Making a Waterfall Bubinga Platter

Guest Authored by: Steve Staley

The Origins of the Wood

I was given a very unusual piece of wood for Christmas last year. It was a 12 inch square piece of 1 inch thick “waterfall” Bubinga. The “waterfall” refers to the highly figured and unique grain pattern that appears to flow in waves down the length of the wood. This patterning is due to torsional twisting in the grain and it cannot be determined prior to felling the tree if this pattern will be present. Due to this highly unusual pattern, the log from which this small piece was cut would prove to be one of the highest priced logs ever in the history of the exotic lumber trade and it was a fantastic opportunity to be able to work with a piece of it.

The Appearance of My Piece of Wood

The particular piece that I received had one side that was natural edge, and similar to the interior grain pattern, the bark edge was wavy and had the appearance of flowing movement. My hope was to retain that effect in the natural edge platter that I decided to make from the piece. However, as is always the case when working with a natural product such as wood, my intentions didn’t exactly play out as I had hoped they would although I am still pleased with the result. Unfortunately, I didn’t photograph the piece prior to working with it, but I do have an as yet unworked piece from the same tree that shows the pattern of the grain.

About Bubinga, Including Its Uses

Bubinga is scientifically known as Guibourtia demeusei. Guibourtia is a flowering plant genus in the pea family which contains at least 16 different species. Most of these species are native to tropical and swampy regions of Africa with a small number being native to similar environments in South America. The trees are large evergreens, growing to between 40 and 50 feet tall with a diameter of 3 to 6 feet. These trees may also occasionally be referred to as African Rosewood, although these trees are not true rosewood species.
These trees are well known as a source of luxury timber. The wood is used by the makers of fine musical instruments, including harps and bass guitars, because it is believed to produce a mellow and well-rounded sound. Some drum makers may also use this wood although only in very high-end models.
The wood is sometimes used to make archery bows, and some furniture makers have even used slabs of the wood as table tops with very little manipulation. Even Lexus, the luxury car maker, has been known to use Bubinga in the interiors of a select number of their vehicles.

Beginning to Work the Wood

The piece I received was well dried and ready to work with upon receipt but I verified this by taking routine weights to ensure that the wood was not continuing to lose weight through the evaporation of moisture. I rounded the blank on the bandsaw and retained the edge pieces to use as pen blanks, not wanting to waste anymore of this unique wood than could be helped. I mounted the blank with a face plate to cut the back and to fine round the edges. Retaining as much of the natural bark edge as I wanted proved to be very difficult. The relative thinness of the blank coupled with the need to cut some amount away to give a smooth and round character to the exterior of the piece meant that ultimately I had less natural edge area than I had hoped I would. At times I wished that I had cut out the natural edge completely. One fellow turner who saw the end result commented that it was a shame that I had lost such a big chunk out of what would have otherwise been a great piece! I admit that such a comment stings a little bit because, in fact, the piece did not experience any breakage, rather the end piece is just the result of the natural edge of the piece of wood I began with, although I can understand how a person who wasn’t familiar with the original piece of wood might think otherwise.