View Full Version : Small chest from six native woods

Richard M. Wolfe
06-01-2008, 9:40 AM
This is a little different piece…..with a bit of a story behind it. I work for an agricultural experiment station and have a couple labs doing plant analysis. For the several years I have done some fairly specialized analysis for compounds known as condensed tannins. For several months I have had a graduate student from Columbia who is studying at the University of Puerto Rico who has come to learn some procedures from me as well as do some work with animals (goats).

We did a study of condensed and total tannins from the leaves of native species and included were several native tree species (used as browse plants by deer, goats, etc). To commemorate her stay here I made this box (a small chest) for her using wood from the tree species she used in her study. The chest/box measures 16.5 in long x 8.5 in wide x 7 in high. It’s obvious what her name is from the lid – the lasered insert with her name is hackberry. Pieces on either side of the hackberry are pecan. Above and below the hackberry/pecan row are rows of black locust. On either side of the locust are two narrow rows of more pecan….this time end grain cut at a shallow angle. Finally flanking the edge grain pecan are rows of quarter sawn post oak. I made the body with lap joints to carry the different layers of wood around smoothly. On the box body the narrow light colored band with the diamond insert in the front is sapwood of cedar elm. Flanking the cedar elm band are bands of pecan and above and below them are two more bands of post oak, this time flat sawn from a different tree. The colors of the shot of the lid are pretty true: because of the angle of light the shot of the box body is a little washed out.

The dust lip on the lid and the base moldings with the feet are something a bit different. I wanted a darker wood to border the work and for them used live oak. But this live oak has a difference as I fumed the wood; it’s not normally this dark. But it’s appropriate; when a wood is fumed it’s a change in the tannins in the wood that cause the wood to darken. You don’t see it, but I used non-fumed live oak for the bottom. And what gives…..no mesquite? :eek: Turns out mesquite leaves have no condensed tannins so it wasn’t in the study. But I put in plenty of pecan….the state tree of Texas. ;) Don’t know as I’d call it fine woodworking but definitely different. Thanks for looking.

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Dewey Torres
06-01-2008, 10:48 AM
Very classy. The live oak almost looks like walnut. Very interesting, and thank for posting~!

Clara Koss
06-01-2008, 11:12 AM
i think this was a fine way for her to remember her work ... it will be with her forever, i know i would always have it on my dresser!!!!very pretty and thoughtful...thanks for showing!!!!

John Thompson
06-01-2008, 12:43 PM
Interesting and unusula use of the combination of woods which look really good together. I like the simplicity of design which has very clean lines. I use something similiar on my base on large carcass chest. Just enough touch without going to really ornate as in period pieces.

Well done...


Eric Nickerson
06-11-2008, 11:29 PM
I agree, all the woods look great together, very nice piece.

Norman Pyles
06-11-2008, 11:35 PM

Mark Patoka
06-12-2008, 8:34 AM
That's very nice looking. Sometimes mixing many species of woods detracts from the box but this one looks very nice. The personal touch and connection to your work together will also make it cherished for a long time.

mike holden
06-12-2008, 9:11 AM
It is obvious that you are the type of teacher that gets remembered!
Good on ya, Bo!

Oh, and a good job on the box too.

Ethan Sincox
06-13-2008, 5:26 PM
At what point in the process did you actually fume the wood? (And what technique did you use for fuming? I'm always looking to improve upon mine, though I am fairly happy with where that is right now...)

It would be interesting to make such a box with all unfumed wood and finish it and then make a second box out of the same wood and then fume it and finish it. It would give you a great visual of what the presence of the tannic acid does when exposed to the ammonia and it would also show, to some degree, how much tannic acid is in each species as it would react differently to the same amount of ammonia exposure.

Richard M. Wolfe
06-14-2008, 2:29 PM
Ethan, the wood had to be fumed before it was incorporated into the box construction. That meant I had to be a little more careful in putting things together. I usually biscuit a panel for the top, then put a dust lip on it and sand everything flush. For this I cut the pieces of the moldings to length and fitted them using clamps to get everything right.

I then fumed the moldings. For these small pieces I put them on standoffs in an ice chest with a dish of ammonia under the pieces. I only needed a small enclosure....I've built larger ones for larger fuming projects using pvc wrapped with plastic film. I have access to concentrated ammonia but have found using household ammonia cleaner will work….it just takes longer. After fuming, the top moldings were attached using biscuits and the base moldings (having the feet already attached) were nailed. I could do a little light sanding but, as in beauty, fuming is only skin deep :D so I couldn’t do much.

I’m attaching a couple shots of two small mesquite chests (about 8 inches longer than the one here), made from wood of the same tree. One was fumed and one left natural (the one I left natural had a pattern I called “Shooting Star”). How artistic. :rolleyes: I’ve gotten a little better with photography since then so want to do something else and may try doing something of a tutorial on fuming. All most people know of fuming is the “Stickly” look of white oak. A lot of woods will fume. Mesquite fumes like crazy (you can turn it black), all the oaks (some look awful when fumed), etc. In general it’s the dark woods and not the light – birch doesn’t, ash doesn’t, maple doesn’t - a shame. Some interesting effects can be achieved by fuming over staining and dying. I won’t go on and on about it here because as I said one of these days I will do a ‘kinda sorta half-vast’ :) tutorial about it, but owed you a reply to your question.

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Ethan Sincox
06-16-2008, 9:38 AM

I tend to make smaller projects, as well, so it didn't take me very long to stumble upon the ice chest cooler idea as a fuming container. I've been using it for a few years now. The best thing about that is it retains no ammonia smell, so I can continue using it as an ice chest when I go camping.

I'm a patient guy, but couldn't stand waiting the required length of time for household ammonia; I was able to pick up some 26% anhydrous ammonia two years ago from a local printing company and have been using that ever since. It will probably last me a while, as I don't ever need that much. But I always mask- and glove-up and work outside with that stuff - very potent. The first time I fumed with it, I didn't wear a dish glove on my left hand because I handled the ammonia with the right, and I could feel the burning on two small cuts on a finger, even outside in a high wind environment!

I mostly use white oak, but that's because I have several hundred board feet of reclaimed white oak from an old building on our family farm. It tends to look a little "green" until I wipe on the first coat of amber shellac - then it turns a nice rich brown. I've also had great results with mahogany and cherry. Walnut does seem to react to it in some test samples I've run, but it just makes it a bit darker... I'd love to get my hands on some mesquite!

I recently acquired some Ancient Kauri wood and am supposed to perform some experiments with it to determine if it reacts to ammonia in any way and then send some result pieces back to the owners of ancientwood.com if anything interesting happens. They didn't send me a ton of it, but I'll have enough left over to add it to a few boxes (as a lid panel, probably). I also use bog oak in some pieces - I love the idea of a reclaimed box with 100 year old white oak, 3000 year old bog oak, and 50,000 year old kauri wood in it.

The biggest problem I've found with fuming is the timing in my project. I usually make my box w/lid attached and then cut it off, so I want to fume AFTER that process so as to not leave a fresh cut unfumed edge. But I'm also a big fan of covering the inside part of the bottom panel in suede cloth BEFORE assembly (it leaves a really crisp edge where the suede cloth goes into the grooves in the sides of the box), so I don't want to fume the wood after that fabric is in place because I'm afraid it will pick up an ammonia smell. I suppose I could give it a try some day and see what happens... In the mean time, I've stuck to a posterboard insert lined with suede cloth.

Great pictures, by the way!

J. Z. Guest
06-16-2008, 11:28 PM
Richard, I would call it fine woodworking.

Nice job.