#30: Black Locust

Bird number: 52
Date: March 18, 2012
Wood: Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia)
Source: Southern Indiana

“Black Locust” sounds like the name of a comic book super hero. My online carving friend Dan sent me a chunk of this from his place in Indiana. The piece he sent had lots of cracks on the outside, and I was worried that I wouldn’t get a bird from it. Turns out that the cracks didn’t go very deep into the wood.

I’d heard of Black Locust before, as well as False Acacia (a literal translation of the botanical name, from what I understand). To my knowledge, I’ve never seen one, and this is the first time I’ve worked with the wood.

Obviously, the wood isn’t black. It’s called “black” because the bark is very dark.

The wood is extremely hard. Its specific gravity of 0.733 is close to that of Osage Orange (0.773). The wood has two other things in common with Osage Orange: it’s rot resistant, making it excellent fence post material, and it burns slow and hot.

Unlike Osage Orange, Black Locust is often used for furniture, flooring, paneling, and small watercraft.

The wood really is hard to cut. Just feeling its weight in my hand, I knew that I didn’t want to take a knife to it. The power carver didn’t have any trouble with the wood, although it did tend to fuzz up a bit. And sanding took quite a while before I got it smooth.

It’s a pretty wood, although not nearly as striking as some that I’ve worked with. It sure does take a nice finish, though, and I look forward to making something else with the bit of it that I have left.

#29: Yucatan Rosewood

Bird number: 51
Date: March 14, 2012
Wood: Yucatan Rosewood (Dalbergia)
Source: Woodcraft

It’s probably impossible to say for sure what kind of wood this is. The label on the block from Woodcraft says, “Yucatan Rosewood.” If you look that up, you’ll find a botanical name of Dalbergia Yucatensis, which is not a “real” botanical name. In the first place, the proper name would be Yucatanensis meaning “from the Yucatan.” But neither of the names is listed in any botanical reference.

The wood looks similar to Honduras RosewoodDalbergia stevensonii. Some people say that it’s not quite as hard. I haven’t worked any other type of rosewood, so I can’ t say. Others have said that it has “that distinct rosewood smell,” but the Wood Database says that this species has little to no scent while being worked. I detected a very faint sweet odor when I was sanding the piece.

There’s no doubt that it’s pretty stuff. The wood is hard–a little harder than maple. The power carver didn’t have any trouble with it, and the wood behaved nicely. No tendency to fuzz up or splinter, like some I’ve worked with.

When I first carved the Bubinga bird, I posted it with the name Yucatan Rosewood. I had cut blanks for both at the same time and although I was careful about labeling them, for some reason while I was working on the Bubinga I thought it was this wood. The woods look quite similar when freshly cut. Even finished, they have similarities but the Bubinga is more dense and has more red in it. I’m learning just how difficult it is to tell what kind of wood something is without seeing the tree that it came from.

There are many different kinds of wood called “rosewood,” some of which are very popular for carving in some cultures. Most of the rosewood carvings I’ve seen in person or in pictures do not look like they came from this type of wood. As a result, I don’t really know if this stuff is often carved. I do know that I have a bit more, and will make something from it.

#28: Eucalyptus

Bird number: 50
Date: March 14, 2012
Wood: Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus)
Source: Woodcraft Store

There are over 700 different species of the genus Eucalyptus. Most are native to Australia, and members of the genus dominate the tree flora of Australia. Beyond that, all I know of Eucalyptus is that we had some growing in California and in Arizona. I seem to remember that there was some danger of dropping branches.

I have no way of knowing for sure what species this piece of wood is from. A little research indicates that it might be Eucalyptus marginata, or Jarrah. The color is right. Whatever it is, it’s lovely.

The wood is hard! The power carver didn’t have any trouble with it, of course, but it only took one test cut with a knife to convince me that I’d rather use power on this wood.

Sanding this piece was a real chore. I usually start with 100 grit sandpaper after I’ve done the rough carving, but this wood was so hard that I started with 60 grit. It took me a long time to get this one smooth, but the result was well worth the effort. The stuff takes an absolutely beautiful finish.

I think I have one more small piece of this, after making the bird. I’m hoping it’s large enough to make one of my hearts.

I just realized that I goofed on the numbering. This bird is numbered 50, as is the previous one carved from Macassar Ebony. I forgot to write that one down. Oh, well.

#27: Macassar Ebony

Bird number: 50
Date: March 6, 2012
Wood: Macassar Ebony (Diospyros celebica)
Source: Woodcraft

Debra bought me a total of eight different blocks of wood for Christmas and for our anniversary. I cut out bird blanks from most of them a month ago, but then the weather got cold and I didn’t go out to the garage to carve them. I don’t like operating that power carver when I’m shivering. Some, like the Mango, were soft enough that I could carve them with a knife. But this stuff, especially, is quite hard.

Macassar (also Makassar) Ebony is endemic to a single island in Indonesia. It’s a highly prized wood, and has become scarce over the centuries. It’s one of the most expensive woods available on the market. I can see why. The stuff is beautiful and is a pleasure to work with. Hard, sure, but stable and it takes a really nice finish.

As with most of the harder woods, Macassar Ebony is more commonly turned than carved. But a Google Images search does return a fair number of carvings, including a couple of stylized birds that are quite similar to this one.

I have a good chunk of this stuff left. I could make two or three more birds, or I can think of something else to carve from it. After that’s gone, I probably won’t be getting any more. At least not for a while. The stuff really is expensive.

