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Thread: Lignum Vitae

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Mar 2015
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    Virginia
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    Lignum Vitae

    Looking for folks with experience working with lignum vitae. Have read it checks badly with low humidity. Also have read it does not. Anyone with direct experience?

    I know it is protected now, but every once in a while you come across an antique. Would not want to pick something up and have it damaged (humidity in my house gets low in winter).

    Thanks in advance.

  2. #2
    I know there are at least 2 varieties of LV and maybe more. Large chunks of the older traditional stuff (don't know species) were definitely prone to checking. I bought a LV carvers mallet from Woodcraft about 35 years ago and it was suggested to keep it in a plastic bag with a few drops of water to prevent checking. Mine checked anyway and severely after a few years. I bought a box of the South American LV a few years ago in 3/4 x 3/4" x 6" blanks and it shows no signs of any checking. It is not as tough, dense, wear resistant, or self lubricating as the older stuff.
    Dave Anderson
    Chester Toolworks LLC
    Chester, NH

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
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    Nicholas,

    I've used quite a bit of lignum vitae, both the genuine (Guaiacum) and the Argentine/Verawood (Bulnesia). They are similar in properties but the Argentine is much easier to find. My stock of genuine is mostly in 1", 2", and 3" squares but I have some larger pieces of Argentine such as a 10"x10"x3" block. The genuine is still floating around; I bought some from a dealer just a few months ago.

    I use both for woodturning and sometimes to machine brackets and parts I might otherwise make from aluminium. It's hard to see a difference when working them although the Argentine is generally a bit greener in color. They are wonderful for turning and polish nicely with no finish. The natural oils make the wood good for things that move like supported spindles for hand spinning fiber.

    I'm sure that like all wood Lignum Vitae varies considerably from region to region and even from tree to tree. However, I don't think I've ever seen a check, either in the stock I've had for 10 years or in things I've made. I thought it might be because the wood is saturated with oils.

    But how low is the "low" humidity you mentioned? My shop has heat and air and the humidity also stays fairly low in the winter, although I can't remember the numbers. It's low enough to cause other woods to check if not quite dry and not sealed.

    What do you want to use it for? How you use it might make a difference. Thinner pieces of most woods will generally degrade and check less than thick pieces.

    JKJ




    Quote Originally Posted by Nicholas Lawrence View Post
    Looking for folks with experience working with lignum vitae. Have read it checks badly with low humidity. Also have read it does not. Anyone with direct experience?

    I know it is protected now, but every once in a while you come across an antique. Would not want to pick something up and have it damaged (humidity in my house gets low in winter).

    Thanks in advance.

  4. #4
    I have only used a little bit of it to make a few turning projects. Ice cream scoop etc. It was easy to work with and sanded smooth very easily. I coated with mineral oil. Its been about a year and still is in perfect shape.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Mar 2015
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    Virginia
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    John, no particular plan. I see it sometimes in mallets for example. Just would not want to buy one, bring it home, and six months later have it all checked to pieces. Have no experience with the material, so thought I would ask.

    I don’t know how low the humidity gets in the house. Low enough that I notice it in my wooden planes. Have had irons get tight, totes loosen, etc. I always make a point to pull the irons, and they seem to do all right.

  6. #6
    I've made mallets out of what was sold to me as lignum vitae. No problems with it checking but it will still delaminate with enough use.

    Mike
    Go into the world and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do good.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jul 2014
    Location
    Borger, Texas
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    Hi All,

    I can't help with the topic, but do have a story about Lignum Vitae. Before moving to our current location, I knew an older carpenter, who was in his upper 70s at the time. (This was 28+ years ago.) Durring world war 2 he was with the Sea Bees, and was stationed in the Pacific Theatre. The group he was with repaired navy ships that were damaged by the enemy, so they could go back out into the war. They had a dry dock and all.

    He said that they had blue prints of the ships, and when one came in that had to be in the dry dock, they would make pillars that the ship would settle into when the water was pumped out of the dry dock, that conformed to the curves of the hulls, that is why they needed the blue prints. He said that the thick pads on the upper parts of the pillars that the ships actually rested on, were extremely think sections of wood. They used huge routers to shape the wood, and smoke would just roll off that stuff when they were routing the wooden pads.

    He told me that they had ships come in that had holes in them that you could put my house in. (My wife and I had a fairly small house.) The carpenters did a number of things, but one was to use plywood to make patterns for the huge holes in the ship that had been created by the battles the ships were in. Once the patterns were made, the metal working guys would use those to build the new metal patches for the holes.

    The thing he mentioned that pertains was that they would occassionally have to work on the propeller shaft parts. The one thing that the carpenters had to do for the propeller shaft work was to make bearings that the propeller shafts rode in. Those bearings were made from huge chunks of Lignum Vitea. It apparantly was ideal for that. He said that the wood they used was extremely hard, and it was oily. They used huge laythes to form the bearings. I asked him how they worked it because of the hardness. He said that ordinary carpenters tools would work it, but that they had to be extremely sharp to effectively work that wood, and had to be kept that way.

    Stew
    Last edited by Stew Denton; 02-15-2019 at 1:26 PM.

  8. #8
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    Lignum Vitae turning - PIC

    Quote Originally Posted by Stew Denton View Post
    ...They used huge laythes to form the bearings. I asked him how they worked it because of the hardness. He said that ordinary carpenters tools would work it, but that they had to be extremely sharp to effectively work that wood, and had to be kept that way.
    Lignum Vitae is indeed hard but not much different from other hard woods I've turned with Janka hardness of 4000 or so, for example Gidgee from Australia. No problem with sharp tools and good technique.

    The 4th crop handle from the left is Argentine "Lignum Vitae":

    crops_2015_fanB_IMG_4718.jpg crop_xxx_2015_IMG_4732.jpg

    JKJ
    Last edited by John K Jordan; 02-15-2019 at 3:32 PM.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    Gibsons British Columbia Canada ( near Vancouver )
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    Quote Originally Posted by John K Jordan View Post
    Lignum Vitae is indeed hard but not much different from other hard woods I've turned with Janka hardness of 4000 or so, for example Gidgee from Australia. No problem with sharp tools and good technique.

    The 4th crop handle from the left is Argentine "Lignum Vitae":

    crops_2015_fanB_IMG_4718.jpg crop_xxx_2015_IMG_4732.jpg

    JKJ
    I agree - Lignum ( genuine ) Verawood ( close relative ) are not that difficult to work - like noted, sharp tools are a must - Interlocking grain is always there.

    When turning, I call turning it like turning ' frozen lard ' - it is just greasy - not that it leaves stains, it is just that oily. The scent is nice - Vera especially - a floral bouquet that is very sweet.

    As for checking - much of what I have seen is checked to some degree, but all the checking that was going to happen had already been done. No futher problems.

    Good luck - it is not that bad at all - the worst wood I turned for nasty was Solomon Blackwood - all that came off the chisel was tiny toothpicks.

    Dave B

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