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Thread: Other woods with unusual movement like seen in rainbow Poplar?

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Oct 2019
    Lexington, KY

    Other woods with unusual movement like seen in rainbow Poplar?

    For those who follow my wacky ideas on here I'm developing an idea where I use small cut squares of wood, say 3/4" x 3/4" and arrange them to form a larger picture, like photo mosaic software does. Think of the little squares I'm referring to as little 'pixels' that will create the larger picture when they're all put together. The finished pieces/images will be fairly large, say 6' tall x 10' long.

    So toward achieving this goal I've been exploring different wood species to see what kind of color/texture movements are commonly seen in them. For my idea to work I'm gonna need color movement in wood more than just common grain direction like you'd see in the oak species. I'm gonna need a wood species that produces a wide variety of movement and colors for the best results. At first I wasn't too sure this process was achievable because all the wood species I was aware of didn't have enough varied movement. I found a lumber mill a couple hours away that had some ambrosia Maple so I went to pick some up for experimenting. When I saw the cedar there I picked some out as well. But then I saw a chunk of highly colored rainbow Poplar he had sat aside and knew that was the right wood to work with. It has so much more color and movement than any other species I've seen so far. Pics of the cedar, ambrosia Maple and rainbow Poplar follow...




    You can see how the rainbow Poplar has so much more variation compared to the ambrosia Maple and Cedar that it's really the superior choice for what I'm trying to do. Imagine this rainbow Poplar piece cut into tiny 3/4" x 3/4" squares and how varied each square or 'pixel' would be compared to the same pieces made out of the Cedar or Maple.

    So now my question is...are there any other species out there that produce variations in color and movement like this rainbow Poplar? I'd also be interested in seeing examples of species that have random movement even if not to the same degree as this Poplar.

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  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2003
    SE PA - Central Bucks County
    "Rainbow Poplar" is just regular Tulip/Yellow Poplar that absorbed a bunch of minerals from the soil immediately under it that in turn created the colors. For whatever reason, this appears to be more common with this species. Coloration you see in ambrosia maple, box elder, etc., is caused by insect activity. Etc.

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  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
    have you considered pre-staining some of the individual squares before assembly to bring out the coloring? Brian

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    I think English walnut would be worth consideration.


  5. #5
    3/4" x 3/4" doesn't give you a lot to work with.
    I would suggest looking at the hobbit house or the wood database and then figuring out what you could use. Pen blanks are also typically 3/4" square, an inexpensive way to try different species.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Sep 2016
    Modesto, CA, USA
    Probably too cold in your area but I would think rainbow eucalypus would have varying coloring.
    Bill D

  7. #7
    I use small cut squares of wood, say 3/4" x 3/4" and arrange them to form a larger picture, like photo mosaic software does. Think of the little squares I'm referring to as little 'pixels' that will create the larger picture when they're all put together.

    Are you copying the (Dutch? Scandinavian?) guy who made a huge old masters copy in wood that way?
    IIRC he eventually got support from a major glue or tool manufacturer.

    I'll try to find it, it's been a few years.

    Some wood does not retain color well after exposure to oxygen and sunlight.
    For instance, i've never known even vivid green poplar to not turn brown fairly quickly. Can't recall what happens to the purple stuff. Most of the time when i've been running poplar, it was for paint-grade mouldings or interior/secondary wood for cabinets.

    Last edited by stephen thomas; 05-12-2024 at 11:52 AM.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Nov 2009
    Peoria, IL
    The thing about color in wood, is that it is never light fast and the colors dull and in poplar's case, all those purples and green will turn to shades of brown and tan over time.

  9. #9
    A couple of problems I see with this. One, wood is typically not color fast. So you'll likely loose the image you create in a few years if you're just using wood alone as the color. Two, by combining various types of wood in a pixel grid type pattern, you're going to have issues with varying degrees of wood expansion and contraction. That may make the piece unstable and crack apart over time.

    I've actually experimented with this a bit. Though I didn't use the wood blocks for color, but rather texture. I was making 3D sculptures out of the wood and used SYP. Probably not the prettiest choice, but I was a college student at the time and had a pretty strict budget. Plus, who wants to spend big bucks on wood when almost half of it is going to be sawdust. It worked find in my case and one of the pieces I still have has held up fine after 20 years.

    One thing you could try is to stain the wood the colors you need. But instead of wasting money buying all of those stains, just make your own. You can make water-based stain out of acrylic paint and water. Just thin it out really good. Same with oil-based stain, just mixing various amounts of oil paint, walnut oil or BLO, and some kind of thinner like mineral spirits or turpentine. Stain is just thinned out paint that's mostly translucent. Well, some commercial stains, like Minwax, also add dyes to make it easier to get a more even color and more depth to the color. And you could do that too, if you wanted, but you'd probably have to buy specialty wood dyes, as most of the DIY wood dyes aren't very stable. But you can usually mix them to get the color you want. Whatever you do, make sure to use good quality artist grade paints. The cheap stuff isn't as vibrant and doesn't hold its color as well.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jul 2013
    Blog Entries
    Why not simply do this in veneer? Much more access to wood tones, and your construction method will be far more resistant to wood movement.

  11. #11
    Maple, ironically, can have this variation - especially when it starts to decay near the center. You should also look for "flamed" box elder. American walnut and cherry will have significant color variation between the heart and sap wood regions. But I'm in the US Northeast, so these are the kinds of woods available to me.

    Beware that some of the greatest visual movement occurs near regions of stress, split, knot on a board. These can cause stability problems.

    This being said, I agree with the comment regarding veneer. You will improve your stability and drastically open up the possibilities regarding color and figure.

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Sep 2016
    Modesto, CA, USA
    Title says unusual movement. Eucalyptus splits in vertical spirals as it dries and even while it is alive it can split. Splits easy enough when green. wait a week or more and it becomes very hard to split.
    Eucalyptus is now the tallest hardwood in North America. The original ones in Berkeley are about 200' feet and growing. I think some rainforest stuff in the Amazon may still be taller, for a while.
    Bill D
    Edit 290' is tallest rainforest tree but is three times as old as the Berkeley trees.
    Last edited by Bill Dufour; 05-15-2024 at 12:01 AM.

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