Woods that sink

I don’t know why, but I’ve long been fascinated by the idea of wood that doesn’t float. I suspect it has something to do with busted expectations. I like it when my preconceived notions are shattered. “Wood floats” is one of those things that Everybody Knows, and growing up in the United States we’re given little opportunity to learn otherwise. There are very few wood species in the U.S. that are denser than water.

I’ve had an ongoing discussion with a couple members of my local carvers’ group about woods that don’t float. One of them insists that there are fewer than a dozen such species. I had read somewhere that there were over 100, but couldn’t produce the data. So this weekend I tracked it down.

I first ran across the Wood Database article, Top ten heaviest woods, which showed me that there are at least 15 different species that are more dense than water.

The Global Wood Density Database contains density information from 16,468 wood samples collected from all over the world. The data covers 8,412 species and 1,683 genera. Some species have multiple samples.

It took less than an hour to download the data, massage it, and output the following list of woods that are more dense than water–that will not float.

One might ask why I even care about wood density. Beyond curiosity, which I think is a perfectly valid reason all in itself, density is the best indication of how hard a wood is to cut. If I know a wood’s density, then I know which of my tools I can use to cut it, and how hard I will have to work. It’s also one indicator of how well the wood will hold fine detail, although it’s not a perfect predictor. Basswood, for example, is less dense than Black Walnut, but holds detail better.

A few notes about the list:

