#99: Spalted Tamarind

Bird number: 132
Date: December 18, 2012
Wood: Spalted Tamarind (Tamarindus indica)
Source: Woodcraft

If you’ve lived for any time near the Mexican border or you like to shop in Asian markets, you’re probably familiar with the tamarind: a pod-like, pulpy fruit with a sour/tart taste. It’s used quite a bit in Asian and Mexican dishes, and also in some candies. I like the stuff in small doses, but only occasionally. I discovered some tamarind flavored bubble gum (I still swear that it was Bubble Yum brand) when Debra and I were on our honeymoon in Cancun back in 1992. I really liked that stuff but haven’t been able to find it in stores since. I used to look whenever I ran across a candy store in Mexico. There are some online suppliers, but like the stores in Mexico, they have tamarind/chile flavor rather than tamarind alone.

The quest continues.

I don’t know where Woodcraft got the tamarind wood. It’s not something you find very often, probably because the wood just isn’t very interesting when compared to cherry, black walnut, and the many exotic woods that are freely available. Spalting, though, makes any wood interesting. I would have been happy to carve regular tamarind, but the spalting made the wood quite striking.

Spalting is discoloration caused by fungus. It usually happens after a tree has died. Under the right conditions, some types of fungus colonize the wood and their activity can cause different types of discolorations. This piece of wood exhibits zone lines: the dark brown or black irregular lines that are most prevalent on the left side of the figure’s head.

This bird is smaller than most of those in the collection. The wood I got from the store was about 1.75 inches wide rather than the two inches that I normally use. The bird is a little less than four inches long as opposed to 4.5 inches for most of the others.

The wood was soft enough (although just barely so) to carve comfortably with a knife, which was a pleasant break from all the power carving I’ve done recently. I thought at first that I was going to have trouble getting a smooth surface when sanding, but it turned out to be pretty easy. I really did enjoy carving this stuff. It would have been better, though, if I could have had a piece of tamarind gum to chew on while I was working.

There is some danger to working with spalted wood, by the way. Some of the fungi that cause spalting also like lungs. Inhaling the dust from spalted wood can lead to the fungi colonizing your lungs, leading to serious respiratory problems. As always, you should wear some kind of dust mask when raising dust from carving or sanding. And be sure to tell your wife, husband, or whoever makes medical decisions if you’re incapacitated that they should let medical personnel know about your wood carving if you ever end up in the hospital with respiratory problems. People have been known to die from respiratory infections caused by inhaling wood dust, especially if it’s from spalted wood.

I’m glad I bought a 12″ piece of this wood. I look forward to making a few more things from it.