Lyptus® is perhaps an unusual choice for turning material if for no other reason than the fact that Lyptus® itself is unique in the world. Lyptus®, as the registered trademark symbol indicates, is a trademarked product name that itself is patent protected. Lyptus® represents a man-made hybrid tree that never occurred in nature, a combination of Eucalyptus grandis and Eucalyptus urophylla.
Of course, we tend to think of Eucalyptus trees as associated with Australia, and that is accurate, but such trees have been taken around the globe for plantation growth as firewood, wind breaks, and construction material because of their fast growth and relative strength. The particular hybrid represented by Lyptus® is an owned product of Fibria, a Brazilian pulp and paper company, which explains their interest in a patented and fast growing tree product. As might be expected, Lyptus® is grown on plantations in Brazil, reaching harvestable size in about fifteen years, which is quite fast for a tree.
Lyptus® As a Substitute for Mahogany
Lyptus® is marketed largely as a substitute for Mahogany, which is essentially unavailable on the market any longer due to gross overharvesting in the past and therefore is extreme scarcity and environmental protections on the remaining few trees. It is important to be clear that many tree species bear some variation on the common name of “mahogany,” but the species generally recognized as “true” Mahogany is the Honduran variety, Swietenia macrophylla. Honduran Mahogany is now grown on plantations in an attempt to meet international demand, but it is generally only available in veneer form and because of protection laws, it is not always available in the United States in any form.
I have seen real Honduran Mahogany in an old house I once owned and I struggle to see Lyptus® as a realistic alternative to Mahogany. I think the color is completely different for starters but I don’t know enough about the grain and figure characteristics of true Mahogany to know how close it might match in other respects which might be more important than color, which can after all, be faked. The black color of Ebony, for instance, is commonly faked with everything from sophisticated dyes to actual Sharpie® markers!
Is Lyptus® Good for the Environment?
Part of the marketing appeal of Lyptus® is that it can substitute not only for Mahogany, but also Maple and Cherry, thereby saving trees in old growth forests that certainly cannot be replaced in fifteen years, if ever. It is also possible that other substitutes for Mahogany, which frequently come from already stressed tropical forests, will be less likely to be over-harvested. While that all sounds good, plantation monoculture has its critics because the trees are frequently grown on what was formerly rainforest and/or lands belonging to indigenous people who have now been displaced in favor of money making enterprises. My honest thought is that the use of wood is never without consequence to someone or something; that is simply the nature of the material. I think it reasonable for wood workers and consumers to exercise reasonable caution and due diligence in their choices of woods to avoid the extremely endangered and also wood that is knowingly harvested in damaging ways to other species and peoples, but logging will never be completely “clean” and expecting it be so is naïve and unrealistic in the extreme. Perhaps, to my mind, Lyptus® represents a reasonable best case scenario given the options available, assuming that people want to continue to use wood at all.
My Lyptus® Experience
My father has occasion to buy some plank, 2”x6” of unknown length at a lumber store in San Diego, California. He cut this up into bowl blank sizes and shared it with me. I believe I have worked with pen blank sizes of Lyptus® in the past and found it quite reasonable to work with, so I was excited to try it in bowl blank dimensions. I was quite surprised by the experience.
Lyptus® cut easily and when I first rounded it down on the lathe half of the round cut beautifully with my carbide tipped Easy Wood Tools, but the other half had some pretty fussy end grain tear out, but it didn’t appear any worse than lots of such tear out that I have dealt with. In cabinetry and floor work, end grain isn’t usually much of an issue, and when it is it is often filled and then sanded for a smooth touch and appearance, but I find that this doesn’t work to my satisfaction in bowl work. Unfortunately, a good 50% of any bowl surface is going to be end grain by virtue of the round nature of the product and it has to be dealt with. While I have read of turners who claim that they never suffer from issues with end grain due their expertise with turning tools and that they start sanding, if they sand at all, with 220 grit paper, this is not my experience. I was gratified to find others who also scoff at these claims as bravado.
End Grain and Tear Out
My general experience with end grain tear out has been that the harder the wood the less the tear out, although there is also greater likelihood of more tear out if the grain is not straight and regular. However, the compromise tends to be that while a softer wood may not cut as cleanly it tends to sand out very easily and so it balances out. I know that the fault does not lie in my tools or technique because the areas that are not end grain cut so cleanly that sanding is essentially not even necessary. If my tools or technique were solely at fault, I don’t think this could be true.
With Lyptus® the tear out didn’t look too bad and on the flatter areas it wasn’t bad at all. However, on the inside sloped edges of the bowl, I lost almost a full quarter of an inch of thickness just trying, not completely successfully, to cut out the end grain tear out! I have never had so much grief before with the sanding process. I finally compromised a slight bit although I doubt that most anyone who isn’t a turner themselves would ever spot the two very small, tiny in fact, spots that aggravate me even now. But, if I look in just the right light at exactly the right angle, I can still see it. And I am bit of a perfectionist.
But, On the Other Hand…
However, aside from that aggravation which could be just a characteristic of the board I worked with, wood can be like that, Lyptus® overall was quite reasonable as a turning material. The grain patterning is quite nice in the round and almost resembles a “Lone Ranger” mask in the center of the piece. The color is also distinctly salmon, at least to me, and if one is looking for a pinkish color wood, I think Lyptus® would be an excellent and economical choice, especially compared to Pink Ivory, which is quite rare and terrifically expensive as well as endangered in the wild. And, Lyptus® will hold its color, while eventually Pink Ivory, along with most highly colored woods, will turn a disappointing shade of brown over time.
Finishing and Parting Thoughts
I opted, again, for Shellawax as a finish. It went on easily and so little changed the color of the Lyptus® that it was, at times, difficult to know where I had applied the finish and where not. It yielded a quite nice shine in the end, nicely highlighting, not obstructing, the grain patterns.
Lyptus® presents me with a challenge in terms of my final thoughts about it. I like the finished piece, but I am troubled by the grief the end grain gave me and question whether the end result was worth the effort required to reach it. I know that I will try Lyptus® again in the future because I still have another piece of it to work with, but beyond that I will reserve judgment for another day with more experience of this wood, and of wood in general, before I make a final decision. In the meantime, if anyone is curious about working with Lyptus®, or any wood for that matter, I say go for it and discover for yourself what you experience and what you think. Everyone is the best judge for themselves in the end.