  • Adding the common names and links to information about each species is an ongoing project.
  • I find it interesting that the database does not include entries for Texas Ebony (Ebenopsis ebano) or Desert Ironwood (Olnea tesota), two species that I know are more dense than water. And, curiously, two of the very few such North American species. I wonder how many other species are missing.
  • By my count, there are 183 species with samples that have specific gravity greater than 1.0. If you count those that have a specific gravity equal to 1.0, there are 209.
  • Those 209 species occur in a total of 183 genera. It is definitely not true that the very dense woods are concentrated within a very few genera.
  • No, I do not have plans to track down samples of each wood so that I can say I carved them. I certainly won’t turn down donations, but I’m not actively seeking them.
Common name Binomial name Specific gravity range
Acacia acuminata 0.90 – 1.01
Acacia amythethophylla 1.01 – 1.01
Acacia aneura 0.86 – 1.04
Acacia brachystachya 0.97 – 1.01
Acacia cambagei 1.05 – 1.16
Acacia erioloba 1.06 – 1.06
Acacia grasbyi 0.86 – 1.05
Acacia omalophylla 1.06 – 1.06
Acacia papyrocarpa 0.89 – 1.07
Acacia peuce 1.23 – 1.23
Acacia ramulosa 1.01 – 1.01
Acacia rhodoxylon 1.10 – 1.10
Acacia shirleyi 0.86 – 1.02
Acacia subtessarogona 1.10 – 1.10
Acacia suma 1.21 – 1.21
Acacia tetragonophylla 0.87 – 1.00
Acacia xiphophylla 1.14 – 1.14
Allocasuarina decaisneana 1.04 – 1.04
Amblygonocarpus andongensis 0.83 – 1.01
Amyris elemifera 1.05 – 1.05
Anadenanthera peregrina 0.77 – 1.08
Andira micrantha 1.00 – 1.00
Aniba canelilla 0.90 – 1.03
Apuleia ferrea 1.09 – 1.09
Archidendropsis basaltica 0.99 – 1.03
Astronium balansae 0.95 – 1.01
Astronium concinnum 1.07 – 1.07
Astronium graveolens 0.73 – 1.20
Astronium urundeuva 0.69 – 1.21
Bauhinia carronii 1.20 – 1.20
Bauhinia hookeri 1.06 – 1.06
Bocoa prouacensis 0.97 – 1.11
Brosimum guianense 0.48 – 1.03
Brownea indet 1.21 – 1.21
Bulnesia arborea 0.82 – 1.01
Bulnesia sarmientoi 0.77 – 1.28
Caesalpinia coriaria 1.03 – 1.20
Caesalpinia ferrea 1.17 – 1.17
Caesalpinia granadillo 1.03 – 1.03
Caesalpinia indet 1.05 – 1.05
Caesalpinia paraguariensis 0.96 – 1.18
Caesalpinia platyloba 1.03 – 1.03
Caesalpinia sclerocarpa 1.39 – 1.39
Caryocar pallidum 0.68 – 1.00
Cassia ferruginea 0.50 – 1.23
Cassia marginata 1.28 – 1.28
Casuarina pauper 0.84 – 1.10
Chamaecrista scleroxylon 0.90 – 1.01
Coccoloba pubescens 1.00 – 1.00
Combretum imberbe 1.06 – 1.06
Conocarpus erectus 0.69 – 1.00
Cordia ecalyculata 1.08 – 1.08
Corymbia polycarpa 0.78 – 1.01
Corymbia setosa 1.02 – 1.02
Coula edulis 0.79 – 1.02
Dalbergia indet 0.89 – 1.11
Dalbergia melanoxylon 0.90 – 1.20
Dalbergia nigra 0.68 – 1.00
Desbordesia glaucescens 0.80 – 1.02
Dialium bipindense 0.88 – 1.00
Dialium guianense 0.48 – 1.12
Dimorphandra parviflora 1.00 – 1.00
Dinizia excelsa 0.60 – 1.15
Diospyros burmanica 1.10 – 1.10
Diospyros ferrea 0.65 – 1.08
Diospyros hemicycloides 1.01 – 1.01
Diphysa occidentalis 1.18 – 1.18
Diplotropis purpurea 0.56 – 1.00
Dipteryx alata 0.88 – 1.10
Dipteryx odorata 0.66 – 1.09
Dodonaea viscosa 0.84 – 1.05
Elateriospermum tapos 0.64 – 1.06
Erythrophleum chlorostachys 1.02 – 1.05
Erythroxylum pulchrum 1.07 – 1.07
Eschweilera coriacea 0.70 – 1.13
Eschweilera grandiflora 0.75 – 1.00
Eschweilera ovata 0.81 – 1.03
Eschweilera pedicellata 0.85 – 1.02
Esenbeckia grandiflora 1.08 – 1.08
Esenbeckia nesiotica 1.19 – 1.19
Eucalyptus brownii 1.02 – 1.02
Eucalyptus decorticans 0.94 – 1.03
Eucalyptus griffithsii 1.01 – 1.01
Eucalyptus intertexta 1.03 – 1.03
Eucalyptus longicornis 0.93 – 1.01
Eucalyptus melanoxylon 0.92 – 1.00
Eucalyptus normantonensis 1.05 – 1.05
Eucalyptus oleosa 1.01 – 1.06
Eucalyptus orgadophila 1.06 – 1.06
Eucalyptus petraea 1.01 – 1.01
