#86: White Birch

Bird number: 119
Date: November 19, 2012
Wood: White Birch (Betula papyrifera)
Source: Friend in Canada

A friend in Canada was kind enough to send me three pieces of White Birch from a freshly cut limb. I cut the wood into blocks and covered it with wax to slow down the moisture loss. Wood that dries too quickly usually cracks, and this stuff was wet.

The rule of thumb for drying wood is one year per inch of radius. That almost assures that no cracks will develop after cutting out the pattern and carving. You can speed that up if you use a kiln, or you can let a small piece dry for a couple of months and then hope for the best. I’ve had pretty good luck with the latter approach as long as I don’t mind a few small cracks here and there. Even those can sometimes be avoided by drying wood in the oven for a few hours at a relatively low temperature (200 degrees or so).

Because the wood samples my friend sent were only four inches long, this bird is somewhat smaller than my standard two inch wide carving. Nevertheless, it still looks great.

I could tell that the wood wasn’t quite dry because the power carver made little curly bits rather than dust like it normally does with very dry wood. After I did the rough carving, I sealed the figure in a small plastic bag to let it dry more slowly. Each day, I would open the bag to let the moisture out, and then re-seal it. I still ended up with a few small cracks, up near the beak, but no huge splits. I call them “character.”

White Birch has a very large range that covers Canada from East to West, and also includes the extreme northern parts of the United States. Like Aspen, it is a pioneer species: one of the first to come into an area after fire, for example. Pioneer species stabilize the soil and make it possible for other species to survive in the area.

Birch is a soft but moderately heavy wood. Overall, the tree doesn’t have a huge economic value, but it is quite useful. Seasoned properly, it makes excellent firewood. The wood is also used for popsicle sticks, furniture, flooring, and an engineered wood product called OSB (oriented strand board). You can make birch syrup by boiling down the bark, and you can use the bark to make boxes. A Google Images search reveals quite a number of White Birch carvings, including a lot of kitchen utensils.