#22: Mango

Bird number: 45
Date: February 26, 2012
Wood: Mango (Mangiferi indica)
Source: Woodcraft store

Debra has contributed to my 100 birds project by purchasing some wood in the form of turning blanks from the local Woodcraft store. She seems to prefer highly figured woods, so her selection of this Mango is no surprise. Looking at the blank, I could tell that it would look nice. I had no idea it would look quite this nice.

I’m not certain that this wood is Mangiferi indica. There are several members of the genus Mangiferi that are called “mango.” M. indica is the most commonly cultivated species. It is native to India, but now is grown in most major tropical areas that will support it.

I was surprised at how nicely the wood carved with a knife. Mango has a Janka hardness rating of 1120, making it about 10% harder than black walnut. It really was a joy to carve with a knife.

Some of the figuring had a definite greenish tinge when I was carving and sanding, but it doesn’t really show since I put the finish on it. Still, it has some very interesting coloring.

As with most of the exotic hardwoods, there aren’t a lot of people who carve it. It appears to be a fairly popular turning wood, and there are pictures of some nice carvings available (search Google Images). I’ve only talked to one other person who carves the stuff. I have a bit more from the block that Debra bought me, and am looking forward to carve something else from it.

#21: Royal Empress

Bird number: 44
Date: February 18, 2012
Wood: Royal Empress (Paulowina tomentosa)
Source: Trade from Arizona

The Royal Empress tree is native to central and western China, but grows well in the United States. So well, in fact, that it’s considered an invasive weed in many parts of the country. My friend Mike planted some in his back yard and they grew like crazy. He gave me a sapling and I haven’t been able to keep it alive. Every year something kills it. One year it got to about 3 feet high. I went out one morning and found it broken. But every year it comes back.

It’s been five years. I’m starting to feel like Charlie Brown and the football. This year will be different, I swear!

The piece of wood came from a friend in Arizona, with whom I traded bird blanks. She sent me an assortment of local woods, and I sent her stuff that she can’t get there.

The wood is soft and easy to carve with a knife. Probably about the same as the Eastern Red Cedar. It’s certainly softer than the Mimosa, which I also enjoyed carving. I suspect that if you can carve Butternut, you can carve the Royal Empress.

The wood is pretty, although not as striking as many of the species I’ve worked with. Still, it’ll make a nice addition to the collection.

Carving the Empress wood is an art form in China and Japan. Searching for “paulownia carving” images reveals many beautiful carved objects. I’m surprised it’s not a common carving wood here in the U.S.

Other species of Paulownia are used for furniture, construction, pallets, stringed instruments, surfboards, and in general any job that calls for a strong, light weight wood. Plantation trees grow quickly, sometimes up to 20 feet per year. It’s unlikely that we’ll run out of these trees any time soon.

#20: Cottonwood bark

Bird number: 43
Date: February 12, 2012
Wood: Cottonwood Bark (probably Populus deltoides)
Source: Trade

Three species of trees are commonly called cottonwoods. The bark on those trees grows very thick–sometimes six inches or more. Carvers use the bark to make whimsical houses, wood spirits, and other items. I’ve only carved a few things in cottonwood bark (the whimsical house being one of them). I’ve very much enjoyed it.

I struck a deal with an online friend in another state who traded me some sample woods in exchange for a box of mesquite. It was a good deal for both of us, since the woods each received are not available in our areas. It’s unclear to me which of the three species of cottonwoods this particular piece of bark is from.

This bird is slightly narrower than most of the others because I goofed when cutting the blank for it.

Cottonwood bark is very soft. So soft, in fact, that you could carve it with a very dull knife. The result wouldn’t be pretty, though, because the bark tends to crumble and splinter. It takes a very sharp knife and a lot of patience to carve cottonwood bark well. I think I rushed this one a bit. It’s not the best example of my work.

I also am not sure I like the look of sanded cottonwood bark. I considered not sanding this bird, but that looked even worse. I’m thinking that bark is better used for gnome homes and wood spirits. I find this figure to be rather bland. That won’t stop me from including it in the collection, though.

I’ve used Howard Feed ‘n Wax as the finish for all of my birds, except this one. I used the Feed ‘n Wax on cottonwood bark before, and it darkened the wood too much for my liking. This bird is finished with Meltonian Neutral shoe cream. I like the finish, but it’s going to smell for a few days.

