#51: Orange

Bird Number: 74
Date: June 17, 2012
Wood: Orange (Citrus sinensis)
Source: Friend in Florida

An old college friend contacted me recently, offering to send some branches from an orange tree. He sent three good chunks of wood from which I carved three birds. He’s getting one in return, and he has to give one to the person who gave him the tree branch.

I’d long wondered what citrus wood was like. Now I know. I carved this with the Foredom, so it’s a bit difficult to judge the hardness. It felt similar to pear or apple, and worked just as nicely. The wood looked very bland when I was working with it, and I was worried that the finished product would be uninteresting. Not to worry. All three branches had some dark streaks, and even without the dark streaks the grain has some subtle variations that are quite beautiful.

I got lucky on this one, with that bit of darker color just above the neck.

I thought I’d try a different kind of finish on these birds. Rather than the oil and wax mixture, I used Watco Natural Danish Oil. The result is a finish that looks drier than the oil/wax mixture, and doesn’t feel at all greasy. The product penetrates the wood and hardens, whereas with the oil and wax, the oil penetrates but doesn’t dry, and the wax coats the wood. The Danish Oil finish seals the wood but doesn’t add any color. Some people will put a polyurethane finish over the Danish Oil to give a glossy finish.

I find it interesting that few people work with citrus wood. You’d think that, with all the citrus orchards that are continually removing and replanting, there would be an abundance of citrus wood for carving, lumber, and other uses. Not so. Almost all orchards either burn or mulch the trees that they remove. I’ve seen a few companies that are making furniture from citrus (search for [orange tree furniture]), but that’s about it. A shame, really. The wood is very beautiful.

There aren’t any citrus orchards near me, although there are in South Texas. I might have to drop by the next time I’m down there and see if I can get more of this. In the meantime, I think I’ll check out the nearby olive orchard to see if they have some cutoffs.

A call for help

Note: The 100 Birds project is long over. No longer am I asking for new woods to carve. This post is here only as a historical footnote.

As of Friday, I’ve reached the halfway point in my quest to carve birds from 100 different types of wood. And I need some help. I have six or eight different kinds of wood that I haven’t carved yet in my garage, but after that I’m out. I could go buy more exotic woods from the store or online suppliers, but I’d much rather work with wood that I get from people around the country.

I’m offering a hand made bird ornament to anybody who sends me a type of wood that I can use in the project. You can either send me enough for two birds of that type, or if you send only enough for one, we can talk about what kind of wood you want me to use for your bird. I have dozens of different wood types here, and I think we can reach an agreement.

If you would like to contribute to the project and get a bird in return, contact me privately: jim AT mischel.com. I need a block that’s 2″ x 2″ x 4.5″, or a limb or log that’s at least 3″ in diameter and 6″ long.

I’m interested in pretty much anything that I haven’t carved yet. See the Bird Index for a list. Below are some suggestions. If you have anything from this list, or any other type of wood you don’t see in the bird index, please contact me.

Giant Sequoia
California Redwood
Texas Ebony
Red Oak
Yellow Pine
Black Ironwood (southern Florida)
Blue Spruce
Fig (my fig tree died and there weren’t any large enough pieces)

#50: Red Tip Photinia

Bird number: 73
Date: June 8, 2012
Wood: Red Tip Photinia (Photinia fraseri)
Source: Back yard

Red Tip Photinia is actually a hybird–a cross between P. glabra and P. serratifolia. It’s a popular ornamental shrub all over the south, and also here in Central Texas. We have some of them on the south side of the swimming pool, where they cause no end of trouble every spring. The little flower petals come off in the prevailing south wind and clog the filter traps. I don’t know what the original owners were thinking when they planted those trees there. I’d love to take them out (the trees, not the former owners), but I have an aversion to cutting down live trees.

One of the trees didn’t survive the long drought we had over the past few years, so when I had the chainsaw out last weekend I took the tree down. Most of it was too small for carving, but I got two nice-sized pieces from the base, one of which became this bird.

I had carved a little wizard from a dead Photinia branch a few years ago, but I didn’t sand and finish that so I had no idea that the wood was so dang pretty. The wood is hard and has a lot of color and grain variations. Pleasant to carve, and sands well. And it finishes up just beautifully. I sanded this piece with 1,000 grit before I applied the finish. The result is glass-smooth and a real pleasure to hold.

