#70: Sapele

Bird number: 103
Date: September 20, 2012
Wood: Sapele (Entandrophragma cylindricum)
Source: Fellow carver

The carver who gave me this piece of wood has also donated two others to the project: the Cypress Knee and a piece of Buckeye. This is the first piece he’s given me that was large enough to make two birds. He’ll be getting one as a Thank You gift.

Sapele is a large tree (up to 150 feet, or 45 meters) native to tropical Africa. It is in the Mahogany family (Meliaceae), but it’s not closely related to the true Mahoganies. The wood is somewhat similar in character to Spanish Cedar, with a distinctive odor and similar hardness. It does have more color than the Spanish Cedar, though. Carving it with a knife was a pleasure, and it finished up very nicely.

Sapele is a commercially important timber tree. Its most common use is for flooring, but it’s also used for musical instruments, furniture, cabinetry, turned objects, and carving. According to Wikipedia, Cadillac uses Sapele for interior wood trim in its cars.

It’s pretty stuff, and nice to work with. I hope I can get some more of it one day.

#69: American Holly

Bird number: 102
Date: September 20, 2012
Wood: American Holly (Ilex opaca)
Source: Reader in Virginia

A carver who had seen this project contacted me to ask if I still needed some Holly. He had a few pieces from a tree he helped remove from his church yard. The chunk he sent was less than ideal in that the grain was running parallel with the short (i.e. the two-inch) side. In order to get any kind of decent-sized bird, I had to carve this with the grain running from chest to back rather than from nose to tail as in most of the other pieces.

That orientation made for an interesting banding pattern. Normally I wouldn’t carve a bird this way, but the Holly is strong enough that I’m not worried about it breaking–not even the thin part where the tail meets the body.

I was surprised to see the green color in the Holly. Others had told me that Holly was among the whitest woods around. Apparently not this kind of Holly.

Carving this piece was a real challenge. Even with the Foredom, cutting all that end grain along the top and bottom was a chore. I’m still not particularly happy with the final shape of this piece

Holly is hard, close-grained, and as you can see above, takes a very nice finish. The wood is used for whip handles, of all things, as well as for printing blocks and cabinet work. The wood also takes dye well and is often dyed and used a substitute for Ebony.

The tree is a popular ornamental plant, and the leaves and berries are common Christmas decorations.

It’s pretty stuff. I hope I can get another piece sometime, with the grain running the proper direction. I think it would be a good choice for some of the stylized carvings I have in mind.

#68: Silver Maple

Bird number: 101
Date: September 20, 2012
Wood: Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum)
Source: Front yard

All told, we lost six trees in the drought. The last was one of the two Silver Maple trees that were little more than twigs when we moved in. When we took it out a couple months back, the trunk was well over a foot in diameter. It had a lush canopy early last summer. This summer, the tree was mostly dead limbs. There were a few areas with green leaves, but not enough to keep the tree around. Of all the trees that died in the drought, this is the one that I most hated to lose.

I did, however, save the trunk and many of the larger limbs for carving.

Silver Maple is one of the most common trees in the United States. It’s a popular ornamental tree because it grows quickly, looks nice, and provides a lot of shade. The tree is not without its problems, though. The roots are shallow, commonly invading septic fields and cracking sidewalks. The wood is brittle, making the tree susceptible to damage in high winds.

The wood is softer than Sugar Maple or any other maple that I’ve carved. Although I carved this bird with the Foredom, I’ve carved other pieces of Silver Maple with a knife. I’d rate it about like Black Walnut in terms of working it with a knife. It’s more difficult than Basswood and Butternut, but nothing like carving Cherry or Apple. The wood cuts nicely, with no tendency to split or tear.

I find the coloration much more striking than the Sugar Maple. However, that might be because all the Sugar Maple I’ve carved has been from “clear” wood that doesn’t have any knots or other irregularities. As you might expect, I prefer the more varied pieces for these birds.

I’m looking forward to working with this wood again. I hope I continue to enjoy it, because I have lots of the stuff sitting in my wood pile. I suppose I can burn it if I get tired of carving it. I’ve been told that Silver Maple makes great BBQ wood.

#67: Buckeye

Bird number: 100
Date: September 13, 2012
Wood: Ohio Buckeye (Aesculus glabra)
Source: Carver in Ohio

Somebody else had given me a piece of Buckeye, but it was a freshly cut limb, and a bit on the small side. I was letting it dry a bit in the garage before cutting it into bird-sized blocks. But then this piece arrived, already dry and just the right size for a bird.

