Choosing the right wood

WroteВиктория, January 13, 2012 в Basics | RSS

Or read this in Russian

One of my Russian-speaking readers asked me to write this post about types of wood that I use. So here it is.

Lets start from the conclusion — at the end of the day, any wood is going to be fine. Especially if you lack the variety. However, if a wood store turns up in your town you can have a pleasure of choosing. Ideally you want to choose hard species for miniature. As I heard once, if you want to make a good furniture forget about soft wood.

To make it simple lets divide the wood into reds and whites.

The most easy to get ones, in my opinion, are pine, basswood and oak (well, here in Russia anyways). They are pretty good for miniature. Generally I use pine for architectural details, for table legs and inner parts of wardrobes, etc. Basswood is good for carving, but not for miniature, detailed things. It’s a very soft wood, and that’s what I’m not very fond of, so it’s not my wood of choice. Again, maybe for the insides or marquetry. Oak is what I use for jigs and stuff. It’s hard to find a fine grain, but if you do, go for it! It’s a hard wood, easy to work with. I need to say, however, that oak, beech and some other kinds of exotic wood are not very good for your health, so please always wear a mask when you cut them. I read a book recently saying that some African exotic woods are carcinogenic and I pay my mind ’cause I work with African Mahogany a lot.

So yeah, another nice wood is beech. It can bend and it has a fine grain. I use it for jigs and my table saw insert is made of it. Another white wood I can think of is birch. So far I’ve managed to try it for my parquetry and I liked it a lot for its structure and grain. Very easy to work with IMO.

Another wood I like for carving is boxwood. Very fine grain. I buy it in blocks, which I re-saw on my bandsaw or tablesaw.

Sometimes I use Chen-chen. (not sure if it’s the right English name)  It’s very light and friable, needs some time to get used to it. It’s pretty and shiny, and if you die it it can get very beautiful. Local wood seller told me they sell it to local tennis team and they make rackets out of it. I’d be damned!

Almost forgot about maple. It’s really cool with a regular fine grain. It produces excellent veneer, a good thing anyways.

And Ash, of course. I hate it coz I got a board with very rough grain. It’s kinda fragile and I don’t think I’m getting any more of it.

Karelian birch, which looks kind of like bird-eye maple. I got a few blocks of it and a sheet of veneer. Looks very nice in marquetry.

And Alder, yes. It’s pretty much like Basswod, but a bit pinky. Very soft as well, may be nice for little things.

Also I’ve got a block of a hornbeam (Caprinus). It looks a bit like Alder, but much harder. Bought it coz it was cheap and my greed told me I had to.

That’s pretty much all with the whites, let me talk about reds now.

My favorite is pink pear of course. Local dealer told it’s steamed, that’s why it’s pink. It’s rare and hard to buy, just seen it once in local dealer store, so if you happen to see it – buy, think later. 😉 It’s pretty hard wood, very good for miniature carving. I have its veneer, 0.6mm, which I use from time to time. Generally fruit wood is considered to be a good choice in miniature.

My second favorite red is Mahogany. It’s a general name for a number of species with reddish color. Local dealer has Khaya, Sapele, Makore and Thiama in stock. I’ve tried Khaya, which I didn’t like much for its large grain and sometimes rough texture. My love and hate goes to Makore, which I developed an allergy to and despite I use respirator mask and a shop vac I still sneeze when I work with it. I buy it in 0.6mm, 1.5mm and 4.5mm veneer and it suits me pretty well. If you don’t have a band saw to resaw boards, those sizes will come pretty handy. Of all the reds it’s got the finest grain and it’s easy to cut and carve.

Let me get off topic here. I’m not a huge fan of white wood, maybe because the most of the pieces I like are made of red or dark wood. And also I find that reds are easier to be combined, and when they are combined they look more naturally. So I’ve decided that I’d stick to one color and it turned out to be more practical to purchase different thicknesses, if you have 1.5mm you can get another 4mm and get along with it nicely.

Anyways, back to the reds. Cherry. I liked it for carving and furniture (not mentioning parquetry, which is lovely of course). The grain is fine and the tone is more mild and soft than of mahogany. I used to have veneer only, but now I got a board as well.

I should mention walnut (American). It’s not really red, more like grayish/brownish, so it’s hard to combine with others. But I love furniture made of it, as it’s easy to cut and carve. Also, a texture can be outstanding.

Lacewood — veeeery beautiful stuff. A gorgeous texture. I’ve tried in marquetry so far, but just purchased a block of it and don’t know yet what to use it for.

Amaranth (purpleheart). Very hard and purple ;). Hard to cut and sand. And I mean it 🙂 I’ve seen it in small blocks and veneer about 2mm thick. Once I tried to use it for a table, but didn’t really like it. Love the color tho.

Movingui (Distemonanthus behthamianus) — yellow and pretty. I got 0.6mm veneer, which had to be flattened first. Used it in marquetry, hard to cut and has got a rough structure.

Well, that’s about it. I also tried fine-line veneer, which is reconstructed and dyed, but I didn’t like it much. They sell pretty nice patterns, so maybe I’ll still use them eventually. All the stuff was bought from a local dealer and I go there from time to time to see if they have anything new. They’ve got Sapele and Koto, but I find them to be too rough for miniature. Also I was about to get a burl, but it’s really expensive and again hard to find an appropriate texture for miniature. Didn’t like Wenge, btw — very rough and expensive. Even fineline would be better.

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