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What is Your Favorite Wood to Work In?


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Wm. R. Robertson

I know, that is kind of a impossible question because it depends on the piece......

I think my number one would be Swiss Pear, the nice steamed stuff with the reddish color. To simulate mahogany it would be mopane. And then I have some nice 200+ year old original growth Cherry.....

How about you? What is your favorite ?

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ElgaKoster

So far mopani is my favorite, I haven't done this long enough to have tried many woods and the original furniture I have copied to date were all mahogany, I love the way the mopani machines so smooth.

Steamed Swiss pear is the one wood they don't import to South Africa, got a nice piece though last year with Debora's help, but haven't used it yet, I am not fond of the staining process and South Africa seems to be rich in interesting woods, I found two a week ago that has a similar fine, closed grain to mopani and turned a leg out of each just to see how it looks, loved the results and can't wait to have time to build something from them. The one is dark, called Assegai, the color reminds me of walnut, the other one is light, called forest elder and looks like a perfect oak in miniature. Both machined similar to mopani but is not quite so brittle, I think I am going to love working with them.

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Pete Boorum

Pam and I use mostly quarter sawn cherry in our furniture because it is dimentionally stable, has a good color and fine gain, takes water stain well and is available commercially in 4/4 rough lumber in the US.  The biggest diadvantages are you need to select grain, color can vairy from section to section of a board and sometimes the shimmering flecks do not fit the work.  I cut the cherry into 24" billets then resaw it into flitches of 4 or 5 matching pieces.  We try to keep track the boards and flitches by using a variety of Sharpie colors and patterns on the end grain of the billets.  The process of turning inch thick rough planks into miniature lumber is another subject I can address later.

 

A number of years ago a miniaturist gave me several brown paper bags of apple wood that her father had milled from a domestic apple tree.  The boards are mostly 3/4 inch, 1 to 2 feet long andpsurfaced four sides.  It has been air dried for decades, flat sawn and cupped a little!  This is very interesting stuff because it has many of the same properties as pear.  It is fine figured, brown and without many distinctive grain patterns.  Over the years, I have reduced some to miniature dimensions and used it for boxes.  It seems to be stable enough for furniture, but Pam, who makes most of the furniture, likes cherry.  Maybe, someday I will make some furniture with the apple

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Victoria

I like steamed pear, it's perfect for carving and has very close grain. It is rather inexpensive in my area, though it's possible to buy it only during summer period, I wonder why.

Recently I found a regular pear wood if you may call it - it takes water stain nicely.

I also tried hardbeam, which I think is quite good for simulating oak. It smells funny when you cut it :)

By the way, what about purpleheart? I made a modern table once, it was hard to polish it. Later I found some interesting cabinets made mostly with it and thinking of buying it again.

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WeekendMiniaturist

Cherry is my basic wood for fine furniture that is going to be finished.  I haven't tried pear or holly; would love to get my hands on an old piece of furniture made from honduran mahogany or rosewood to repurpose it to minis.  I didn't see anyone mention bubinga... not only does it have a wonderful sounding name, but I love the pattern of this veneer.  What is the wood of choice for painted furniture?

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WeekendMiniaturist

What is steamed pear?  how does this differ from air or kiln dried woods?  Do you stem it before you carve on it?  Has anyone carved using butternut?  Tamra/Indiana

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Debora Beijerbacht

That's a no-brainer to me; steamed pear. For all the article Elga referred to stated. And because, as i've understood it, the steaming not only alternates the color to a slightly pinkish tone, it also hardens the wood. When heated up the wood cells expand and after cooling contract ever so slightly more then before, making the wood a bit tighter, so to speak. Not sure if I say it correct, but that's what this old wood merchant in his blue dust coast whispered to me, when I picked up a few boards. 

 

Second is box wood. Love that as well, such a smooth sexy pale beige color, almost like a ladies thigh...

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WeekendMiniaturist

These thighs are old here, but you did make me laugh... sexy box wood?  hmmm - will have to go to the store and see what I can find on the racks, as I'm positive I do not have any pearwood or boxwood in the stash, and only 1 board of holly that I purchased from SH Goode & Sons because I was curious.  I would need many more dimensions of any other lumber, if for example to make a chair... but I'm sure a standard board from the local wood suppliers will yield a nice stash for mini woodworking.  I have so much access to Cherry in our own stash, that has been stored and dried multiple purchases over, perhaps 25 years, it is another reason that it is the wood that use the most. 

 

Boxwood, the same shrubs that I make topiary sculpture with?  I don't think I've seen any large boxwoods, ever.  Will have to check this out to on the local wood scene.

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Pete Boorum

Boxwood is very hard, dense and split resistant.  It is the choice for chisel handles because a chisel is struck with a wooden mallet.  I find that boxwood is great for intricate parts like hand saw handles.  Boxwood is hard to find in the USA.  It is only available from specialty places.  A think it is all inported but have wondered about the  hedges also.