#26: Shaggy bark juniper

Bird number: 49
Date: March 6, 2012
Wood: Shaggy Bark Juniper (Juniperus osteosperma)
Source: Trade

My friend in Arizona sent me a few blocks of this juniper, which she labeled “AZ Juniper.” I remember from my time in Arizona that at least two species of juniper are common there: the shaggy bark, Juniperus osteosperma, and the alligator bark, Juniperus deppeana. Considering the marked difference in the wood from Juniperus species (compare this bird to the Cedar and Ash Juniper birds, for example), I made it a point to ask her which type she had sent.

Of the three junipers I’ve carved, this one is the least interesting. It lacks the color of the other two, and doesn’t have a distinctive scent. It’s slightly harder than the Cedar, but has much the same character. It cuts much easier than the Ashe Juniper.

I started carving this bird with a knife, but finished it with the power carver over the weekend while I was working on some of the harder woods. You probably noticed that this is another of the short-tailed birds. I didn’t see any reason to reject the wood just because I’d have to modify the pattern a little bit.

The wood carves nicely enough, and I’ve seen some nice pieces made from it. I find it a bit bland, though. And maybe it’s just me, but I have difficulty getting a good finish on the softwoods (pine, juniper, etc.). This particular bird isn’t the best example of my work.

I have a few more blocks of this that I’ll almost certainly carve into something. When I do, I’ll probably experiment with stains or other ways of adding some color.

#25: Bubinga

Bird number: 48
Date: March 5, 2012
Wood: Bubinga (Guibourtia)
Source: Woodcraft

I goofed when I posted this one originally. I said that it’s Yucatan Rosewood. Then I went out to my shop and noticed that the Rosewood bird is still on the bench, waiting for me to carve it. This bird is carved from Bubinga. Unfortunately, there are 13 different species of Guibourtia, so I can’t say for sure which one this is. Although it resembles Guibourtia demeusei more than it does any of the others I’ve seen pictures of. Perhaps not surprisingly, another name for this species is African Rosewood.

When I post the Yucatan Rosewood, you’ll see how easily one could become confused. The woods are very similar. Fortunately I had written on the Rosewood bird cutout and hadn’t yet carved it. Otherwise I probably would not have caught the mistake.

Guibourtia are evergreen trees that can grow more than 150 feet tall. They’re native to swampy or periodically inundated forest regions of tropical Africa (most species) and South America (three species). It’s used for harps, bass guitars, and other musical instruments, furniture making, handgun grips, and other places where luxury timber is desired.

One thing I’m learning in this project is that many woods, even those from trees that are at best distantly related, look very similar to each other. For example, this Bubinga looks very similar to the Yucatan Rosewood I previously mentioned, and also to the Eucalyptus I’ll be carving soon. If I didn’t have them marked, I would be hard pressed to tell the three apart.

There’s no doubt that the Bubinga is pretty stuff. It’s hard–around 2,000 on the Janka scale, depending on the species–and quite dense. Hard to cut with a knife, but I had no trouble with the power carver. It sure takes a nice finish, too. I’m looking forward to carving something from the chunk I have left.

#24: Jobillo

Bird number: 47
Date: March 5, 2012
Wood: Jobillo (Astronium graveolens)
Source: Woodcraft

Jobillo grows in Central and South America: from the Yucatan in Mexico to as far south as Bolivia. Some sources say that Jobillo can be either Astronium graveolons or Astronium fraxinifolium. Others say that A. fraxinifolium is called Goncalo alves. The Wood Explorer Database entry for Astronium graveolons implies that Goncalo alves and Jobillo are the same thing. It’s possible that both are called Tigerwood, too. Which would make sense, as it does have stripes that approximate black and orange.

This kind of thing isn’t uncommon, by the way. It’s very often difficult to map a common name to a botanical name.

This Jobillo is one of the woods that Debra gave me as a Christmas gift. It’s very dense, and quite hard. I didn’t even try to carve it with a knife. The power carver didn’t exactly have trouble with it, but I could tell that the wood was a lot harder than black walnut, for example. It does look nice when finished, though.

Those pictures really are of the same piece of wood, taken at the same time under the same lighting conditions. The camera decided to use its flash on the top one, but not on the bottom one. The image on the bottom more accurately reflects the real color of the wood.

What looks like scratches on the breast in the top picture are actually cracks in the wood. I thought they were scratches, too, but the more I sanded them the longer they got. It looks like this block of wood wasn’t quite dry yet. I hope the cracks don’t get any larger.

Like most of the exotics I’ve been working with, Jobillo is a popular turning wood, but not so popular for carving. Leaves more for me, I guess. I’ll definitely carve it again.

#23: Cottonwood

Bird number: 46
Date: March 1, 2012
Wood: Fremont Cottonwood (Populus fremontii)
Source: Arizona

This piece is from another block of wood that I acquired in trade from a friend in Arizona. You might notice that the tail is a bit short. She goofed when she cut the wood block, making it four inches long rather than four and a half. So I have a short tailed bird.

I know that this is Fremont Cottonwood, because it’s the only type of cottonwood that grows in Arizona. The Fremont Cottonwood has a thick bark like the other cottonwoods, but not nearly as thick as Populus deltoides, whose bark is used to carve wood spirits and whimsical houses. Or so they tell me.

Other than the Hopi Indians, who traditionally carve their kachina dolls from cottonwood roots, I don’t seem much about people carving the wood from a cottonwood tree. Lots of people carve the bark.

Cottonwood isn’t a particularly interesting wood. The only notable thing about it is that it’s a terrible source of heat. It has a very low BTU rating. The wood burns, but not very hot.

Cottonwood carves quite nicely with a knife. It’s about the same hardness as the Royal Empress. Perhaps a little bit softer. The result is pretty, but not nearly as visually striking as most of the other woods I’ve been working with. I have a few more pieces that I won’t waste, but I probably won’t go looking for cottonwood in the future.