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Workability/carvability Of Desert Ironwood


He Li

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Hello He,

 

Welcome to The Carving Path forum.

 

I have carved desert ironwood at least two times, and used it on the lathe for another piece. The carved pieces were roughed out with a power tool, then with files and hand tools. The wood tends to dull the tools more quickly than other woods. It is carvable and has a great look when finished. It is so hard that it can be polished. Here are some links to the pieces:

 

Muskrat , Desert Pod , Chrysanthemum

 

When I have traveled to Arizona, I have seen many Mexican sculptures made from Desert Ironwood created for the tourist trade.

 

Janel

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Hi

 

Be careful using chisels with this wood. I got a splinter working this wood once making a base for a butterfly, in less than a day the area around the splinter was red and full of fluid. I had to cut the splinter out before I started healing. I think Janel's suggestion to use power tools first is the safest way. Because the wood is truly beautiful when finished, as you can see with the muskrat.

 

I have not seen my friend from north Texas for over ten years so my source for this wood is gone, enjoy!

 

Russ

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Hello He,

 

It has been a little while since using this wood, but I believe that your guess is correct, that it would be brittle.

 

I used hand tools, after the power tool and files, but rather than as gouges and cutters, most of the work was scraping. I sometimes think of the tools being used as miniature hand planes without the block that guides for a flat surface. I have made, as can anyone make rounded and flat edged scrapers in an endless variety of useful configurations.

 

Sharpened, they make curls and small shavings when used with the grain. Against the grain they may catch the fibers of the wood and cause splinters to happen.

 

Russ,

 

Ouch! That is a good warning about this wood. It is known that many woods cause respiratory allergic reactions as well as contact dermatitis.

 

Reading about your experience, I would caution anyone making dust to at the least, wear a mask to filter out the dust, but to also if possible use a dust collection unit when making the dust. There are other topics on TCP that discuss this, as well as a number of photos of various solutions to dust collection.

 

Janel

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Hello He,

 

With the sensitivity you use with carving stone, I believe that you will feel what is needed to remove wood as you work with it. It may be that your stone carving tools might work with the very hard woods.

 

Do you have wood that you are considering trying to carve?

 

Janel

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I purchased one piece of French boxwood and a few pieces other exotic hard wood (cocobolo, blackwood, bois de rose, and some ebony, etc) from Gilmerwood and 2 pieces of English boxwood from a private wood turning artist. I polished a few pieces of the wood to get an rough idea of the material properties of different types of wood, but did not work on any of them yet as I have too little time to make a design for a particular piece wood. I should have more than enough wood for small, inch-size carvings in general, but my ultimate goal is to carve a few larger foot-size projects. The ideal wood should be hard and fine-grained, taking extremely good polish as my stone does. Of course the size should also be big enough. For this purpose, English boxwood seems an ideal option except that large blocks are hard to get. (African blackwood may also be good but I did not get a chance to carve it yet.) So I am still looking for suitable wood.

 

Desert ironwood came into my radar early this year. I saw the natives selling carvings made in desert ironwood when I was traveling in northern Mexico. Although the carvings were quite rough, the wood looked extremely beautiful and fine grained. So I started to look for information about ironwood. To my surprise, nearly all ironwood carvings available in the market are rough (except yours). That makes me curious whether it is because the hardness of the wood or because the wood simply cannot take that much details. That's why I open this topic asking the workability of ironwood. Janel, you said the wood is very hard but it's carvable. Do you remember if the wood takes details as boxwood does?

 

Another question concerning wood is I found the French boxwood from Gilmerwood is denser and yellower than the English boxwood from the private artist, but it also carves much rougher. The French boxwood is fine-grained but it still carves like wood - I can visually see the rings and figures (thereby feel the "grain"), and when carving it I feel it is not homogeneous. It also feels a little sticky. However, the English boxwood, though looks a bit pale and carves a bit brittle, feels like there is no grain at all, and I cannot see rings and figures at all from the 1 square inches area that I carved. That matches the general description of how enjoyable it is to carve boxwood. Do you have any idea about the differences between different types of boxwood?

 

Thanks!

 

 

 

Hello He,

 

With the sensitivity you use with carving stone, I believe that you will feel what is needed to remove wood as you work with it. It may be that your stone carving tools might work with the very hard woods.

 

Do you have wood that you are considering trying to carve?

 

Janel

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Hello He,

" To my surprise, nearly all ironwood carvings available in the market are rough (except yours). That makes me curious whether it is because the hardness of the wood or because the wood simply cannot take that much details."

 

It may be that I take too long to carve ironwood (or any wood for that matter), but my approach is to achieve the results I am after and not volume. The pieces carved by the native Mexican artists might have been carved for the tourist trade, using power tools, with speed, to complete multiple pieces in a day or week.

 

"Do you have any idea about the differences between different types of boxwood?"

 

I have experienced differences between several kinds of boxwood. I would imagine that there are differences from one sample to another of the same type dependent upon the growing conditions. It is not easy to describe the differences simply between the different sorts of boxwood that I have in my studio.

 

I have used a range of boxwoods: Laotian, French, English, USA sources, Japanese, Turkish. I do not know if the timbers grown in the USA are originally French or English in origin. They differ in color from pale beige, golden honey colored, to bright yellow that fades to beige or tan with time. Two of the USA woods are in the drying process, and are the most yellow. It is hard, but I have not committed a carving to it. Two other USA sources, from Baltimore, MD and Pennsylvania, are extremely dense and hard, and the older is darker, and both are very good for carving.

 

The Laotian boxwood is hard but less dense, and has a tendency to draw alcohol based wood dye into the wood, and through it if the piece is thin. A very frustrating situation.

 

The Japanese 'asama tsuge' was extremely dense and fine grained, and wonderful to carve. Mouse & Pumpkin Seeds

I cannot remember what the Turkish boxwood was like to carve, though I have some of it left.

 

I wonder if the two boxwood types that you have are completely aged/cured/dried. The one that seems sticky, could that one still have moisture in it? Do you have access to a sensitive scale that measures grains or gram to the hundredths? If yes, then take a small piece, netsuke or carving sized and weigh it. Write the date of the weighing and the weight on the piece (re-weigh it to see if you added to the weight). In a month or longer, weigh it again to see if it has lost or gained any weight. From summer to winter, winter to summer the pieces that I have been watching/weighing change, gaining weight a little bit in the must humid months. If the samples are losing weight, then they are not completely dry and may not be stable for carving.

 

The questions you are asking are good ones, and there are many kinds of answers for them. I will not try to write all of the answers and thoughts that come to mind tonight.

 

Janel

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