“Buckeye” is a term of endearment for the original settlers of the Ohio frontier. The Buckeye is the state tree of Ohio. So the Ohio State mascot is either a tree or a pioneer.

The Buckeye wood is light, relatively soft, and not very strong. It’s not an important timber tree. It’s in the same class as Aspen or Cottonwood. It’s used for furniture, utility wood, boxes and crates, and pulpwood. Due to its softness, it’s also a somewhat popular carving wood. You’ll also find many turned objects from Buckeye.

Buckeye is a fairly bland wood: not much in the way of grain. There are, however, interesting colorations throughout, as you can see in the second (somewhat blurry) picture.

The wood is soft enough that it should carve very well with a sharp knife. I think I’ll try that with the other limb I have. We’ll see.

#66: Alaskan Yellow Cedar

Bird number: 99
Date: September 13, 2012
Wood: Alaskan Yellow Cedar (Cupressus nootkatensis)
Source: Carver in Ohio

This is yet another “cedar” that isn’t a true cedar. I’ve carved a half dozen different woods that are commonly referred to as “cedar,” all of which were Junipers, Pines, or Cypresses. I hope to run across a real cedar one of these days.

The carver who sent this to me said that it’s his favorite carving wood. I carved this figure with the Foredom power carver, but I have another piece that I’m planning to carve with a knife. From the way it carved with power, I suspect that it knife carving will be enjoyable.

Alaskan Yellow Cedar (AYC) is considered one of the finest timber trees. The wood is hard and durable, with good dimensional stability and resistance to weather, insects, and exposure to soil. There are many articles on woodworking sites praising the properties of this wood for many different applications. Due to its high cost, it’s most often used for finish carpentry. It is beautiful stuff.

The second picture turned out very blurry, and I was too lazy to set up and take another. You can see, though, that the wood takes a fine finish. I particularly like the understated grain.

Surprisingly, I didn’t have the same difficulty sanding this wood as I have the other softwoods I’ve worked with. For some reason, I’ve had real trouble getting a good finish on most of the Junipers, Cypresses, and Pines. Not so with this. It acted much more like a hardwood. Curious, that.

#65: Sweetgum

Bird number: 98
Date: September 13, 2012
Wood: Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua)
Source: Carver in Ohio

A carver from Ohio saw me mention this project on the Woodcarving Illustrated Message Board, and contacted me with an offer to send some wood. All told, he sent me four different blocks: this one, the two that follow, and a piece of “mystery wood” that he thinks might be some type of elm.

I’d heard of Sweetgum before, but to my knowledge had never seen one, nor was it on my list of woods to carve. But then, I didn’t have a list of 100 woods to carve. I just figured I’d pick them up as I went along. So far it’s been working out, although getting new species is becoming more difficult.

Sweetgum is one of the most common hardwood trees in the Eastern U.S. It’s a popular ornamental tree, primarily because of its very colorful fall foliage. The tree is also harvested for its lumber, which is used in many different applications. It’s one of the most important timber trees in the Southeastern U.S.

It also finishes up rather nicely.

The wood is a bit too hard to carve comfortably with a knife, but it was no trouble with the power carver. For some reason, though, I had trouble getting the shape of this bird right. After carving more than 100 birds, I still have difficulty with symmetry. I don’t know why I had so much trouble with this one. I finally gave up trying to get it balanced.

The wood does have a beautiful color. It sands well and takes a very fine finish. The color and the somewhat subdued grain would make this an excellent choice for other stylistic carvings. I look forward to carving it again sometime.

#64: Padauk

Bird number: 97
Date: August 28, 2012
Wood: Padauk (Pterocarpus soyauxii)
Source: Fellow carver

A member of the local wood carving club brought me over to his house one day to go through his wood stash. He’s supplied several woods to this project. He identified one piece as Black Walnut and, although I’d already carved a Black Walnut bird, I accepted. I can always find something to do with a nice piece of Black Walnut.

It turns out, though, that the wood was not Black Walnut at all. I cut into it and discovered the warm orange color of Padauk. It’s easy to see how one could make the mistake, though. Padauk is orange when freshly cut, but dulls to a darker brown, as you can see here.

The picture on the left is what the wood looked like before I cut into it. It’s very similar to Black Walnut. Imagine my surprise when I cut into it and discovered that orange color. Unfortunately, I had cut the block shorter than my standard 4.5 inches, because I wasn’t planning to make a bird. But, since I didn’t already have Padauk in my collection and I wasn’t likely to have another piece drop into my lap, I decided to make a smaller bird.

