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Thread: Decking the Halls with Boughs of Holly?

  1. #1

    Decking the Halls with Boughs of Holly?

    Decking the Halls with Boughs of Holly?

    Sawcreekians
    ,

    A friend of mine recently bought the farm next to his. This has a couple of houses and he removed a good-sized Holly tree that was too close to the main house.

    As Holly is slow-growing, this tree must have been 70-80+ years old and has a substantial trunk- for Holly 9/10" and a lot of 4"to 6/7" branches and limbs, plus a lot of smaller stuff.

    Holly_1.jpg
    Holly_2.jpg
    Holly_3.jpg

    There is a hint of potential burls.

    This was scheduled for the wood stove, but from my instrument-building days, I think of Holly in the category of Boxwood and Hornbeam- quite hard fine-grained, and good for carving, purfling, veneer, inlays, and marquetry (particularly English instruments), plus expensive to buy now. In harpsichords it was sometimes used for the tongues on the jacks, which had fine details and had to be accurately made and very stable to operate- tilt on a pivot in a slot- over a long period of time. The veneered banding on the case might have Holly bands and marquetry among burl Walnut panels. This is seen on with 16th, 17th, and 18th C. English furniture also.

    Of course, this may not be the same species as I've seen on historic instruments and furniture.

    The thing is, I never dealt with Holly in the wild as it were, and question: is Holly as valuable as I think it might be and, if so, how should this be handled- sawn, dried, and etc?

    A furniture maker friend of mine goes to Oregon and selects live Walnut trees that are cut and sawn, and then he air dries it for I think 5 or 7 years, resaws, and hand-planes, but that is a different scale of project and would be handled in the on-site shop.

    Incidentally, here are gates he made for a house I designed in Brentwood, CA. He forged the wrought iron as well:

    Moyer Res_front_entry gate.jpg

    I wish I had a photo of the dining table I designed and he made for that same house. That has a 4' X 13' X 2" top that is a single piece of Walnut with more than 150 inlay/fillets.

    Thanks!

    Alan Caro
    Last edited by Alan Caro; 11-11-2018 at 11:33 AM.

  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by Alan Caro View Post
    ...I think of Holly in the category of Boxwood and Hornbeam- quite hard fine-grained, and good for carving, purfling, veneer, inlays, and marquetry (particularly English instruments), plus expensive to buy now.

    To be sure, you mean American Holly (Ilex opaca)?

    I process Holly into turning blanks when I can get it. (A friend brought be three pieces just a couple of days ago) Most I get that is useful is no larger than 10" in diameter although once I got some fairly large diameter short sections with beautifully white wood.

    I've always thought of Holly as fairly soft, similar to walnut, but with wonderfully fine grain.

    It is hard to find commercially and can be expensive. In my experience the value is far higher if the wood is pure white. This usually means cutting the tree in the dead of the winter and drying it quickly. Unfortunately, most holly I have gotten is less than white since it can quickly go undesirably grey or green, perhaps from fungus. (Grey/green Holly makes great firewood!) Holly can be bleached white if needed, sometimes a pain. It is also sometimes dyed black for woodturned finials on lids and Christmas ornaments.

    The smaller diameter log sections and limbs have almost no value to me, but occasionally people use them for woodturning, sometimes to turn long-stemmed goblets, turned green and thin and left to warp "attractively" when drying.

    When cutting logs, be sure to immediately seal the endgrain on logs and log sections you want to keep. I've seen significant end checks and cracks on unsealed log sections. A couple of days ago I had to shorten an 18" long log section of Holly to about 12" before I got rid of the end cracks.

