Thursday, May 27, 2010

Wood mystery solved

There's a little known service provided by the USDA Forest Service that offers free wood identification. Many years ago, someone gave me a few boards of a highly figured wood - and I hadn't a clue what it was. I sent in a sample, and sure enough, about eight weeks later, I had my answer - lacewood. Pretty cool, for a young teenager in her first woodworking class.

Last Autumn, I built this desk

using some lumber of which - once again! - I hadn't a clue about it's origin. A few of my old college textbooks offered some suggestions - possibly yellowheart, avodire, or satinwood. This wood had a very light yellow hue, with a fairly open grain and was somewhat dense. All I knew is that I'd acquired about six 2x10s of it, and it was just enough to complete the desk, with it's three drawers and upper hutch.

But it bothered me that I couldn't be sure of the wood specie, so I sent off another sample to the USDA, asking for their help.

If you're a wood geek like me, you will be surprised at their answer. Brosimum alicastrum, better known as a breadnut tree.

Depending on what you read in your high school literature classes, you may remember the book - Mutiny on the Bounty. The British Royal Navy sent the HMS Bounty to the South Pacific to pick up saplings of the breadfruit tree in Tahiti, and transport them to the West Indies. The tree was believed to be a complete food source, and they intended on using it to feed the natives on the islands, whom they hoped to enslave. As far as I can tell, the breadfruit tree is a close relative to the breadnut tree, although it is difficult to get any reasonably current information about this genus of trees.

Guess what book is currently on my nightstand?

This lumber probably came from a tropical rainforest, but how it ended up in the middle of Las Vegas, up for auction, is beyond me. It belongs to the fig tree/mulberry tree family, and is native to Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. There's a very informative article - The Mighty BreadNut Tree written by T.H. Culhane, published in Zoo View, a Los Angeles Zoo magazine. If you search on Google long enough, you will find it. I downloaded a PDF of it, and if you're interested in reading it, I would be happy to send you a copy. (I just can't find the link again!) The article might sound boring, but it's really a pretty great source of current information as well as some fascinating historical background about this tree.

In this article, the tree is likened to the soybean - a perfect source of protein. It was believed to be the main food source for the Mayan civilization, more than three thousand years ago. Think "edamame" for natives who lived in rainforests. (And what did they do without salt - or did they have some?)

Better yet, the tree provides a natural habitat for monkeys and birds, requires little maintenance, and it's "fruit" can be used for anything from making "coffee" to grinding into flour and used as grain for various foods like breads, cakes, cookies, tamale masa, and so on.

Even the young leaves of the tree can be eaten, much like we eat spinach. The better question is - why was this tree turned into lumber, when it's usefulness is far better served as a food source?

One of my current students/friends actually knew most of this information off the top of his head, when I told him the name of this tree. It's amazing to me that some people can store that amount of trivia in their head! (Steve, if I made any glaring technical errors in this post, would you kindly help me in correcting them? You are - as I said the other day - officially the smartest person I know!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Kallenshaan Woods

In about a week, I'm hosting another one of our Sin City Woodworking meetings, and it promises to be a special one. A Las Vegas local woodworking entrepreneur, Ken Nelson, started a company called Kallenshaan Woods. If you're not familiar with the name, check out his shop.

He's coming to our next meeting to give a demo on the products he's perfected - laser cut wood pen kits. The kits start out as miniature puzzles, with a good selection of designs. Once assembled, they turn into the most amazing pens you'll ever see. Like these....

And my favorite one...

The detail is precise, thanks to his laser cutting machine, and when I visited his shop yesterday, I was treated to a very special tour. I feel like I have a decent idea about most woodworkers here in the area, but I had no idea this company even existed.

(Hat tip to Larry Yule for enlightening me!)

Kallenshaan Woods pen kits are currently being sold by Lee Valley and soon to be carried by one of the other major woodworking supply chains. Quite an accomplishment for a small business being run out of a Ken's garage!

There is an article about Kallenshaan Woods in the latest issue of Woodturning Designs magazine, in the Spring 2010 issue. Hopefully, Ken will bring some copies to give away, as well as some of the products that he makes. I hope to get a few good photos at the meeting, and will try to post something on the Sin City Woodworker's blog soon. It's sure to be one of our more popular gatherings.

Stay tuned...

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Big tool purchase of the year

We were all pretty excited to see the UPS guy pull up today. Even Stella was smiling.

Once a year, I try to make a decent tool investment. Last year's purchase was the SawStop, which is still paying dividends like letting me sleep at night, knowing that people who work at my shop are relatively safe while cutting wood. Oh, I know - before sixteen people write to me and tell me not to take the SS for granted - rest assured, I still keep my eye on everyone who uses the saw. No complacency in my shop!

Ever since Stave Bace of Festool USA gave that amazing tool demo a few months ago, I've been wanting a few of their tools.

Like this

and these amazing sanders

Let's not forget the tenons and extra bits.

And of course, one of my main reasons for going with the Festool system was to take advantage of their nearly dust free, integrated vacuums

which not only allows you to stack up all your systainers, but helps you store your vacuum hose and attachments. Sweet.

But frankly, the girls didn't really care about any of these features. They just wanted to play.

I'm working on a few commissions right now, and these tools are going to save a lot of time for me. But for now, I'm going to play with the girls until it's time to go to class tonight.