#19: Sycamore

Bird number: 42
Date: February 10, 2012
Wood: American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis)
Source: Central Texas

The back exit from our subdivision has a low water crossing over Brushy Creek. One day on my way to work I had to stop to move a branch that had fallen from one of the trees. The wood looked interesting, so I threw the branch in the back of the truck. I knew which tree it came from, but didn’t know what kind of tree that was. A few minutes of research on the Internet identified the tree as an American Sycamore.

I’ve since carved a few things from sycamore, including a small spoon, a little bear and a snowman. Last summer I found a much larger piece of sycamore down by the creek, and put it aside for carving later.

I enjoy carving sycamore. I carved this bird with a knife while I was at my wood carving club meeting on Thursday night. The wood is pretty easy to carve with a sharp knife. It’s harder than basswood or butternut, but not nearly as hard as the fruit woods I’ve carved. And it finishes up beautifully. I’m surprised that I don’t find more people carving sycamore.

I made a little mistake when I cut out this bird. There is some nice color variation on the bottom of the bird that, had I been paying better attention when I cut out the blank, I would have put that on the top where people could see it. Live and learn, I suppose. That said, I’m still very happy with the way the figure turned out. Like the basswood bird (#16), this figure has an understated elegance that is enhanced by the simple grain pattern of the sycamore.

People do carve sycamore, although it’s more often used for turning and for furniture or interior finish in houses. The few sycamore carvings I’ve seen are beautiful. I don’t think I have any more left here, but I know where I can get all I want; I just need to take a walk down by the creek.

#18: Ponderosa Pine

Bird number: 41
Date: February 3, 2012
Wood: Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa)
Source: Southern Oklahoma

Debra took a trip to Oklahoma a few years ago to see family, and she came back with a trunk full of wood for me. Among all that were a few pieces of Ponderosa pine from a tree at her uncle’s place–the place where her dad grew up. At least, they say it’s Ponderosa pine, and it sure looks like it. But southern Oklahoma is a bit out of the normal range for this species.

I’ve always liked Ponderosa pine. I remember being fascinated by them when I was in Boy Scouts, camping in the mountains of Colorado. Debra and I had about a dozen of them on our property in northern Arizona. Today, the smell of the forest and the sound of the wind blowing through the Ponderosas always brings back fond memories.

Those black specks are the result of Blue stain fungus, which commonly attacks Ponderosa and a few other pine species.

A lot of carvers won’t touch most pines because it’s usually kind of messy to work with. It takes a long time to dry the sap in the wood, and if it’s not totally dry, the sap can make a mess. It’s very sticky. This wood was very dry, in large part because it’d been in the rafters of my garage for almost three years. There was some sap on the ends of the logs, but I didn’t notice any sap at all in the wood. The wood is soft and carves very easily. Not as soft as basswood, of course, but not a whole lot harder.

Unfinished, the wood is pretty bland. Putting the finish on it really brought out the grain and the specks caused by the fungus. I like the look.

#17: Black and white ebony

Bird number: 40
Date: February 1, 2012
Wood: Black and White Ebony (Diospyros embryopteris)
Source: Woodcraft store

When I was at Woodcraft looking for some Purpleheart before Christmas, they had a big box outside, full of exotic wood scraps that they were selling at highly discounted prices. Most of the scraps were too small for these birds, but I was able to find a few good chunks. Perhaps the most common type of wood in the box was this Black and White Ebony, a type of wood I’d never seen before.

The genus Diaspyros, commonly referred to as ebony or persimmon trees, most of which are native to the tropics. The persimmon is one notable exception that is native to temperate regions. Black and White Ebony is a rare member of the genus, found mostly in Laos.

The holes are made by some kind of insect.

One problem with picking wood from the bargain bin is that you don’t always get the best samples. This piece is not as highly figured as some that you’ll see. I actually got what I thought was a much better piece, but it broke when I tried to carve it. The wood is prone to cracking, and that piece had a crack that turned out to be much more serious than I thought it was.

The wood is hard, and has something of a waxy feel. Sanded, it’s quite smooth. So smooth, in fact, that I almost didn’t put a finish on it. But without a finish, the wood would start to discolor, and it would also pick up dirt and oil from hands that hold it.

I have another piece of this wood, although it’s even more bland (fewer black streaks) than the bird I show here. At least, it looks pretty bland on the outside. If I do get a better sample, I’ll definitely carve another bird from it. The highly figured wood is quite expensive, though, so it might be a while before I spring for another piece.