I love when I am so excited about work that I can’t wait to get out of bed to start the day. It may sound silly to some of you, but it does happen a lot lately. I was lying in bed thinking about the new projects and I couldn’t wait to finish working on them today.
What has got me all worked up, you ask? It seems that I have stumbled upon a type of wood that I had never worked with before and used it out of necessity and now that the project is finished, I absolutely love it.
You may have heard of it before. It is called “roasted birch” and it is actually yellow birch that is heated to over 300 degrees which turns it a deep brown in color, as well as stabilizes it. In my latest project, I was hoping to use some walnut for the running horses tray, as I wanted a dark brown wood, but I was disappointed to find that I didn’t have any pieces here that were suitable. In going through my stock, I came across this piece of roasted birch that I had purchased the last time we were in Halifax last autumn. I had obtained it from the new place we tried, Halifax Specialty Hardwoods and had totally forgotten about it. Their description about it is here.
It certainly looked like walnut, although I thought it felt a bit lighter (less density). It would certainly be a bit more fragile than walnut due to its dryness, but the design that I planned to make was not that intricate and I believed it would tolerate it well.
In cutting and working with it, I found it to be very easy. It was stable and had remained dead flat, which I am sure is due to the dryness from the roasting process. I must say though that when cutting it, it had the smell of – well – burnt wood. The saw dust was also very fine, which was also I am sure due to the dryness. It cut and routed beautifully though, with no surprises whatsoever.
When I took the teaser picture for yesterdays’ post, I thought that the colour looks very close to that of the other tray that I had made, which was sepele mahogany. It was slightly darker, with a little less grain I thought and more of an even dark brown tone to it. I did crack the edge of the tray in one place, although I didn’t break the piece all the way off. This does happen sometimes, and I thought it would be no biggie – I would just glue it and continue on.
When I applied the CA glue to the joint, the wood immediately darkened to almost black. I tend to be conservative on using glue and such, but I did need to use a little more, as I could see the wood was absorbing it like a sponge. No worry though, by being patient and holding it for a few minutes the joint held and caught. I went on to do other things for a bit before I continued.
I was a bit too hasty in making the tray, as I should have used my 1/3 sheet Makita orbital sander on the wood prior to cutting to get rid of the final planer marks and start off smooth. I usually do this, but it was raining that day and I suppose I was lazy. I find it isn’t usually a problem for me to sand after scrolling, as long as I don’t use a coarse grit sandpaper, which could catch on the delicate edges of more intricate fretwork. In this case I felt the wood would hold up well and I would be fine.
So I sanded this tray with 220 paper without incident. It sanded very quickly (again, due to the dryness) and it had an odd almost shimmer to it. I showed Keith how it almost looked iridescent, which I thought was strange. The spot where I had applied the glue had darkened the wood to almost black, and I hoped that it would blend in once oiled.
I chose to use my favorite finish – mineral oil and then spray shellac – to finish both of these trays. The sun was bright and it was beautifully warm out and I took my kitty Pancakes on the deck with me to work on the pieces. Unlike most people, I do like the finishing process, as it seems to unlock another level of beauty in the wood. It is a thrill to see the character and figure of the wood emerge as I apply the oil finish. This tray was no exception.
I use a shallow cake pan and first dip the piece in about 1/2” of oil. I then use a medium course paint brush to gently work the oil into the sides of the pieces. With fretwork such as this, it is imperative to take your time and tread lightly so not to snap off a piece. I then use 600 grit paper and work the oil into the surface of the piece by hand, again working slowly and gently. This gives it a warm and polished look and really works it into the pores.
I sat on the deck for maybe an hour working on these two pieces. The sepele tray came out beautiful too, but I couldn’t help but be in awe of the fantastic color the roasted birch turned out to be. It was a deep, dark almost blackish brown that at first glance resembled ebony. Even when Keith walked by, he said “wow!” I suppose that the best way I could describe the look was that of piano keys. It had that soft and satiny blackness with a tight and even grain. I just loved it.
I noticed that as soon as I put additional oil on it, it sucked it in like a sponge. Again, I am sure it is from the drying and roasting process. I allow the two trays to sit for a couple of hours, and then sprayed them with several thin coats of shellac. The results was amazing.
Never mind the designs, but these were two of the prettiest trays I have made I think. I knew though that it would be a challenge to photograph them properly and by the time they were ready for it, the sun was already going down and the long, deep shadows of the late afternoon were upon me. I would need to wait until today to take my photographs.
However, I did go out on the deck this morning and at least get some quick pictures to show you. I don’t think that they are too bad, but I know I can do better later.
First, here is the Running Horses roasted birch tray:
It seems the shellac put a bit more of a shine on it than usual. Perhaps it just shows that way because of the darkness of the wood. Here is a more detailed look at it:
And finally, here is the tray sitting on top of the piece prior to finishing. I hope you can see how much darker it became when oiled and finished.
It is hard to believe it is the same piece.
And here is a picture of the sepele tray:
And its detail:
I have always liked the rich color of sepele, too. The shimmery grain is deep and rich and also looks quite attractive.
All in all it was a great day. I also finished up the little charms on the shell tray with the pearls. I am going to be taking final pictures of all of these projects today, as well as finishing the pattern packets for them all to get them on the site. I hope to have a site update done by the weekend with all of our new things.
The finishing process is something that I find to be so satisfying. It pains me to see nicely made things with poor finishes or sometimes even no finish. Unfortunately, I see lots of that in scroll sawing. A year or so ago, I may have just slapped on some polyurethane spray when I was done cutting and called it a day. But after joining here on the site and seeing the difference a good finish makes with projects, I have learned that taking a little time to finish things properly goes a long way to making them look professional. The oil/shellac combination I frequently use works so well with the intricate fretwork that I do and it is fairly quick and easy and brings the pieces up to a higher level.
I have enough of this roasted birch for one more tray and also a piece that is approximately 3/16” thick which will be nice for a box or ornaments or even jewelry. I plan to get more the next time we are in Halifax, as I think it is a wonderful alternative to something like ebony when dark wood is desired for a fraction of the cost.
I hope you enjoyed seeing it.
-- Designer/Artist/Teacher. Owner of Sheila Landry Designs (http://www.sheilalandrydesigns.com) Scroll saw, wood working and painting patterns and surfaces. "Knowledge is Power"