#54: English Oak

Bird Number: 85
Date: July 26, 2012
Wood: English Oak (Quercus robur)
Source: Fellow carver

Many carvers are wood packrats. Most carvers have at least experimented with woods other than the standard basswood and butternut, and some make a point to carve many different types. Like me, they’ll pick up anything that looks interesting. Invariably, they end up looking for a way to get rid of some of those pieces after a while, and they’re happy to donate wood to a project like mine. This piece came from a fellow member of the Central Texas Woodcarvers Association (the local carving club).

Although there are about 600 different kinds of oaks, I’m led to believe that most of the woods are quite similar to each other. Certainly, many oaks are similar to the Post Oak that’s quite common in my area. The English oak, though, is quite different.

Native to most of Europe, English oak is the species by which Quercus (the oaks) is defined. If you look up pictures of oak leaves or acorns, the most common examples you’ll see are from Q. robur. It’s a common timber tree, planted for its long lasting and durable heartwood. The contrasting grain pattern makes for beautiful furniture and other wood work.

What surprised me most was the softness of the wood. I expected oak to be very hard, but this species seems to carve easier than black walnut. I could easily have carved this bird with a knife rather than with the power carver. I’ll probably take a knife to the other cutout I made.

Note, August 17: I did carve the other cutout with a knife. It was, as I expected, a pleasure to carve.

Lovely stuff, this English oak. I only have the one other bird cutout, but I’ll definitely snap up another chunk of this stuff if given the chance.

#53: Huisache

Bird Number: 84
Date: July 26, 2012
Wood: Huisache (Vachellia farnesiana)
Source: From a friend

A friend from military school responded to my request for wood with an offer of some huisache, which he uses for smoking meat. He gave me two pieces: one freshly cut, and one that was so bug chewed I was afraid I wouldn’t get a large enough piece from which to carve a bird. I did, but just barely. This bird is a little thinner than most of the others.

The name huisache, derived from the Nahuatl language, means “many thorns.” And, boy, does the thing have thorns! People often mistakenly call huisache trees mesquite. They’re in the same family (Fabaceae) and look somewhat similar, but the trees are not closely related. Huisache leaves are much smaller and the branches have many more thorns than do mesquite branches.

Both woods are hard, but I think mesquite is harder. Huisache wood tends towards red in color whereas mesquite tends towards dark brown or black. Huisache sure finishes up nice, though.

I don’t see much information about carving huisache. Specialty suppliers sell blocks of it to wood turners, and an image search will reveal some beautiful turned pieces. But I don’t know of anybody who carves the stuff regularly. I don’t understand why. Plenty of people carve mesquite, and the huisache is similar. The stuff grows all over, although typically a little further south of me. It’s not as common as mesquite around here, but a few hours’ drive south of here it’s plentiful.

My friend Scott will have to wait a while before he gets his bird. That other piece of wood has to dry a while longer before I can cut it up. I’ll have plenty to carve other things from, too.

#52: Hackberry

Bird Number: 83
Date: July 26, 2012
Wood: Hackberry (Celtis laevigata)
Source: Back yard

There are many different species of hackberry that occur in warm temperate regions of North America, Europe, and Asia. This piece of wood is from what’s commonly called a Sugar Hackberry or Southern Hackberry. It’s by far the most common type of hackberry tree in this area. It’s hard to say whether the tree is considered good or bad. Some people like it because it’s an important food source for migrating birds. Others don’t like the tree because it’s kind of messy. The only one we had on the property died in the drought.

Hackberry is a good lumber tree. The wood is strong and light in color, and is often used for making furniture. It’s also used for sporting goods and plywood. I know of wood turners who like it, but few carvers who work with it. I’ve heard that the dust is very toxic, but I haven’t been able to verify that. Not that it matters much; I always wear the respirator when power carving.

The piece I carved this bird from had some discoloration. I don’t know if that was due to disease or if it’s spalting that occurred after the tree died.

The wood is fairly hard. No problem for the power carver, of course, but it would take some effort to carve this with a knife. The density is about the same as cherry, apple, pear, and similar fruit woods. Having worked with it, I’d say that the wood is under-rated as a carving material. It’s nice looking and should hold detail well. And the stuff is all over this area. A carver who liked hackberry wouldn’t have any trouble getting as much of the stuff as he could carve. I certainly have enough of the stuff to last me quite a while.