Origins of the Material
About two years ago or so, a long time wood turner in my local area retired as he was over 80 and wasn’t working much anymore. Over the years, he had acquired a sizable collection of different turning woods along with some lumber since he also made furniture from exotics as well as more locally sourced woods. He was always on the lookout for something unique or different and he never felt that it was necessary for a piece of wood to be “perfect” for it to be an interesting piece to turn. Once he decided to retire he held an auction to sell off his stocks of wood and equipment. I was originally interested more in the very fine rack system he had for storing wood, but purchasing that system meant purchasing the wood that was on it as well. I figured that between my son, who is also a wood turner, and I, we could find a way to use what amounted to quite a lot of turning wood of many different species, types, and qualities. Among some of the most notable pieces is a log piece of African Blackwood with the tan sapwood intact, some planks of Australian Desert Rosewood, and many more pieces that are of unknown origin and unknown quality.
Discovering the Damage
During the summer of 2012 my son was out visiting from the east coast and we were sorting through some wood we had purchased together in northern California about a month or so prior. We were packing up boxes of stock for him to take home and I came across a large block, that I am pretty confident is maple, that I had purchased at the auction. It was gathering dust over near the lawnmower and it didn’t look too promising. We decided to see what it looked like inside before he would think about taking it, so we cut it open on the bandsaw and had a mess! The interior was chock full of termite dust and the damage left behind was pretty spectacular. In addition to this damage, it was clear that there was a minor degree of spalting as well. My son took one look at the mess and quickly declined to take it any further, questioning whether it would even manage to hold together for any type of turning. I figured there was only one way to find out, so I fitted a face plate to the most solid looking section and had a go.
Working It Out
I took it pretty slow, ratcheting down the speed on the lathe to under 1,000 RPM and worked with the Easy Wood Tools Easy Finisher. I realize that the tool is intended for finish cuts, but I find that it works excellently for the rougher cuts as well. It was a dusty and messy process, but I succeeded in achieving some decent cuts, much to my son’s surprise. We had other things to attend to, so I let sit chucked up for a few days until I had time to return to it. I managed to cut a shape I was pleased with and was also able to clean up the tenon on the back to my satisfaction. Some end grain tear-out remains since it was essentially impossible to sand with any effectiveness since the voids shredded the paper no matter how light a touch I applied. I finished it off with the Shella-Wax system and was quite pleased with the results.
While I realize that some wood turners only work with “perfect” condition wood, I think this platter demonstrates what is possible with wood that is far from perfect condition. The figure of the wood is quite pronounced once the finish is on and it most closely reminds me of burl wood given the significant swirl and extensive patterning. Instead of detracting from the finished work, I think the termite damage works overall to make a very unique piece of turning that both myself and my son are quite pleased with. Based on this experience, I would encourage wood turners everywhere to take a chance on a seemingly worthless piece of wood since we never know until we try what unique beauty might be lurking hidden beneath.