Spalted Sycamore

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SPALTED HOLLY (END-GBA1NVIEW)

Spalting Fungus

An active fungus colony surrounds itself with a chemical and physical barrier that defines its outer boundaries. Filaments of the fungus pack and swell in these regions and exude generous amounts of pigmented material that usually appear as black lines. The material in these "zone lines" protects the colony from attack by bacteria, insects, and other fungi, and assists in maintaining a desirably moist atmosphere. Inset: Electron microscope view of a fungus zone line in front of wood cell structures.

Claro walnut box Inlaid with spalted end-grain sycamore, bookmatched to form a bird image by Del Stubbs. 1982

Working Properties

If you're lucky, you'll catch the spalt-ing at the right time, before the cellular structure of the wood deteriorates, and you'll be able to work the piece without any trouble. Sometimes, however, the material will have areas that have become soft and punky. These areas have no strength and defy normal woodworking strategies. They will crumble, tear out in chunks or leave a wrinkled appearance when you try to cut or plane them. They refuse to be glued together, and leave you with a cratered, uneven surface when you try to sand. Though not suitable for

An active fungus colony surrounds itself with a chemical and physical barrier that defines its outer boundaries. Filaments of the fungus pack and swell in these regions and exude generous amounts of pigmented material that usually appear as black lines. The material in these "zone lines" protects the colony from attack by bacteria, insects, and other fungi, and assists in maintaining a desirably moist atmosphere. Inset: Electron microscope view of a fungus zone line in front of wood cell structures.

several generous applications to treat each bad spot. These hardeners are effective, but they have side effects. They fill the wood cells, so surfaces treated with them can't be glued and oil finishes don't take well because they can't penetrate. Solvent-based hardeners and CA glues darken the wood considerably. I like Protective Coatings Petrifier (see Sources, p. 53). It's a water-based hardener that doesn't discolor the wood, yet seals and stiffens effectively. It's an excellent choice for troublesome soft spots.

You should be able to work the stiffened surface with edge tools—make very light cuts—or with abrasives, taking care to provide a firm, flat backing for the sandpaper. Some turners use body grinders or stiff-backed sanding discs and work the piece while its spinning on the lathe. For flat lumber, an abrasive planer is an excellent option, followed by a random-orbit or pad sander. If you sand by hand, use a sanding block to give firm support to the paper.

joinery, these soft areas can often be stiffened enough to finish so the piece of wood can still be used decoratively.

You can saturate soft areas with a liquid hardener. Where the wood is only marginally soft, a spot coat or two of clear shellac or nitrocellulose sanding sealer may harden it sufficiently. A really punky spot will require cyanoacrylate (CA) glue (the thin, watery type) or a product made to stabilize rotten wood. There are a number of them sold as wood hardeners at hardware stores. It may take

Claro walnut box Inlaid with spalted end-grain sycamore, bookmatched to form a bird image by Del Stubbs. 1982

Finishing

You are likely to encounter three problems when you finish spalted wood: Splotching, yellowing and excessive darkening. The whiter woods—which usually have the most dramatic examples of spalting—can turn quite yellow with certain finishes, and because the soft areas act like end-grain or even a sponge, splotching or excessive darkening can result unless the piece is sealed first.

An effective weapon against splotching is clear, dewaxed shellac used as a sealer. (Spray cans of shellac are thinned and dewaxed.) Cover the entire piece with a thin coat and let it dry. Then rec oat dull-looking areas until all surfaces have a uniform sheen. You can use almost any finish as a topcoat over dewraxed shellac after it's been sanded.

To minimize yellowing and darkening, use a surface-film finish like clear shellac or lacquer. Watcrborne finishes dry clear and don't yellow with age. If the piece is primarily decorative and has few. if any, soft areas, clear wax is appropriate.

If you don't mind the yellowing and darkening, use your favorite oil finish, but be prepared to make man\ applications to the softer areas. Experience has taught me that an oil-finished spalted piece will appear rather muddy and uneven at first, but will look better as the finish cures, which can take weeks or even months. Some oil finishes (such as General Finishes Sealacell Step I, see Sources, below) are essentially a thinned, light-colored varnish, and will not yellow as much,

If you are looking for a challenge, and effects that often surpass the wildest woods from the tropics, spalted wood may be your ticket. Each block of wood has its own unique properties that must be judged and worked on its own terms. Use spalted wood and your work will never go unnoticed. Use it well, and you'll produce a real showstopper. A/V

There is anecdotal and some medical evidence that substances from decaying wood are a health threat. Allergic reactions and some serious lung diseases have been traced to spores and fungi that inhabit rotting wood. The effect on an individual woodworker depends on his or her tolerance to the spores and fungi, the concentration of them in the environment and the length of exposure. Persons with weakened immune systems, lung illnesses or who show signs of allergic reactions to the spalted wood should avoid the material altogether. One must err on the side of caution when working spalted wood. Freshly sawn green material with active spores and fungi, or even air-dried material, is potentially the most hazardous. Kiln drying, by turning up the heat and driving out the moisture, will actually kill both fungi and spores.