    Holly can shrink and warp a LOT when drying. If cutting into boards I think I'd saw them extra thick. Saw directly down the grain as closely as possible and sticker and weight well. This small piece shows what can happen when cut at an angle to the grain and left to dry unconstrained:

    holly_warped.jpg

    I love turning and carving Holly. It usually needs very little sanding. This is a crop handle I turned and carved from Holly.

    crops_one_D2_fp.jpg

    JKJ

  3. #3
    I have some pieces of holly I cut down for similar reasons. These are Foster hollies. I have no idea if they were worth saving, but I have several pieces I am going to play with. Nothing lost if they aren't worth fooling with. I understand holly is very hard to harvest/dry/etc. I'm anxious to see what I got! I may cut up one of them soon and take a look. Good luck with yours!

  4. #4
    I picked up a few pieces of holly at Rockler years ago, for making harpsichord tongues in fact. I got a 1/2 thick and a 3/4 thick piece, both clear and straight grained, and only about $25 a piece. I rarely ever see it offered, and now only quite expensively. I can't imagine what they would cost now, probably over a hundred each.

  5. #5
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    I've seen holly sold as a substitute for ivory used for the grips on pistols, such as the 1911.

  6. #6
    John K Jordan,

    Thank you for the useful comments and photos. The crop handle is a work of art. The carving pattern reminds me of the textured pistol grips mentioned by Jacob Reverb.

    As for the end grain sealing, would you recommend, for example, polyurethane?


    Alan Caro

  7. #7
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    Sealing green wood

    Quote Originally Posted by Alan Caro View Post
    John K Jordan, Thank you for the useful comments and photos. The crop handle is a work of art. The carving pattern reminds me of the textured pistol grips mentioned by Jacob Reverb.

    As for the end grain sealing, would you recommend, for example, polyurethane?
    Alan Caro
    Thanks for the complement, I made that one for a horse trainer who saw a "magic" wand I'd done and loved the look and feel.

    Jacob mentioned using Holly as an ivory substitute. The first piece I carved like the crop handle was the wand. A number of people said it looked like ivory.

    wand_holly_carved_P7203954.jpg wands_2_carved_P7203927es.jpg

    I used the shellac-based Mylands friction polish as a finish which has a yellowing effect on white wood.

    People have tried a variety of things for sealing end grain. Many, like latex paint, work poorly or not at all.

    I stick to a wax/water emulsion called Anchorseal, widely used by turners and people who saw wood. It's available from Woodcraft and other places, sometimes repackaged and sold as "Green Wood Sealer". It goes on thick with a brush (or can be sprayed when working with a lot of logs) and dries to form a layer of wax. Paraffin wax will still let water through so the piece can dry, but slows it enough to keep the wood from drying too fast.

    I use it on the end grain of every turning blank I cut and on figured surfaces such as crotch flame, completely cover burls, and on surfaces like the heartwood-sapwood interface of Dogwood, particularly prone to cracking from warping while drying. It's also good to paint on the end grain or the entire outer surface of rough-turned green wood bowls. I bought a 55 gallon drum of Anchorseal from UC Coatings a long time ago, sold a lot to woodturning club members, and am still using what's left. When that runs out I'll probably order a 5 gallon can. Some woodturning clubs buy it in bulk and resell it to members for less than a gallon costs at a retailer.

    I put just a little in the bottom of a plastic coffee "can" and keep a cheap 4" wide disposable brush inside. No need to ever wash the brush, if wax dries on it just work the bristles against some bark or a piece of scrap wood.

    I seal as soon as possible after the tree is cut. If that's not possible, I'll cut the ends back to remove existing cracks then seal. When processing green wood into turning blanks to dry (I seldom turn green wood), I seal after cutting every few blocks, especially if the humidity is low or the temperature high. You can still see some drying in this stack of ambrosia Maple - Anchorseal is white when applied and clear when dry.

    IMG_20171202_175649_933.jpg

    Some people melt paraffin and dip the end grain or the entire blank (many exotics are sold this way), but hot paraffin can be a fire hazard and a royal pain to work with.

    JKJ
    Last edited by John K Jordan; 11-13-2018 at 3:55 PM. Reason: typo

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