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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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