 

Holly is available commercially and is the choise white wood for string inlay and marquetry.  Best to see what you are buying because it varies in color.  Holly is a soft hardwood, bends well and can be carved.

 

When we bought walnut from the Midwest for cutlery handles it was kiln dried and steamed like the pear that is common in Europe.

 

Butternut is often carved in full scale but has a prominent open grain not suitable for most miniature work.  The figure looks like walnut and it is sometimes referred to as white walnut.  It is much less dense than walnut, however.

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miraclechicken

I love pear; mopani is beautiful; I have the little cherry log that has the perfect scale knots, grain and defects (i ate cherries from that tree) and lots of beautiful cherry from a neighbor's farm.  For animals, jelutong is best. I have some apple drying downstairs. It's from last year so I suppose I can mill it down now. It is on my to do list, "wood day". 

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ElgaKoster

I bought wood from an estate sale in the beginning of the year, there are a few sheets of 3mm thick boxwood in there, it is a gorgeous wood, fortunately the miniaturist who the wood belonged to marked most of it very clearly, it can be difficult to identify wood types from only photos. Just looked at the websites of the three timber suppliers in my area, no boxwood on their lists, so I guess it isn't imported to SA either. Will have to save what I do have for special projects.

http://www.wood-database.com/lumber-identification/hardwoods/boxwood/

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  • 4 weeks later...

Pear wood is great to work with, especially for carvers.  Unfortunately it is very hard to find in the US.  I was lucky last year to find a downed ornamental pear tree.  I have it air drying now.  Eventually it will find its way into the shape of carving planks.

 

I also love working with cocobolo on the lathe.  Unfortunately I am allergic to it so I must be very careful if I want to work with it. 

 

http://www.wood-database.com/lumber-identification/hardwoods/cocobolo

 

Speaking of which, always check the wood-database or similar resource, before cutting into an unfamiliar wood.  Some of them can cause very serious allergic reactions.

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  • 4 weeks later...
GiseleH

Cherry is widely available, very nice for case furniture, I have not tried carving it however. I have lot of cherry and also have some maple. I can turn some amazing chair legs from maple, a lot cleaner details than cherry. I supposed that it could be carved although it is very hard. So far. I have only used steamed pear for my carved items.

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  • 4 weeks later...

I don't make furniture, but I do love mahogany, walnut and padauk which I have used fo various projects, I have access to 8/4 thick by 8 or 9" wide mahogany boards at work at the price they paid for it  about 15 or more years ago when they bought it for a now no longer produced garden item,  they dipped the finished items in white paint! it's just sitting in the warehouse on the shelf.

 

I have one board of 8/4 by 9" x 6'  padauk I've always thought of making something with too, it's been sitting in my closet the last 16 years.

Wonder how padauk might work out for parts of room boxes- moldings, trim, flooring maybe, stair case, doors etc.

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Warren Barnard

I love Pacific Kauri which I get through the NZAME, which is a beautiful fine grained wood that has so many variations in grain or plain, that takes stain well, and is dimensionally stable unless eaten by the cat. Lately I have been playing with some Huon pine from Tasmania that I got from a bowl turner that has been beautifully dried, an amazing golden colour. I also got some Black heart Sassafras from him to try which as its name implies has some amazing colour variations in, probably more suited for specific pieces than general, I want to try cherry at some time but not readily available.

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WeekendMiniaturist

Randall, I think I have only worked with Padauk in its burled form as Amboyna and in a veneered state.  What a beautiful wood... I am not familiar with Padauk in the non burled form, so I think if you like it, you have a plentiful supply, doesn't hurt to try... but my Amboyna is not native to my suppliers around here, so this is in my 'rationed' wood pile, and is only used with much consideration.  From what I have read, I think I understand Padauk is similar to mahogany.

 

Warren, I am not familiar with these varieties of wood; they must be native to Australia, I will have to go to the Woodworking store to see if I can see the varieties in person.  Sorry that Cherry is scarce in your 'neck of the woods' it is wonderful to work with, and relatively inexpensive in my world to use for my basic wood. 

 

Pieces of wood with color variations just speak to me and say, put me on the lathe.

 

I am really enjoying the forum, and learning about different species of wood.

 

Tamra/Indiana

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  • 6 months later...
karincorbin

The steamed pear is very nice to carve. I was fortunate to find some in Seattle at my local Rockler store. They brought in around 50 large full trunk length planks of it of varying thickness. I purchased 3 of the smaller slabs which will give me enough steamed pear wood for years to come. I paid about $30.00 for each of the big planks. Considering how much it cost for small pieces of it I felt it was a tremendous bargain. It was months before they sold all the planks, I wish my budget had stretched to purchasing more of it.

