A Nice Letter We Received!
Raymond Teicher Describes Various Australian Woods He Has Used
Here in Australia, we are fortunate in having a fair range of woods available for carving, some of our woods that were once classed as common I have seen in some carving books referred to as exotic. How it works is the result of human nature wanting what we can’t have or readily get. When I see you guys in all the American Woodworking mags building furniture out of Cherry, I go green with envy as the rich pinkish glow really gives it an exotic touch.
I have carved in mainly Hoop Pine (Araucaria cunninghamii), Red Cedar (Toona australis), White beech (Gmelina leichhardtii) & Padauk, Andaman (Pterocarpus dalbergioides) to name a few, the main ones that I use. It seems to me that the harder the wood, eg Lignum Vitae, whilst very heavy to carve because it is one of the densest woods known, compared to stone or rock, it is like butter, so we have the situation where it is really a matter of grain and colour (and availability) that determines what we use. We should not be put off by most species.
I find with Hoop pine which is good to work with because it is very lightly patterned with grain, and can be bought in large slabs at a reasonable price. What is needed here is care in chiseling, a surgically sharp tool is needed at all times as any heavy handed use of the mallet will crush the fibres of the design and then it is an extra 1/16″ to 1/8″ at best, extra wood needs to be removed to get a sharp edge.
And with a large background I find that the nice effect of varied gouge direction is sometimes difficult to attain as the grain can change direction and you have rip out just when you had the thing almost perfectly finished. A slip with a rotary device, likewise can mar an otherwise perfect finish and one needs to go very carefully to attain fine detail. c.f. padauk, you can really be a lot more careless and get away with it as it is a firmer wood. I find that with fine detail in Hoop pine, eg, the talons of my Owl chasing a rabbit into the briar patch (he he, we have ’em too, but we call them blackberries) can be soaked with Super Glue and it ends up tough as all get up and is somewhat like carving micarta or ivory. It does darken the wood though so if you are going to oil the finish it is OK. I tend to oil the subjects of the action and wax the background and it gives a somewhat interesting finish. If the whole piece is oil finished then the darkness of the talons is not noticed.
I am at present experimenting with different types of glues to get one that is liquid enough to be soaked up by the softer woods but does not change the colour too much. If the carving is left for a year or so, or alternatively left in the sunlight but in a cooler situation so you get the ultra violet light without the heat, the wood darkens to a smoked yellowish colour, the time in the light determining the shade. It is easy to inspect progress by simply turning the work over and sanding an area on the back to get an idea of progress.