Working with River Recovered Old Growth Trees (Step back in Time).

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Blog entry by WatchfulNine posted 02-05-2010 06:38 PM 1816 reads 0 times favorited 7 comments Add to Favorites Watch

This week I embarked on a new Adventure, or maybe and Old one!

I had the privilege of turning a piece of “River Recovered Old Growth Bullet Tree” that had been sitting at the bottom of a river in Belize for an estimated 150 – 200 years. When I first received my piece of “Old Growth Bullet Tree” from, I wasn’t sure what to expect from it. I did know it had been at the bottom of a river for 150 years and even though it had been vacuum kiln dried, it would be as we turners say “Turning Green Wood”.

Bullet Tree itself is an interesting wood to work with, it’s very dense grain, multi toned wood with a beautiful hazelnut, and creamy look. Having it submerged under a river for 150 years seemed to have added even more to the look and for sure the density and hardness. Nevertheless, in its rough cut stage it is a sight to behold. Not because of its outward beauty, as a matter of a fact in the rough cut stage it looks much like that of Osage orange. However, when you look at the end grain and start counting the rings literally hundreds, you know you are touching history!

As I mounted the rough cut bowl blank onto my lathe for the first cuts, I had to stop and think for a few minutes of a time long ago, a place and the people who had touch this tree before me. I’m not sure if you have ever found an Indian Arrowhead, or maybe and old Civil War button, but if you have you may remember that temporary time lapse to a time long ago. I had to wonder for a few minutes, who touch this tree before me? Where was his life going at that time? How old was he, or maybe what did he enjoy to do in his life? I remembered some of the pictures that Greenerlumber had of old slave shackles that were found in the recovery of these logs, and how most likely these trees were axe cut by Jamaican slaves.

The turning of the bowl was not easy, to say the least. I found out real quick that due to the hardness, density and sitting under water for 100 plus years will tax your equipment more than ever expected. I learned quickly to keep my tools sharp at all times and be patient. While this beautiful wood will reveal its inner beauty, it hasn’t been in any hurry for several centuries and neither should I. I must say the most rewarding part was not the turning but the sanding. Yes the sanding! You see this stuff is so hard, dense and nearly locked in time, it sands and finishes like marble. You get a shin and smoothness like no other, with minimal sanding. The best part is the finish, I choose to use a simple burn in wax with no dyes or strange additives, just let this piece be what it wants to be, and needless to say it shins like a new penny.

With the good comes the bad! Twenty four plus hours had past sense my journey with the bowl into the past, and the expected twisting and turning had occurred to the bowl. However, I noticed some hair line checking that was running perpendicular to the grain of the wood, boy that was weird. After much review I come to learn that if you are used to turning green wood that’s say has a moisture content of around 20%, and even though this wood was around 5% “It’s still alive”. It was not done doing what it wanted to do, or maybe it was escaping the slave traders! Rest assured the checking had nearly gone away after another forty eight hours, but I’ll need to change my tactics the next time or it could be disastrous.

As wood turners, woodworkers, and artist we like to have a pieces tell a story, say something with its beauty, usually this comes out once the piece is finished and on display. However, this wood needs no artist to introduce it; it was telling me its story before I could even start turning. Now that it’s done with its moving and found its new resting spot on my table, I have to stop once again and wonder. Will someone two hundred years from now find my bowl and ask, “I wonder who touched this bowl before me”?

If anyone is interested in some of this beautiful Old Growth Wood, Please go to

Bullet Tree Bowl

-- You have to walk thru the valley, before you can stand on the mountain.

7 comments so far

View WatchfulNine's profile


5 posts in 3122 days

#1 posted 02-05-2010 07:39 PM

Yeah PrairieFire, I know what you mean about the size of this lumber. There is rumor from Greenerlumber that a piece of Old Growth Mahogany log was recently found to be approximately 52’ long and 7’ in diameter. The problem will be geting it up to the surface. However, samples taken on it may have revealed it to be hundreds if not even a 1000 years old. Who knows, but it would really be a find!

-- You have to walk thru the valley, before you can stand on the mountain.

View Andrew's profile


709 posts in 3197 days

#2 posted 02-05-2010 08:37 PM

Great story, thanks for sharing.

-- Even a broken clock is right twice a day, unless, it moves at half speed like ....-As the Saw Turns

View John Steffen's profile

John Steffen

218 posts in 3053 days

#3 posted 02-05-2010 08:53 PM

Man… That’s a great story and a wonderful piece you’ve made there.

-- Big John's Woodshed - Farmington, IL

View stefang's profile


15881 posts in 3332 days

#4 posted 02-05-2010 09:45 PM

Great bowl and great wood.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Tony's profile


22 posts in 3040 days

#5 posted 02-06-2010 05:08 AM

That is a great story and a beautiful bowl. Thanks for taking the rest of us back in time with you.

View a1Jim's profile


117091 posts in 3575 days

#6 posted 02-06-2010 05:14 AM


-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View grizzman's profile


7836 posts in 3301 days

#7 posted 02-06-2010 06:11 AM

beautiful wood…great job turning it….enjoyed the history lesson…

-- GRIZZMAN ...[''''']

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