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In my case, it was pieces of wood I had available. "Construction lumber" which was a softwood, likely a spruce or pine. Not as tight a grain as I wanted, but it was whatever was in my scrap pile.

I glued up pieces to make thicker blanks for practice turning beads and coves.
 

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Any free wood. Firewood is excellent if you make sure it doesn't have any checks. Stay away from the really hard woods until you learn to turn better.
 

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Dick,
I think any wood will do--I was a beginner not that long ago--guess the thought they're trying to convey is that the harder woods may "catch" and potentially cause pain and consternation.
I'd start with whatever you want to get between centers or in the chuck and get used to the toolrest and presentation of the tool--make a mess, but learn in the process.
If it helps- I started with "regular" chisels but currently use mostly carbide tipped tools now--It's a time thing for me.
Safety first! Head and eye protection is a must, and stay out of the line of fire.
Dave H
 

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Wood carving is turning which doesn't spin around.
What woods can you find?
Best wood is likely the cheapest/free, don't fall in love with what you do.
By the end of the first day, you will be or should be confronted with the issue of keeping your tools sharp. Otherwise, quit now.

Softwoods (pine/spruce/etc) will be OK but you need to do ring counts, don't fool with punky wood as it shows 15 rings/inch or fewer. Western Red Cedar, at 50+/inch, is as hard as birch.
Hardwoods make you pay more attention to tool edge sharpness.
 

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Plywood is the best for the new beginners because it is easy for turning.
Huh? You must make very small things on your lathe ... and I disagree, plywood is nowhere near being best.

For spindle practice (e.g. practice turning beads), I use regular construction 2 by 4s ripped down to 2 x 2. Cheap & simple.

For "real work", whatever you can get free or cheap, my preference is maple (but that's just because there's lots of it around here.)
 

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+1 with duncsuss. I prefer solid wood to plywood, especially if construction grade plywood with thick layers, voids and knots. There will be tearout since more end grain exposed in alternate layers.

I glue up straight grained 2x4 pieces to make 4x4 sections for practice. It may feel large but after some practice you will see how fast you turn this down.

I found it easier to practice beads and coves on the larger X section than smaller X section. You will have your share of catches, then more turning down to remove, etc.
 
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