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thuya burl


jake cleland

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does anyone have any advice for carving thuya? the only time i have worked it was just to cut a channel for a knife tang, and it seemed to carve really clean in one direction but tore up in the other - is there any way round this?

 

I would advise using VERY sharp tools, and trying something else that's less expensive before you do anything complex with thuya. I mainly carve with a high speed rotary tool, but I can say that thuya is not a beginners wood. Try something like a hard maple, oak or even a cheap pine until you get a feel for how grain works.

If it's thuya burl, that's even further out of the league of a beginner.

 

LJ

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perhaps i phrased my question badly. i was looking for advice on how to adress the particular challenges of carving burl wood, which i assumed works differently from straight grained woods, because of the way in which it grows. in my very limited experience the burl grain seems to behave very differently from a straight grained wood, which i think is borne out but LJ's statement that thuya burl is not a 'beginners' wood.

 

while my work may not be up to the standard of many of the pieces shown on this site, i have carved and sold hundereds of pieces; i would not qualify myself as a beginner in the way that you imply, and have used bog oak, heather and rowan roots, purpleheart and wenge, amongst many others. i don't think any of these woods would be classified as 'beginners' woods, and each presents their own challenges and needs to be adressed in a particular way.

 

but thuya burl is expensive and hard to come by where i am, and so i didn't want to waste time and material experimenting with techniques when someone with more experience could point me in the right direction, and this seemed like the place to ask.

 

oh, and as a bladesmith and tool maker, i can say with confidence that my tools are in fact sharp, although i suspect that maybe a steeper edge angle might benefit this wood.

 

any way, thanks for the help.

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Hi Jake,

 

Burl, by nature, has grain going in varying direction. The relative tightness will vary within a single burl and also by species. You'll also have tight "eye" formations in many species such as in "Bird's-eye Maple", which add to carving misery. I would suggest it's one instance where using power tools is a definite advantage as burrs seem to generally sing through grain change, following the usual cautions when working near corners and edges of course.

 

Files also work very well.

 

In general, burl would be appropriate for a form carving, with not much detail which would compete with the beautiful burl figure.

 

Hope this helps.

 

Jim

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thank's Jim. i have used burrs to carve antler and bone in the past, as they seem to cope much better with the slightly porous areas than hand tools, but have never really tried them on wood.

 

p.s. your work has been an inspiration to me for as long as i can remember, but my adventures in metal carving are still too infantile to be allowed out in public.

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thank's Jim. i have used burrs to carve antler and bone in the past, as they seem to cope much better with the slightly porous areas than hand tools, but have never really tried them on wood.

 

p.s. your work has been an inspiration to me for as long as i can remember, but my adventures in metal carving are still too infantile to be allowed out in public.

 

I use only burrs and a Foredom flexshaft for my work, and can say with confidence that they work great on wood. Go for an inverted cone set for detail. I also use rounds for some things, but you can carve exclusively with the inverted cones if you're careful and you get a set with lots of sizes. The trick I've found with unstabilized burls is to use a very high speed, but to be careful if how much pressure you apply. Stabilized burls are easier to carve, and there is stabilized Thuya available. If you are within the US, check online for good prices on stabilized woods. (Stabilized wood has had acrylic resin forced in under heat, pressure and vacuum. It's a hair harder, and much more even to work with. Plus it's waterproof. You can't stain it, but this shouldn't be a big deal with burls. Takes a good polish without needing a coating.)

 

My apologies for assuming that you were a beginner. Your question didn't give much info.

You might (If I understand correctly the dynamics of hand carving) try using thinner, smaller tools to prevent the tearing if you can't use burrs. You may just be trying to bite off too much at once for the intricacy of the burl's grain. Remember that you are working with grain that's literally twisted in 3 dimensions, not just in relationship to the flat plane you can see, as would be normal with a straight grain.

 

Hope this helps,

LJ

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p.s. your work has been an inspiration to me for as long as i can remember, but my adventures in metal carving are still too infantile to be allowed out in public.

 

Thanks Jake. I would hate to post some of my earliest attempts. I engraved a gun for a guy early on with an inlay of a dog head and he asked if it was a pig! ;) Ouch!

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  • 4 weeks later...
Thanks Jake. I would hate to post some of my earliest attempts. I engraved a gun for a guy early on with an inlay of a dog head and he asked if it was a pig! :mellow: Ouch!

 

Ouch is right! I'm glad I didn't decide to do anything realistic early on. It sounds like there's an advantage in starting with abstract stuff!

LJ

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  • 3 months later...

Thuya burl is not hard to find, just expensive. I've used it for bird carving bases, which of course do not present any real problems in grain orientation, but let it be noted that even without that problem, good luck with sanding Thuya. As I understand it, the tree or bush or whatever it is is the source of sandarac resin and man, the burl will clog sandpaper beyond recall in almost no time. I use scrapers only, no sandpaper at all, and finish up with a buffing wheel. Thuya is also highly aromatic, which might create sensitivity problems with some folks though I haven't had any trouble with it.

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