 

Another nice thing about living in the Pacific Northwest is on the east side of the mountains there are lots of orchards. Each year older trees are culled from the orchards and then sold off as firewood. Cherry, apple and pear are favorites for people who use it in smokers.  I was abe to puchase several unsplit 20 inch or so log sections from a decent sized pear tree. I have had it drying for the last 3 years inside in an unheated room that never freezes or gets overly hot, So pretty much temperature controlled with a constant moisture level. I am going to try resawing one of the sections this summer to see how nicely it works and if it has cured long enough.

 

We also have a lot of holly tree orchards in Western Washington so that wood is also available as logs from culled trees. I have not purchased any of it yet but the wood turner's groups frequently have it available.

 

Another wood I have a stack of in my stash is thin planks of old growth Stika spruce that is quarter sawn and sometimes plain sawn. The growth rings are extremely tight so it is perfectly in scale for minature lumber. I got it from a speciality mill in the area that brings in the logs from Alaska and resaws them for the luthiers. They have tubs of the planks that have very minor flaws in the boards and send them home with employees for firewood. My friend designed some components for one of their specialty saws used in the mill so we got this wood for free. It makes terrific floor boards and paneling as it is very stable. They also have off cuts of old growth Alaska yellow cedar which are nice for carving. Those are used to create bracing inside of stringed instruments so they are light but strong and stable, also with very tight growth rings. Always nice to have free pieces of expensive specialty woods.

 

I have some large boards of  cherry that I will be using to create a 1:12 scale timber framed building this year.

 

At the Rockler store I also go through their larger dimensional stock of basswood and occasionaly grab the quarter sawn pieces out of it. It is reserved for an unknown future use.

 

Alder is another nice wood from the Pacific Northwest that can be used for miniatures. The structure of the Mt. Vernon in miniature building created by Stan Ohman has a lot of alder in it. It was his primary building wood for many structure details on the custom dollhouses he built as it machines nicely and you can find boards of it with fine smooth grain. Alder is abundant in this area, it is the first tree that naturally seeds in the clear cut areas and along the edges of roads.

 

I also like the heart wood of old growth Western Red Cedar. It is fairly hard and carves nicely. It has very tight growth rings, I use it to simulate timber framing on structures. Because of the tannic acid content it is easy to age the wood to a grey color with vinegar and iron solutions.

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  • 1 year later...
Victoria

I got a present from a fellow cabinetmaker, who works with exotic woods mostly, lots of purpleheart wood, padauk and such, but also Ipe wood and Cumaru (on the photo below - ipe is on the left, cumaru is on the right). My friend suggested that both would be good for miniatures. 

 

25523052926_1de5e67867_z.jpgIMG_1755 by Victoria, on Flickr

 

But after reading wood database and trying to plane them (especially ipe) I noticed they are very waxy. Ipe is prone to tearouts when planing. So, on the one hand, both are beautiful woods, texture is fantastic, but I guess they would be difficult to glue (I'd need to prepare the surface everytime I need to glue, right?) and I'm hesitant if I should use them at all. Anyone here who used ipe or cumaru for their projects? What was your experience? 

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WeekendMiniaturist

Victoria,

 

The wood database is a wonderful resource-  I reviewed both of your woods, Camura and Ipe, and it looks like they may glue with synthetic glues.  However, I don't usually use synthetic glues for wood working as it is my understanding, referencing an article from the Kupjacks in one of the miniature magazines (Nutshell News?), synthetic adhesives do not stand the test of time, and nothing is worse for the seller or the collector then having a cherished piece fall apart in 30 years... so if I were inclined to try and use this wood, then I would use joinery that does not require glue,. for example trying to dowel the joints.

 

I vaguely think Shaker Furniture was historically created without glue... so, if I wanted to make a piece of furniture without glue, I would start my research with Shaker projects.  Shaker Furniture is so simple, and of course functional.  It is beautiful in its simplicity of design.

 

Frequently when I'm not sure how a wood is going to behave, I would glue some up and then try finish it, too.  I would not want to spend time constructing a beautiful piece of miniature furniture, If I am not able to seal / finish the wood to my satisfaction... so it is a good idea with an unknown wood to start with the end in mind.  What product would I use to create a finish?  In my shop, I would experiment with non-common woods in North America by making a life size turned pen, or small miniature bowl and see how it finishes. The life size pen makers frequently use a wax for finish; not my preference, but this wax may work for this kind of product... and then I would also try watco Danish oil if it is available in your area.

 

I do hope you will post about your experiences if you do experiement with this wood. 

 

I think the wood is native to South Africa, perhaps forum members from South Africa will have experience with this wood and will know what glue and finish to use with it..

 

Tamra

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