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Friday, April 30, 2010

Wood for Whittling

Red and white, blue suede shoes, I'm Uncle Sam. How Do you DO?

Just a quick note on wood types for whittling. Most common is probably Basswood, it's readily available relatively soft yet hard enough to hold details well. Close in the running would be walnut, butternut, mahogany, willow, Paulownia, cedars including spanish cedar and maybe pine. (I probably missed a few). Paulownia reminds me of balsa, amazingly light. One of the members of the Whittlers porch uses it almost exclusively, he likes the light weight for Christmas tree ornaments, he has a good point it is light. The others are a little harder, pine has varying grain density that can cause some small issues, the summer rings are softer than the winter rings. It's not on my list of favs.
And then we come to Found Wood. Oh Boy. Its just what the name says- wood you just found, maybe in in the woodpile, by the side of the road, at the beach, etc. There are a couple pitfalls in found wood, and some hidden gems too. One pitfall is you don't necessarily know what is in the piece, did that root grow around a stone, or in sand, is there some foreign matter in there that will ruin your day and maybe your knife too? Second pitfall is the hardness- a lot of times you won't know what species you found- I have a walking stick half done that is hard like a rock. It was a sapling, I did not see the leaves, the juvenile wood defies my ability to identify it, but I can tell you it it hand cramping hard to cut. I have heard that dipping hard wood in alcohol (think denatured, NOT your beer) will temporarily soften the wood so you can whittle. Alcohol does not swell the wood fibers like water and should not cause any damage to your work. It also dries quicker than water would. It works, I don't use it in the house because of the fumes. It might raise a little heck with your knife handle if the finish is shellac, watch out. You can always fix the finish if you need to. You might try carving your found wood while green, it will shrink and is likely to crack as it dries. I can promise you it won't shrink evenly, and Murhy's Law says you won't like where it cracks either. Maybe that could fit into your project?

That all sounds like a lot of negativity, if a piece of kiln dried bass will suit your project, use it. That brings us to the Hidden Gem factor.

The one good reason (and its a doozy) to collect and carve found wood is you can find things you'll never be able to buy. Magnolia supposedly carves well, has unusual grain and or color, but is not commercially available, at least not in my locale. My own collection of found wood has 4 items- some willow taken from the woodpile, big thick chunks of straight grain stuff, along with some wavy grain pieces that suggest a figure (one looks like a penguin). Another item is some sort of swollen mass, probably the tree or bush's reaction to an infection. It's not very big, fist sized, grain looks swirly, and I'm looking forward to what I find inside when I get inspired to cut it. Walking stick 0r hiking staff material I get here in suburbia from vacant lots, along fence lines, or the little space between the neighbors garages. The last item in my found collection is two root balls I found helping my brother in law take out some Yew bushes of some sort in front of his house- they're head size masses of multiple branches and roots all heading in different directions, and the centers of the branches have a nice red coloring to them. I'm not sure if the color will remain as they dry, so far they've been drying in my garage away from the light for a year or two. No inspiration there yet either.

Between purchased kiln dried lumber and found wood of unknown lineage we'll put Opportunistically Harvested Lumber. If you see someone taking down a walnut tree, or a basswood tree, grab all you can, wait until after dark if you have to, and dry it your self. It's not that hard, and hey, you can't beat the price or the chance to say you knew your Gnome when it was still a tree..

Happy whittling- Bflobif

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