Eucalyptus platycorys 1.09 – 1.09
Eucalyptus populnea 0.85 – 1.02
Eucalyptus shirleyi 1.06 – 1.06
Eucalyptus tectifica 1.00 – 1.01
Eucalyptus tetrodonta 0.88 – 1.01
Eucalyptus websteriana 1.02 – 1.02
Eucalyptus whitei 1.06 – 1.06
Eucalyptus woodwardii 1.00 – 1.00
Eucalyptus yilgarnensis 1.01 – 1.01
Eugenia pseudopsidium 0.62 – 1.30
Exellodendron cordatum 1.01 – 1.01
Exostema caribaeum 0.99 – 1.00
Goniorrhachis marginata 1.01 – 1.01
Guaiacum coulteri 1.10 – 1.10
Guaiacum indet 1.05 – 1.05
Guaiacum officinale 1.08 – 1.25
Guaiacum sanctum 1.08 – 1.10
Guibourtia demeusei 0.69 – 1.04
Guibourtia hymenaefolia 1.00 – 1.00
Gymnanthes lucida 1.10 – 1.10
Haematoxylum campechianum 0.78 – 1.04
Heritiera littoralis 0.69 – 1.04
Hortia arborea 1.02 – 1.02
Humbertia madagascariensis 1.13 – 1.16
Hymenaea courbaril 0.59 – 1.00
Hymenaea parvifolia 0.75 – 1.00
Klainedoxa gabonensis 0.78 – 1.15
Krugiodendron ferreum 0.95 – 1.35
Lecythis lanceolata 1.01 – 1.01
Lecythis usitata 0.80 – 1.00
Leptospermum scoparium 1.03 – 1.03
Letestua durissima 0.92 – 1.03
Librevillea klainei 0.85 – 1.04
Licania hypoleuca 0.84 – 1.01
Licania laxiflora 1.03 – 1.03
Licania robusta 0.77 – 1.02
Licaria cannella 0.84 – 1.04
Machaerium acutifolium 1.12 – 1.12
Machaerium allemanii 0.84 – 1.00
Machaerium firmum 0.90 – 1.09
Machaerium fulvovenosum 1.04 – 1.04
Machaerium incorruptibile 0.85 – 1.01
Maclura tinctoria 0.70 – 1.02
Manilkara bidentata 0.77 – 1.06
Manilkara chicle 1.04 – 1.04
Manilkara hexandra 1.06 – 1.06
Manilkara huberi 0.79 – 1.04
Manilkara mochisia 1.08 – 1.08
Manilkara salzmannii 1.03 – 1.03
Marmaroxylon racemosum 0.75 – 1.00
Melanoxylon brauna 0.90 – 1.16
Memecylon myrsinoides 1.00 – 1.00
Metrodorea stipularis 1.05 – 1.05
Mezilaurus synandra 0.70 – 1.15
Micrandra scleroxylon 1.03 – 1.03
Mimosa arenosa 1.01 – 1.01
Mimosa elata 0.96 – 1.08
Mimosa tenuiflora 1.12 – 1.12
Minquartia guianensis 0.61 – 1.04
Myrocarpus fastigiatus 0.96 – 1.02
Parapiptadenia rigida 1.07 – 1.07
Patagonula americana 0.54 – 1.15
Pentadesma butyracea 0.56 – 1.00
Pimenta pseudocaryophyllus 1.00 – 1.00
Piptadenia obliqua 0.84 – 1.11
Pithecellobium dulce 0.50 – 1.00
Platymiscium trinitatis 0.69 – 1.08
Pouteria cladantha 0.89 – 1.03
Pouteria eugeniifolia 1.08 – 1.15
Pouteria guianensis 0.83 – 1.01
Pouteria melanopoda 0.90 – 1.08
Pouteria torta 0.52 – 1.01
Prosopis kuntzei 0.99 – 1.10
Psidium acutangulum 0.74 – 1.02
Psidium cattleianum 1.12 – 1.12
Pterocarpus santalinus 0.97 – 1.07
Pterodon emarginatus 0.82 – 1.00
Qualea megalocarpa 1.01 – 1.01
Raputia magnifica 1.12 – 1.12
Recchia mexicana 1.02 – 1.02
Rhizophora mangle 0.81 – 1.05
Rhus pyroides 1.01 – 1.01
Roupala brasiliensis 0.67 – 1.12
Sapindus laurifolius 0.85 – 1.02
Schinopsis balansae 0.99 – 1.20
Schinopsis brasiliensis 1.23 – 1.23
Schinopsis indet 1.00 – 1.00
Schinopsis quebracho-colorado 0.90 – 1.04
Schistostemon retusum 1.00 – 1.00
Schleichera oleosa 0.76 – 1.08
Scutia buxifolia 0.70 – 1.12
Sideroxylon indet 1.23 – 1.23
Sloanea nitida 0.90 – 1.01
Stryphnodendron adstringens 1.19 – 1.19
Swartzia bannia 0.86 – 1.11
Swartzia corrugata 0.91 – 1.20
Swartzia grandifolia 1.03 – 1.03
Swartzia leiocalycina 0.91 – 1.03
Swartzia panacoco 0.82 – 1.03
Swartzia recurva 0.77 – 1.00
Swartzia ulei 1.00 – 1.00
Tabebuia chrysantha 0.92 – 1.14
Tabebuia incana 0.82 – 1.06
Tabebuia obscura 1.21 – 1.21
Tabebuia ochracea 0.78 – 1.01
Tabebuia serratifolia 0.81 – 1.08
Talisia esculenta 0.67 – 1.10
Tamarindus indica 0.73 – 1.28
Tecoma azaliaceae 0.92 – 1.14
Tecoma curialis 0.79 – 1.05
Tecoma insignis 0.94 – 1.02
Tectona hamiltoniana 1.02 – 1.02
Teijsmanniodendron ahernianum 0.92 – 1.03
Terminalia fagifolia 1.00 – 1.00
Vouacapoua pallidior 0.80 – 1.00
Ziziphus mistol 0.77 – 1.02
Zollernia ilicifolia 1.05 – 1.05
Zollernia paraensis 0.95 – 1.05
Zygia selloi 1.33 – 1.33