Some people have told me that the wood carves nicely with a knife. I can’t imagine that. The wood seemed pretty hard to me when I was carving with the Foredom, and it seems pretty dense. I might take a knife to the piece I have left, just to see how hard it really is.

#63: Redbud

Bird number: 96
Date: August 28, 2012
Wood: Redbud (Cercis canadensis)
Source: Neighbor’s tree

The people up the street had a Redbud tree that I always used as my indicator of Spring. When that Redbud tree started blooming, Spring had arrived. I even got a picture of the tree a few years ago, with Charlie looking happy in front of it.

The tree didn’t bloom this past Spring, which kind of threw me for a loop. Spring had arrived, but the tree was barren. It turns out that, like so many others, this tree didn’t survive the drought.

I saw my neighbor outside earlier this summer, so I stopped to introduce myself and ask if I could have the tree trunk. He was more than happy to let me come by and remove the tree, which I took back to the garage and proceeded to cut it up into smaller pieces.

The trunk of the tree was so rotten that I couldn’t use most of it. From all that tree trunk, I got enough wood for perhaps three birds. The rest of the trunk had been chewed up by bugs, and the limbs were too small to be usable. Even the “usable” pieces have rotted sections. It’s better than the last Redbud tree I got, though. That one was completely unusable, again due to rot.

Redbud trees are too small for the wood to be of any commercial value. I know of some people who carve it, but again, due to its small size it’s not typically available commercially. People who carve Redbud usually get it in much the same way that I did: they know somebody who’s taking out a tree.

I didn’t particularly enjoy carving this wood. The wood is unusually dry and the uneven hardness made it very difficult to work with. I wonder if the rot is common with Redbud everywhere, or just here in Texas.

I do have to carve one more bird from Redbud, to give to the neighbor who owned the tree. After that, I’ll have one more chunk from this tree. I’m thinking it’s going into the burn pile. I have too many good woods to carve to spend time with this stuff.

#62: Sweetwood

Bird number: 95
Date: August 28, 2012
Wood: Sweetwood (Ocotea)
Source: Fellow carver

I carve with a group of others some mornings. One of the guys there has been carving for something like 65 years. The things he’s carved are simply amazing. He of course knows about my fascination with different woods, and he indulges me from time to time by digging something out of his stash. A couple weeks ago he gave me a piece of wood and said, “the guy who gave it to me said that it’s called Sweetwood.” That’s all the information he had.

It turns out that woods of the genus Ocotea are commonly called Sweetwood. As there are over 300 different species in the genus, I can’t say for sure what type this is. However, I’m fairly confident that it is of that genus. The wood has that “sweet, resinous odor” that is described for these woods. Looking at pictures, I’m leaning towards this being Brazilian Walnut, Ocotea porosa. Whatever it is, it’s nice looking stuff.

The piece I got was less than two inches thick, so this is another of the mini birds, like the Douglas Fir.

The wood is hard. It wouldn’t be impossible to carve with a knife, but it would be some work. I did this bird with the Foredom.

Sweetwood species are used for timber, furniture, wood carving and turning, and also for their essential oils. The wood is resistant to fungal decay, so it’s often used in outdoor construction.

#61: Douglas Fir

Bird number: 94
Date: August 28, 2012
Wood: Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga)
Source: Fellow carver

One of the carvers who sent me wood for my project included a couple pieces of Douglas Fir. I didn’t use them at the time because the wood was only 1.5 inches thick, and I was wanting all the birds to be the same size (carved from a 2 x 2 x 4.5 inch block). But then I started getting other pieces of wood that were smaller, and I decided that by limiting myself to the one size, I was hurting my chances of actually getting enough woods for the project.

As a result, this bird is somewhat smaller than most of the others.

I was somewhat surprised to see the crack form in the breast like that. The wood seemed dry when I got it, and it sat out in the hot and dry garage all summer. I know that the crack wasn’t there when I cut the pattern, so it must have formed after I carved the bird. Unexpected, but not a deal killer.

Douglas Fir is a common construction timber. In addition, it’s used as a substitute for Sitka Spruce in the building of airplanes, and also for boat building. It’s also among the most common species used for Christmas trees.

I carved this bird with the Foredom, but I could easily have carved it with a knife. The wood is relatively soft, and some experimental knife carving I did on another piece shows that the wood carves very nicely. (People have since told me that Douglas Fir is very hard once it’s fully dry.) Like all the softwoods, I had some trouble getting a smooth finish, but I think it turned out okay.