My only regret with this piece is that I didn’t let the wood dry long enough. I figured that, since it had been dead for over a year, I could carve and finish it before it cracked. I was wrong. You can’t see it in these small pictures, but there are several small cracks on the breast, and one long crack that starts at the back of the head and extends to about an inch behind the eyelet. Sure, the cracks add character, but I thought the wood had plenty of character without the cracks.

I’ll be sure to let the rest of my Photinia stash dry for a while longer before I try to carve it. It’s an excellent wood for stylized carvings.

#49: Elm

Bird number: 72
Date: June 7, 2012
Wood: Elm (Ulmus)
Source: Trade

Altogether, Frank Faust, the originator of the Comfort Bird, sent me nine different bird cutouts. This Elm is the last of them. Unfortunately, I don’t know what kind of elm it is, although I do know that it’s not the Cedar Elm, as this wood is quite different. I suspect that it’s American Elm (Ulmus americana), although the wood seemed harder than that. I doubt that it’s Rock Elm (Ulmus thomasii), because the growth rings are too far apart. Rock elm grows much more slowly.

Whatever the wood, it’s hard and sanding was quite a chore. It sure does take a high polish, but in my opinion it’s not as pretty as the Cedar Elm. I enjoyed carving it, but it’s not on the list of woods I’d look for to carve again.

#48: Yellow Poplar

Bird number: 71
Date: June 7, 2012
Wood: Yellow Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera)
Source: Yard sale

Yesterday I mentioned the yard sale where I picked up some wood last weekend, but forgot to mention that I’d also picked up a four foot length of yellow poplar that’s about three inches square. Why it’s called “yellow poplar” is beyond me. The wood is usually green, and the tree isn’t even a poplar. But I’ve long given up on making sense of popular names for trees.

I’ve carved several spoons and other kitchen implements from yellow poplar in the past, and, I think, a dog or two. It’s a fairly popular carving wood, especially for spoons, but also for caricatures and stylized figures like my birds. The wood is slightly harder than butternut. On the Janka scale it rates about 540 where basswood rates about 410 and butternut rates about 490. It’s easily carved with a knife, although it’s more prone to tearout than butternut or basswood.

The pictures here show the wood more yellow than it is in natural light. Outside in the sun, the wood is distinctly green.

The lighter colored area around the eyelet is a mistake. I use superglue to put the pin in the bird, and I got a little too much here. I thought it’d blend in when I applied the finish, but I was wrong. It might be possible to sand the glue away in that area and re-apply the finish. I might give that a try, although my results with those kinds of touch-ups aren’t always successful. Sometimes the cure is worse than the disease.

Yellow poplar, also called tulip wood or American tulip wood, is an important timber tree. It’s the wood of choice for organs, but also is used for interior finish of houses, siding, coffin boxes, and in general wherever a cheap, stable, and easy to work wood is needed. The wood is comparable to white pine in strength, texture, and softness. My cousin, a carpenter, says that they often use it for cabinets and other things that will be painted rather than stained. Also, the wood is somewhat termite resistant, making for excellent construction timber in areas where termites are a problem.

It’s also an excellent shade tree and an important source of honey (for baking, rather than as a table honey) in the Eastern U.S.

Yellow poplar is right up there near the top of my favorite carving woods. I always enjoy carving it. I’m not sure what I’ll carve from what I have left, but you can bet I will carve it.

#47: Maple

Bird number: 70
Date: June 6, 2012
Wood: Maple (Acer)
Source: Yard sale

A local carver posted that he was having a yard sale to get rid of a bunch of wood that he’d collected over the years. He and his wife are selling their house so that they can build a new one, and he didn’t want the expense of moving and storing all that wood while the new house is being built. His garage was packed. I wisely decided to go there with minimal cash in my pocket. Putting me in a garage full of wood and lots of cash would be like dropping a shopaholic in the mall with a no-limit credit card.

I did pick up a few pieces, though: a 6 foot length of 4″ x 4″ basswood, some pieces of cottonwood bark, and a nice hunk of maple. I’m a little disappointed, though, that I passed on that willow plank.

What kind of maple is unclear. I had no idea that there are 128 different species. It’s quite likely that this is Sugar maple (Acer saccharum, also known as “hard maple”), simply because that’s what most wood workers call maple. Other types of maple are usually identified. For example, I took down a dead Silver maple over the weekend, and will be carving a bird from it in the near future.

The wood definitely is hard! I did the rough carving on this bird during the same session I carved the hickory bird, and discovered that the maple was almost as hard as the hickory. It sure does finish up nice, though.

