#91: Tasmanian Myrtle

Bird number: 124
Date: December 4, 2012
Wood: Tasmanian Myrtle (Nothofagus cunninghamii)
Source: Woodcraft

Most of the woods I’ve used in the project I’d at least heard of some time in the past. I’d known of and even seen many of the exotics long before I started carving. I’d never heard of Tasmanian Myrtle before, and it looked really interesting there on the shelf at Woodcraft.

Besides, I didn’t have anything from Tasmania.

As interesting as it looked on the shelf, it looked even more interesting when I got it home and cut out the pattern. Finished, the wood has a definite pink hue that doesn’t show very well in these pictures.

It also has some interesting spalting and grain variation. The wood was a little more expensive than the average that I pay for a bird piece, but well worth the premium.

Nothofagus is the family of southern Beeches, native to temperate oceanic and tropical areas of the Southern Hemisphere. They used to be classified in the family Fagaceae along with all the other Beeches, but genetic tests have shown them to be distinct.

Tasmanian Myrtle,  also known as Myrtle Beech (not to be confused with Myrtle Beach, South Carolina) grows in the southeastern Australian state of Victoria, and on the island state of Tasmania. The wood is hard and strong, with a very close grain. It’s used for cabinetry, flooring, joinery, and cogs of wheels if you can imagine. And, as you can see from the pictures above, it can be polished to an extremely fine sheen.

The wood is commonly available in Australia, and occasionally available in the United States where its primary use is for turned objects. It shouldn’t be too difficult to carve with a knife, having a hardness on par with the fruit woods (apple, pear, cherry, etc.). The power carver, of course, had no trouble with it.

Easy to work with, and lovely stuff. I imagine I’ll pick up another chunk of it at some point.

#90: Rotten oak

Bird number: 123
Date: December 1, 2012
Wood: Rotten oak
Source: Friend’s ranch

I know that this is from an oak tree of some kind, but I don’t know the exact species. I cut the blank from a six-inch-thick branch that was hanging dead on one of the oak trees at Mike’s place near Ranger, TX. I know several species of oak that it isn’t, but not exactly what it is. Oh, well.

The wood from this oak, at least up there, tends to rot from the inside out. I suspect that the decay process actually started before the limb was dead. I say that because in trimming some live branches, we found signs of decay at the core while the branch seemed plenty healthy on the outside. Whatever the case, I was somewhat dubious about my ability to create a bird that would hold together.

The result is, I think, rather interesting.

There was a lot of fungus in the wood; almost all the cracks were filled with it. The first thing I did after cutting out the blank was put it in the oven for three hours at 200 degrees. That removed a lot of moisture and made it easier to remove the fungus. I then carved the figure, removed more of the fungus, and put it in the oven for another couple of hours. After one more pass with the pick to clean up the remaining bits of fungus, I sanded the figure and cooked it for the last time. Two fairly heavy coats of Watco Danish Oil should ensure that any fungus that remained is gone, or at least unable to continue feeding on the wood.

I had to be careful when carving the bird because there are many very soft sections of wood, and in some places not very much thickness between the outside and the hole that runs right down the middle of the figure.

I considered making up a story about how I found this bird in the burned-out remains of my grandfather’s barn. I think I could make a pretty convincing case, except for my name and the date that I carved on the tail.

This is what I consider a true “found wood” carving. It’s an interesting challenge, trying to make something recognizable out of a piece of wood that’s so far gone. Loads of fun, and a unique piece.

#89: Bloodwood

Bird number: 122
Date: December 1, 2012
Wood: Bloodwood (Brosimum paraense)
Source: Woodcraft

A friend gave me a piece of Purpleheart a few years ago. I showed it to somebody else, who swore that it was Bloodwood rather than Purpleheart. Having now worked with Bloodwood, I can’t imagine how that guy confused the two. They are wildly different in color and in working properties. Bloodwood is red to reddish-brown, with white or yellow streaks. It’s also somewhat harder than Purpleheart, which is purple to brown in color.

It’s interesting to note that the wood’s dust has been reported by some to cause thirst or salivation, and occasionally nausea. I don’t recall experiencing those symptoms, but I did notice some itching on my hands when I first started sanding this figure. Enough so that I put it down and intended to put on rubber gloves before working with it any more. I didn’t do that, but also didn’t experience any more irritation. So I think the itching was coincidence.

I rather like the way it turned out.

As I said, the wood is hard, with an average dried weight of 1,195 kg/m3, meaning that it doesn’t float in water. I had to be a little careful with the Foredom to avoid burning the wood. Sanding took a little longer, as you would expect with this harder wood.

The wood is durable, strong, and hard, and takes a very fine finish. It’s a popular wood for trim and accents, as well as larger structural elements in furniture. It’s also a popular wood for turned objects.

#88: Lemon

Bird number: 121
Date: December 1, 2012
Wood: Lemonwood (Calycophyllum candidissimum) (I think)
Source: Woodcraft

By now, I should know better than to trust common names. There are three different trees commonly called “lemonwood.” The only one for which I can find reliable lumber photos is Calcophyllum candidissimum, a South American tree. Those pictures do closely resemble the wood that I made this bird from, so I’ll go with that.

This could be from a lemon (citrus) tree, although the wood is darker and has a much more pronounced grain than the Orange bird, and I was lead to believe that all the citrus woods were very similar. It seems somewhat more dense than the Orange, too.

Maybe one of the guys at Woodcraft can tell me, the next time I’m there. They had a bunch of the stuff, including some quite large pieces. That’s uncommon for the real exotics, but not too unusual for woods like citrus, which you wouldn’t normally find for sale commercially. As I said, I should know better than to trust the common name.

Whatever it is, it sure does look nice.

The wood was medium hard and cut quite well, with no tendency to burn. I knew when I bought the wood that it would look nice, but it finished up much better than I expected. That blemish on the left side of the head adds a really nice touch.

If this really is wood from a lemon tree, then I’m going to track down somebody who has a lemon tree, and get as much as I can. If it’s the exotic “lemonwood,” then I’ll hope to get another sample of it at some point. But it’s too expensive to buy. Lovely stuff, and a pleasure to carve.

#87: Redheart

Bird number: 120
Date: December 1, 2012
Wood: Redheart (Erythroxylum)
Source: Woodcraft store

The most important thing to know about Redheart is that it’s beautiful when finished. The next thing to know is that it smells bad. The Wood Database entry says that it “can have a distinct, rubber-like smell when being worked depending on species.” I suppose I could characterize the smell as “rubber-like.” Say, like an old tractor tire that sat on top of a manure pile for several years of sun and rain before being washed off and stored in a hot barn for the summer.

Other than the smell, it’s fine to work with: medium-hard, straight, close grain, and no tendency to split or tear. Sanding was no problem, and it really did finish up nice.

This is probably Erythroxylum mexicanum, although I can’t say for sure. That is the most common species sold as “Redheart,” and it has the characteristic rubber-like smell, but apparently there are other members of the genus that look and smell the same.

The Erythroxylum genus also includes the coca plant, source of cocaine. Actually, there are several different species of coca that contain cocaine.

Turned objects from Redheart are quite common. Turners love the stuff because it is beautiful and easy to work with. It’s a little on the expensive side as far as exotic woods go, but the color can bring a premium for turned objects. I don’t see many people carving it, though. Carvers are less apt to buy expensive carving wood, probably because the market for high-end carvings is much smaller than the market for turned objects.

I have enough to do a couple more small pieces, but I don’t expect to be working with it after that. The wood’s too pricey for me to go out and buy more.