To avoid breathing spalted wood dust. I strongly recommend that you wear a respirator—not a nuisance mask—and have an effective point-of-ongin dust collection system or a self-contained air filtration helmet. Avoid prolonged contact with your skin, and clean your work area thoroughly following any work with spalted wood.

Worm-spalied red maple bowl by Alan Lacer. 1998

Typical spalting differs from worm spalt. where the worm hole allows the fungus to enter and work from the inside out.

Worm-spalied red maple bowl by Alan Lacer. 1998

Flat matehol suppften

Northwest Timber P.O.Box 1010 Jefferson. OR 97352 (541) 327-1000

Flat matehol suppften

Northwest Timber P.O.Box 1010 Jefferson. OR 97352 (541) 327-1000

Randcl Woods P.O. Box 96 Randel.WA 98377 (360) -497-2071

Talarico Hardwoods RD #3 Box 3268 Mohnton. PA 19540-9339 (610) 775-0400

B/gteaf Maple:

Mount. Cheam Woodworking 8359 Banford Road Chilliwnck. B.C.V20GH3 (604) 795-9297

Turning stock suppliers:

One Good Turn 6064 S. 300 W. #11 Murray. UT 84107 (801)266-1578

Choice Woods 833 W. Main St. Louisville. KY 40202 (888) 895-7779

Craft Supplies USA 1287 E. 1120 S. Provo. UT 84606 (800) 551-8876

Hot Stuff CA Glue Satellite City. PO. Box 836 Simi Valley. CA 93062 (800) 786-0062

P. C. Petrifier Protective Coatings 221 S. 3rd St. Allentown. PA 18102 (800) 220-2103

General Finishes Sealacell Step I

P.O.Box 51567 New Berlin.Wl 53151 (800) 888-8286

For further reading: "Sculpting Wood" by Mark lindquist. 1986,Worcester. Mass.; Davis Publications: $32.50; (800) 533-2847. Mark and his father Mel have been pioneers in working spalted wood and in popularizing its use as a decorative material.

"Understanding Wood" by Bruce Hoadley. 1980. Newtown. Conn.; Taunton Press: $34.95: (800) 888-8286

Recreate an American icon

Eighty years ago, before built-in cabinets were common, every modern homemaker wanted a "Hoosier" cabinet in her kitchen. As a baking center, it was the last word in efficient design and convenience, packed with labor-and time-saving features. Millions of Hoosiers. almost all manufactured by companies in Indiana, were sold before styles changed and built-in kitchen cabinets became the rage in the 1940s.

Why not put a Hoosier in your kitchen? Use it as a bread making center, a coffee bar, or to store dishes and linens or pots and pans. Its still perfectly suited to todays modern kitchens.

This Hoosier is loaded with useful features. The center section slides in and out to maximize the usefulness of the porcelain enamel work surface. Two drawers are mounted under the work surface and slide with it. so their contents are always within reach. A tambour door provides access to the cabinet without the nuisance of swinging doors.

Although it's a big project with many pieces, this Hoosier cabinet is not hard to build. Its made from dimensional y^in.-thick wood. The cabinet joinery is simple, using dadoes, dowels and rabbets. The doors and cabinet sides are made with routed stiles and rails. The drawers are done on the tablesaw, and both the drawers and doors overlay the openings, so fitting them is a breeze. All the hardware surface mounts and you can buv the tambour y ready to install!

and rail, round-

over. and flush trim), a doweling jig and a drill. A jointer and planer are handy, but optional.

For materials, you need 40 board feet of oak, one and one-half sheets of Vi-in. A-l grade oak plywood, two sheets of Vt-in. A-l grade oak fibercore plywood, and 15 board feet of 4/4 birch for drawer sides and runners—not bad for such a large piece. All the hardware, from the porcelain enamel m m Johnson |

top to the "ant traps" is available from £ companies that specialize in the restoration 3> of antique Hoosiers (see Sources, p. 63). g Your cost will be about $475 for lumber ^ and S300 for the tambour system and cabinet hardware. If you want to dress up £ the interior, as we did, with internal bins q and canisters, you'll spend another $200. %

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Wood Working for Amateur Craftsman

Wood Working for Amateur Craftsman

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