New project: Carousel horse

A fellow carver made me a really good deal on a full-sized carousel horse blank.

The blank is made up of eight different pieces: body, neck, head, tail, and four legs. I placed the body on a stand and temporarily attached the pieces with dowels (but no glue) so I could get pictures.

This is a reasonably large figure. The body is about 48 inches long and 13 inches wide. Horizontally, the figure is 80 inches from the extended left front foot to the right rear. Vertically, it’s 60 inches from the bottom of the left rear foot to the top of the head.

Each piece is made from multiple pieces of basswood, which were glued together and then cut out on a very large bandsaw. The body is hollow, but still pretty heavy. Getting it onto that pole was quite a trick. Next time I’ll have somebody help me with it.

The neck piece should be back about two inches. I couldn’t get it exactly into place because of the pole. It will fit correctly once I carve the neck and mane. It does seem a little odd, though, that there would be that much extra wood on the neck piece. Maybe it won’t seem so odd to me once I start carving.

The lines you see drawn on the body are the saddle and trappings that the original owner had planned to carve. I’m not too excited about that design. I’ll likely erase those lines (by lightly sanding the body) and draw the saddle and trappings that I want.

Here, you can see that the head is slanted a little bit to the right. Carousel horses very often (most often) have their heads tilted to the right because carousels turn counter-clockwise. At least, American carousels do. Carousels in Britain turn clockwise. Turning the head to the right makes for a more attractive view to passersby.

Another consequence of carousels turning counter-clockwise is that the figures were usually more highly decorated on the right side. The right (or romance) side would contain not only the saddle, bridle, and reins, but also trappings—flowers, jewels, weapons, etc. to make the figure flashier. The left (or plain) side lacked all those adornments.

This horse is the size of a second or third row horse, about 3/4 the size of an outside row horse. It’s considered a “jumper,” for the obvious reason that all four legs are off the ground. On most carousels, this type of figure would be on a pole that moves up and down as the carousel rotates.

If you look closely at the right rear leg, you can see that my friend had started to carve the leg. It looks like he took a few swipes with a gouge, but that’s it. He also had attached horse shoes (actually, pony shoes) to two of the feet. I removed them because nails tend to attract water if they’re not coated, and I don’t want the feet to rot before I get around to carving this thing.

You probably can’t see it in this picture, but the tail actually rubs against the right rear leg. The tail is somewhat fragile, and on working carousels would get a lot of abuse. On many carousel figures, the tail is attached to the right rear leg with a dowel in order to relieve stress on where the tail is attached to the body. That additional strength prevents the tail from breaking off and perhaps being stolen as a souvenir.

It’ll be quite a while before I start carving this figure. First, I have to finish my Hundred Birds Project. I also have to learn a few things and obtain quite a few tools before I tackle this project. I do, however, have a plan.

I’ve purchased two books on carving miniature carousel horses in 1/8 scale: 1.5 inches equals one foot. Those figures will be 8 to 10 inches long, and perhaps 6 inches tall. I’ll carve a half dozen of those (at least) in order to familiarize myself with the basic horse shape and the details of carousel horses. That will also give me time to develop my drawing skills, which are sadly lacking, and improve my eye for symmetry.

Once I’m comfortable with the miniatures, I’m going to carve at least two horses in 1/3 scale. Those will be about two feet long and perhaps 18 inches tall.  For them, I’ll have to glue up basswood pieces for the individual parts (body, head, neck, legs, tail), cut them out on the bandsaw, carve them individually, and then attach everything.

I need to improve my drawing in order to draw the trappings that I want. In addition, learning to draw is very much an exercise in learning to see. Something I’ve struggled with in my carving is the ability to visualize a three-dimensional object when viewing two-dimensional drawings. I’ve noticed, in the the little bit of drawing I’ve done so far, that it’s improving my ability to visualize things.

And, of course, I have to learn to paint. One of the reasons I’ve gravitated to stylized carvings like my birds, and carving things other than basswood is because I’m not comfortable with my painting ability. But a carousel horse just isn’t very exciting if it’s not painted. So I’ll be learning to paint while I’m developing my ability to carve horses.

With all that I have to learn, I figure it’ll be at least a year before I start working on this full-sized horse. It’s sure to be a fun journey, though. I can hardly wait to get started.

More pictures in the gallery.

Lance Armstrong doping allegations

I was critical of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) last month because they were not being fully transparent in their allegations against Lance Armstrong, especially when they stripped him of his Tour de France titles and banned him from competing in cycling events. That changed last week, when the USADA released their report on the investigation.

I have to admit that I haven’t read the entire report in detail. I have, however, skimmed over most of it. I didn’t see a “smoking gun,” but there is a whole lot of evidence presented by a lot of people who rode beside Armstrong for a lot of years. Many of them seemingly have nothing to gain from making their statements, and in several cases stand to lose quite a bit in doing so. It strains belief to think that all those people are lying.

