In case you have been wondering about what I was doing for these last two months, I was cutting wood.
I have not planned on making knives for a living, not consciously at least, but I have been hoarding various kinds of wood for crafting for over two decades by now. It was very disorganized, for some pieces I have never known the exact species and I had to guess it now with varying degrees of certainty, and most of it was not immediately useful – mostly logs and branches of various sizes and thicknesses. I wanted to cut the wood into prisms for a long time, but for that to happen I had to 1) have a saw that would allow me to do that and 2) the weather must be suitably dry but not extremely hot for a significant amount of time because I need to work outdoors, my shop is not big enough. And this year both of those things finally coincided. I have now a big-ish table saw and the weather was suitable long enough. I also had the additional incentive in the rising prices of firewood that I have mentioned previously.
Table saw is not ideal for this kind of work, a band saw would be better and safer. But I have managed it without an accident, all my appendages are still appendaged and I did not have any serious kickbacks (two moderate ones I admit) or even near-incidents either. I am terrified of tablesaws since childhood, so I am very, very careful around them. That is one of the reasons why it took me two months, appart from the huge amount of wood that I had to process – I have taken breaks whenever I felt that my attention begins to fade, which was after two hours of work at most.
So now let’s dive into it and show you my wood – in no particular order (actually the order is alphabetic but in Czech).
This will be a series, otherwise it would be waaay toooo loooong.
Black elder (Sambucus nigra)
Light-colored wood with small pores. Not very rot resistant, so many pieces have visible damage from fungus and insects – some in an interesting way, some might still just end up heating the house. I have a lot of it, even a lot of completely healthy pieces. When worked, it stinks to the high heavens. Finished wood has a nice creamy-white-yellow color, when treated with ammonia the yellow becomes even more pronounced, becoming canary yellow, almost light orange.
Birch (Betula pendula)
I do not have big enough pieces to make whole kitchen knife sets, but I have enough smaller pieces with an interesting small burl or wavy pattern to make several dozens of puukko and possibly some wooden jewelry too. I also have some pieces that might be worthy of a chef’s knife, but most of them will be puukko. Birch has creamy white wood, very hard but not rot-resistant. Ammonia does change it to light brown.
I also managed over the years to get my hands on a few impressively thick pieces of birch bark, not only the papery outer layer. The thick bark is very hard and it does have an interesting pattern. It can be a bit brittle under tension, but it holds up under compression well, so it can be used as a spacer between the bolster and the handle, or for stacking handles.
White Oak (Quercus sp.)
I have a small box of handle scales cut out from crotch wood that I sorted out from firewood, although not very many. I also have a box of smaller pieces and several big-ish pieces of spalted and insect-damaged oak root balls from several smaller trees that died standing in the forest and I poached them from there several decades ago (it is legal to take dead wood from the forest here, but it must lay on the floor and only up to 7 cm in diameter). Those could make very interesting knives and knife blocks.
And then I have a big pile of prisms cut from an old church cross, here is just the tip of the woodberg. Enough for dozens of knives including blocks – from masive wood. This oak wood is mostly light brown, it can be made dark brown or nearly black with ammonia.
Garapa (Apuleia leiocarpa)
I have written about this in one previous post. I am not 100% certain about having the species identified correctly, but this is very dense and very hard wood with tiny pores, which is typical for wood from the family Fabaceae. It looks very promising, but unfortunately, all the pieces are of the same dimensions – 30×30 mm. That limits the type and shape of the knife handle that I can make. Even so, I do have enough for several knife sets including blocs. I have no idea how it behaves and how it reacts to ammonia treatment, I will have to find out.
Hawthorn (Crataegus sp.)
I was surprised to find this wood in my pile. I have no idea where and how I got it, it was probably in the pile of wood that I got from my cousin about twenty years ago. He worked at that time in park maintenance and got his hands on various species. It is hard and dense wood, but that is all I know, I haven’t made anything from it yet. One of my neighbors has several relatively freshly dead hawthorn trees on his property, I consider asking him if I could have some of them for crafting. It appears to be moderately interesting wood.
Apple (Malus domestica)
I have one small box of smaller pieces of burl, root, and crotch wood. There could be some very interesting knife handles in there.
I also have a lot of healthy apple wood, enough for several knife blocks and dozens of knives. But I will probably use it as a veneer for the blocks, I do not have that much. It is very prone to insect and fungus damage, so I had to toss a lot of it. But there is an upside to that too.
The upside is that I have several huge pieces of interestingly colored spalted apple wood, enough for luxury high-end cutlery sets. I am doing some research in that regard and I am coming to interesting – and favorable – conclusions.
Apple has small pores and not very distinct growth rings. I do not think I have many pieces with the heartwood-sapwood boundary because the sapwood was destroyed by wood borers and cracked, but I have enough heartwood to make some really interesting and pretty stuff. I do not know how apple responds to ammonia treatment yet. I suspect it would turn dark brown to nearly black.
That’s all for today, there will be several more posts.