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With so many varieties to choose from, selecting a favorite wood species can be a difficult undertaking. Participants’ choices this year ranged from exotic to reclaimed, offering a diverse list of woods, popular for components, furniture and cabinetry.
Exotic Amboyna Burl
Sarasota, FL-based custom woodworker Parker Converse is well known for his sculpted rocking chairs, which can cost from $5,000-$30,000 each. Converse (ParkerConverse.com) chose amboyna burl as his favorite.
“Many covet it but except for a few turners not many know much about it,” said Converse. “I had the good fortune several years ago to have a patron who wanted two ‘over the top’ chairs. I purchased a 950 pound burl in California that had come from Laos. It was dead green so it was a fascinating process bringing wet 8/4 wood down to 7% moisture content in just six weeks and then engineering the chairs so they wouldn’t fall apart. I made three $30,000 chairs with it and have many great photos starting with the elephant that dragged it from the jungle all the way through to studio shots of the chairs.”
Amboyna burl comes from narra and padauk trees (Pterocarpus indicus of the Family Fabaceae). “Amboyna burl is sometimes used as an accent wood,” added Converse. “It will polish well to an almost granite-like finish. It is a very lovely wood. I save all that I have — even the smallest pieces. Amboyna burl has a very interesting history. It was the first dashboard veneer in a Rolls Royce. It’s what I call crazy expensive but worth it.”
Picking a favorite wood for Haden Smith, drafting supervisor at Toccoa, GA-based Osborne Wood Products, (OsborneWood.com) involved a stroll down memory lane.
“My father, a professional woodcarver, often uses Eastern white pine,” said Smith.
Eastern white pine (Pinus strobus of the Family Pinaceae) also has more to offer than a pleasing fragrance, said Smith. “It sands easily, with a very defined grain. Eastern white pine is easy to turn. It is a soft wood, so it doesn’t dull knives.”
He added, “Eastern white pine can have knots, but that adds to the wood’s character. Reclaimed eastern white pine is also a great rustic wood. So many pine trees were used in buildings in the late 1800s. The barns and warehouses are being torn down but the reclaimed wood is getting repurposed.”
The wood’s character marks add to its charm, he said. “It is neat to be able to give the wood a second life and turn it into interesting products.”
Jayakas President Jason Cheng (Jayakas.com) didn’t bounce around when it came to picking rubberwood as his favorite species. It is a wood he knows well after having spent more than 20 years working with it exclusively.
“While rubberwood’s name is often misunderstood, rubberwood is a type of hardwood that has a beautiful open grain texture and is slightly yellowish in appearance,” said Cheng. “One of the great qualities that I value about rubberwood is its good staining properties. Rubberwood can be stained in virtually any color dye.”
Rubberwood (Hevea brasiliensis of the Family Euphorbiaceae), is one of the most ecologically friendly woods used in today’s furniture industry, Cheng added. “Compared to other hardwoods, rubberwood is more cost effective and just as durable, which makes for a great wood choice.”
The High Point, NC-based firm sells a variety of rubberwood furniture and cabinetry components, including sofa legs and kitchen island posts. “‘Machines well’ has been a compliment frequently given by woodworkers that use rubberwood,” Cheng said.
The Western Walnut
Lewis Judy has been involved in a variety of woodworking ventures since 1976, when he first opened a woodworking and stained glass studio. Today his Jefferson, OR-based Northwest Timber (NWTimber.com) is a woodworking gallery, offering a wide range of domestic figured hardwood lumber, musical billets and blocks.
Judy is a fan of claro walnut (Juglans hindsii, Juglans californica of the Family Juglandaceae). His professional experience includes harvesting and drying the Oregon walnut lumber and using it in his woodworking projects.
“Claro walnut’s uses include custom furniture, cabinetry, turnery and musical instruments, including acoustic, wind, percussion and electric,” said Judy. “It offers beautiful figures such as marbled claro walnut, curly claro walnut and crotch claro walnut.”
Another fan of the wood, Rob Hare,(RobHare-FurnitureMaker.com) began his professional life as a sculptor but since 1991 he’s primarily been making furniture at his Ulster Park, NY-based firm Rob Hare Maker of Things.
“Claro walnut is notable for many reasons — from its good looks, complexity of grain to its beautiful color. Also, claro walnut yields a very stable piece of wood when dried properly.” Hare said he gets his claro walnut from Good Hope Hardwoods.
Hare added that claro walnut is a “salvaged” wood in the sense that it is used for lumber after it is no longer viable for fruit.
“The fruit orchard trees are typically California walnut trees with an English walnut graft. California walnut trees grow at an unbelievable rate, yielding trees with diameters from 5 and 6 feet up to nearly 8 feet. When the trees outlive their ability to support more grafting, the logs are shipped east for milling.”
As much as he enjoys working with the wood, Hare admits he doesn’t play favorites. “When I’m working on a design, I look for the wood that works best with the piece I’m making. I’ve enjoyed working with pommele figured sapele veneer in a sidebar I made for a client. Honduran mahogany is also a wonderful wood.”
“As a maker of custom acoustic instruments for serious guitarists, one of my jobs is to provide consultation to clients regarding their guitar’s design,” said Gerald Sheppard, owner of Gerald Sheppard Guitars in Kingsport, TN (SheppardGuitars.com).
“More often than you would think, the players are more caught up with aesthetics than tone. While this would seem crazy, it’s easy to understand. High-end acoustic guitars can be one of the most beautiful objects made by man.”
Sheppard named rosewoods and African blackwood as his top choices for tonewoods. “Rosewoods are my first choice for the back and sides of such instruments. Known for its aesthetic beauty and tone, Brazilian rosewood is the favored wood of all time among guitarists, but it is now an endangered species and usually cannot be legally imported or exported.”
Sheppard said African blackwood (Dalbergia melanoxylon of the Family Leguminosae) is the most expensive, legally available tonewood for import and export. “Its striking tone and appearance have rapidly increased its popularity. It is popular for stringed instruments and woodwinds. Many guitar players believe the tone of the wood surpasses that of Brazilian rosewood.
“From a working point of view African blackwood is very dense and hard, and can blunt chisels and dull blades and cutters. Conversely, it is a very stable wood, bends relatively easily, and has a beautiful luster when carved.”
The wood’s sapwood also presents a “visually striking sapwood contrast,” Sheppard said. “It’s one of my preferred woods for instruments.”
The Mark of Character
Doug Newhouse, owner of Newhouse Wood & Veneer in West Hartford, CT, (NewhouseWood.com) has a few favorites of note, part of a trend toward the increased use of character woods.
“The saying goes, ‘One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,’” Newhouse said. “The unique trend I have been seeing lately is a number of requests for reclaimed material, from barn timbers or swamps, or distressed woods — woods with stain, mill marks, knots, and nail holes. Also, anything with color contrast, like spalted woods, or wormy grain, as in the ambrosia maple (Acer species).”
Newhouse said he applauds the trend. “It’s good to see things being free from fashion and utilizing what the forest gives us. The only concern I have is that there is no ‘perfect’ imperfection. Every one of these is different and that’s the challenge for the designer to work with.”
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