However, lumber, turning blanks, and log sections are sometimes seen for sale from domestic sources where the tree has been introduced and harvested locally. Prices for such “domestic” exotics are usually in the moderate range when compared to other imported hardwoods. Solid burls and veneer sheets are much more expensive.
In this blog, I almost always recommend several vendors with whom I have done considerable business and in whom I have great confidence. These vendors are: West Penn Hardwoods, Bell Forest Products, WoodTurningz, Amazon Exotic Hardwoods, Griffin Exotic Wood, Exotic Woods USA, Got Wood?, and Wood Turning Blanks 4U.
At this time, only Wood Turning Blanks 4U is offering Camphor. The sizes on offer range from a 4” x 2” for $1.50 to a whopping 16” x 4” selling for $71.11. These are very reasonable prices especially for pieces on the large end since any turning blanks of such size usually command quite a premium price.
Woodfinder is an excellent website that is dedicated to advertising wood dealers. In your search for Camphor, this can be an invaluable resource provided you use multiple search terms to capture all the possible listings. I can’t speak to the quality of any of the listed dealers, but Woodfinder does have the advantage of allowing searches to be performed based on location which might allow an interested buyer to visit a listed wood dealer in person to hand pick pieces at a comfortable price.