The preponderance of evidence strongly suggests that Lance Armstrong was in violation of the anti-doping rules when he won his seven Tours.

I find that very disappointing.

A popular sentiment is, “Who cares?” Those who hold this belief point out that you would have to go far down the leader board to find a cyclist who has not been found guilty of doping and as a result Armstrong was simply leveling the playing field. This argument is summed up by the ever-so-popular, “Everybody else was doing it.”

That may indeed be the case. It certainly seems that way. And regardless, Armstrong’s seven Tour wins after his battle with testicular cancer is an impressive achievement. But if he really did depend on doping to achieve those wins, his heroic achievement is diminished. If the allegations are true, the Armstrong myth is busted.

There are those of us who want to believe in a hero. Armstrong was that guy: the up-and-coming athlete who suffered a great loss (nearly losing his life to cancer) and came back, stronger than ever, to do something that nobody had ever done. And do it by the book, thumbing his nose at the crooked ways of his competitors. Before Armstrong, it was Rocky. But Rocky was a movie character. Armstrong was the real deal!

Or so I thought. It’s undeniable that Lance Armstrong won those Tours, but now it looks as though he did it by being like everybody else. That shatters the heroic illusion that I and many others had. We continued to deny the possibility as the evidence mounted, watching one disgraced rider after another found guilty of cheating, and pointing out that in all the tests that Armstrong had submitted to, he’d never tested positive for banned substances. Eventually, though, one has to admit that maybe he’s been wrong.

There are those who will take Armstrong to task for misleading people all this time, allowing himself to be held up as an example or as a great hero when in fact he was no different than anybody else. To those I will ask a simple question: In his shoes, what would you have done? If, as it appears, everybody was doing it, then if every cyclist who was accused of doping admitted it, there would have been nobody left to ride the Tour. The only reasonable response by anybody in that situation is to do exactly what most others have done: vigorously proclaim innocence until such time as there is undeniable proof to the contrary.

The fault for Armstrong’s “fall from grace,” at least in my eyes, lies with me rather than with him. I wanted to believe in the heroic, and I maintained that belief much longer than many others. But the is just too much evidence in that USADA report to ignore.

Is Armstrong guilty? I don’t know. Perhaps I never will unless he comes out and admits it. I still think he was the best cyclist of his time. But the “superhuman” myth is busted.

I will, however, continue looking for the heroic. I believe in the heroic in man. I’ve seen it. And I’m willing to be wrong from time to time in my pursuit of it.

Pumpkin houses

I’ve not been much of a “seasonal” carver. That is, many carvers make Easter carvings in the spring, Halloween and Thanksgiving carvings for fall, Santa figures and nativity scenes for Christmas, etc. I, on the other hand, typically carve whatever strikes my fancy at the moment, although I’ve carved Christmas-themed figures for family and friends a few times.

It just so happened that I saw this project in the Fall 2012 issue of Woodcarving Illustrated Magazine, and had some time over the weekend to work on it. Actually, I started the first one at some point last week. I finished it Friday night, and spent most of my spare time Saturday and Sunday carving three more.

The wood is actually the bark from a cottonwood tree. The bark can grow eight inches thick. When the tree dies and dries, you can peel the bark off. People use it to carve faces and whimsical houses. I’ve carved a few pieces in the past, and of course I carved a cottonwood bark bird for my Hundred Birds Project.

All four of these came from the same piece of bark. It’s not the best bark I’ve worked with. The outer 3/8 inch is very hard and brittle, and tended to flake off easily. I used a whole bunch of CA glue (superglue) putting things back together. It’s not uncommon having to use superglue on a bark carving, but this stuff was worse than any I’d ever worked with before. Carving down to the workable area was difficult.

The only other hard part about carving these things is hollowing out the back. The easiest way is with the power carver, although that makes a heck of a mess and it’s distressingly easy to go too far and remove a little too much. I used power to hollow out two of these, and my trusty hook knife (originally purchased for making spoons and bowls) for the other two.

They’re fun to carve, and only take a couple of hours each. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately, depending on your point of view), just about everybody who sees them wants one. There’s no way I could keep up with demand.

It was a fun weekend diversion. I have two more pieces of bark cut to size, which I’ll eventually turn into pumpkin houses, but I think that’ll be it for a while. I have to finish my birds (only 22 more to go!), and then I have a new long-term project to work on.



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