Maple is a very popular carving and turning wood. Relatively few people carve it with a knife, but many will use mallet tools or power. I’ve carved a few caricatures from maple, and one spoon. The wood is also used for furniture, flooring, and cabinets, among other things. It’s just a beautiful wood, and I’m glad I have a good sized chunk of it left for carving something else. I also have 5′ long Silver maple trunk that’s more than 12″ in diameter, and some smaller pieces. I think I’ll have enough maple for a while.

#46: Honey Locust

Bird number: 69
Date: June 5, 2012
Wood: Honey Locust (Gleditsia triacanthos)
Source: Trade

Despite the name, Honey locust is not closely related to Black Locust. They share the same family, but not the same genus. The woods, however, are very similar. When I first started carving this Honey locust, I thought that whoever sent it to me had misidentified it. But the wood is slightly lighter in color than the Black Locust, not quite as hard, and the end grain is somewhat different.

The name “honey locust” is derived from the sweet taste of the legume pulp, which Native Americans used for food and which can be fermented to make beer. Brewing is another of my hobbies, so I might have to see if I can track down some honey locust for brewing.

It’s apparently a popular tree because it’s hardy in the wild and also tolerates urban conditions well. Some varieties have nasty thorns growing from the branches. I thought mesquite trees were bad, but these things look deadly! Fortunately, there are thornless varieties, as well. It’s a pretty tree. The inside is rather attractive, too.

I’ve seen a few other carvings from Honey locust, although most of the woodwork I see is turned (bowls, plates, etc.). The wood is much too hard to carve comfortably with just a knife. The Foredom didn’t have any trouble with it, of course, and sanding was fairly easy. The result is quite smooth, and I really like the color variations in the grain bands.

Unfortunately, this is the only piece of Honey locust I had. But as popular as it seems to be in the Midwest, I suspect I can get more if I want it.

#45: Hickory

Bird number: 68
Date: June 2, 2012
Wood: Hickory (Carya tomentosa)
Source: Southern Oklahoma

I think this is the last of the woods that Debra brought home from her trip to Oklahoma three years ago. I had placed this hickory log in a corner to make sure that it had dried sufficiently before I started cutting it up. I don’t know for certain that this is Carya tomentosa, but that is the most abundant of the hickory species and it is native to the region where we got this wood.

Hickory is often used for tool handles, so I knew that it was hard. I didn’t realize quite how hard, though. I had to be very careful with the Foredom on this piece. Too much speed or a heavy touch tended to burn the wood. But with patience and a lot of sanding, it turned out really nice.

I got my first power carver injury when carving this one. The bit caught an edge and I lost control of the handpiece briefly. The thing took a bit of skin off my thumb before I got it under control. I’m glad I have a foot-operated speed control. At the first sign of losing control, I took my foot off the pedal and the bit slowed down very quickly. Fortunately, I ended up with just a little surface scratch.

Lovely stuff, that hickory. Debra said that she’d like to have a floor made from it. That might have to wait a while. In the meantime, I have another hunk of this stuff out in the shop that’s going to get turned into something.

#44: Ipê

Bird number: 67
Date: June 2, 2012
Wood: Ipê (Tabebuia)
Source: Friend’s deck

My friend Robbie built a deck, and he had a bunch of small cutoffs left over. Knowing that I’m interested in all kinds of wood, he called to see if I wanted some of his leftovers for carving. So I ended up with a couple dozen 4″ x 4″ cutoffs that are from 2″ to 8″ in length. I talked to some other carvers who said that the Ipê isn’t very interesting wood to carve.

They were wrong.

Tabebuia is a genus of approximately 100 different trees that grow in Central and South America. I don’t know the exact species of this wood that I have. The wood is hard, a bit difficult to cut with a saw, and much harder than I would be comfortable carving with a knife. Even the Foredom had a little trouble with it, although not so much as with the Desert Ironwood.

Looking at the wood before I started working with it, I wasn’t expecting very much. I was pleasantly surprised at how beautifully it finished.

If you look closely, you can see a small surface crack on the breast. Those surface cracks are pretty common with Ipê. These pictures don’t capture the color variations in the grain. There are hints of yellow and green, as well as some red in there along with the dark brown. The wood is smooth and a real pleasure to hold.

Ipê is an important timber tree. It’s widely used for furniture, decking, and other outdoor projects. Indigenous peoples use it for hunting bows, and the bark, leaves, and flowers were and are used for various medicinal purposes. Various species also are used as ornamental trees.

Today, most Ipê wood harvested for decking is from cultivated trees rather than being extracted from the wild.

All told, I enjoyed working with this wood, and I look forward to making other things from it.