Two Katalox Bowls

I have worked with Katalox before in pen blank form but this was my first time turning full bowls with Katalox.  Let’s say it was a mixed experience.

Katalox, at 3,660 Janka Units, is one of the hardest woods in the world and in the top five for Central American woods.

The hardness of Katalox is both part of its attraction and part of its problem.  On the plus side, a wood this hard, about 3 times the hardness of White Oak, cut extremely clean, even along the gross grain.  On the down side, if you get a catch, and this happened to me a great deal on the first of these bowls, you will have to CAREFULLY cut it out; you will NEVER sand out much of anything with a wood this hard.  My lathe doesn’t have a catch arrestor, and that’s OK with me because I had a lathe with one and it would trip even when there was no catch just pressure being applied to make a bigger cut.  At any rate, in the case of this Katalox, I only had to sand the end grain and that I did with the lathe stopped and locked to concentrate on the very small areas of very fine imperfections.

Katalox 2

And the Katalox is STUNNING in its appearance.  Both of my bowls showed strong purple and even pink areas.  I especially love the way that bowl number 2 has a whitish-pink streak running through it, and what you can’t see in the photo is the large sapwood inclusion on the bottom of the bowl.  The sapwood is spalted and insect damaged but I like it for the strong contrast between the yellow-white sapwood and the purple of the heartwood.  I am aware that some turners wouldn’t bother turning a blank with lots of sapwood but I actually prefer it and some of my favorite pieces have included generous sapwood.

Katalox is a much more interesting purple than Purpleheart in that the color of Katalox is swirling and variable, adding visual interest, while purpleheart, which turns brown anyway, is monotonous.  Purple, yes, but visually interesting, in my opinion, not so much.

There was a lot to like about Katalox and yet I would be hesitant to work with it in the future because I am somewhat allergic to Katalox dust.  I didn’t have this problem with pen blank because it is so small and doesn’t generate a lot of sanding dust, but a bowl blank is a different beast.  I was fine during the cutting of the back of the first Katalox bowl, but when I sanded it, oh my, I started coughing and coughing.  Water didn’t help and finally I just left the shop at which point I continued coughing for another 30 minutes at least.  It is rare for me to have a negative reaction to a wood but it can happen.  I simply wore a N95 respirator for sanding and the problem disappeared.  If you read my posts regularly, you know I always include adverse health effects when relevant and this is a good example of why I do include that information.

Katalox 1

I don’t regret working with Katalox and if I have more in my stocks, always possible, I will gladly turn it but I am not rushing out to buy more either.  If you like working with a really hard wood and you like vibrant coloration in your woods, by all means give Katalox a try.

Katalox is easy to find for purchase.  I bought mine years ago, and let it completely air dry over years of time, from NCWood and they still sell bowl blanks of Katalox in two sizes.  It isn’t cheap at $30 for a 6x6x3″ and $54 for an 8x8x3″ but Bell Forest Products will sell you the same size Katalox bowl blank for $38 and West Penn Hardwoods will sell you the 8x8x2″ for $19.78!  Refer to the previous post on Katalox for a listing of my favorite wood vendors, most of whom offer Katalox in at least two bowl blank sizes to compare costs and don’t forget to obtain a shipping quote as shipping wood can be quite expensive and the relative proximity of the dealer you work with will greatly affect the price you pay in the end.