Iroko and Maple Wood


iroko treeIroko is a hardwood from tropical Africa. It is one of the woods sometimes referred to as African Teak, although it is not always suitable as a substitute for teak. In much of the literature on this timber the names of the trees that yields it are given as Chlorophora excelsa and Chlorophora regia. The wood is used for a variety of purposes including boat-building, domestic flooring and furniture.


maple treeMaples are trees or shrubs in the genus Acer. There are approximately 125 species, most of which are native to Asia, but several species also occur in Europe, northern Africa, and North America.

Maples are variously classified in a family of their own, the Aceraceae, or (together with the Hippocastanaceae) included in the family Sapindaceae. Modern classifications, including the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group classification, favor inclusion in Sapindaceae.

The word Acer is derived from a Latin word meaning “sharp” (referring to the characteristic points on the leaves) and was first applied to the genus by the French botanist Joseph Pitton de Tournefort in 1700. Maples are mostly trees growing to 10-40 metres (30-130 ft) in height. Others are shrubs less than 10 metres tall with a number of small trunks originating at ground level. Most species are deciduous, but a few in southern Asia and the Mediterranean region are evergreen. Maples are distinguished by opposite leaf arrangement. The leaves in most species are palmately veined and lobed, with 3-9 veins each leading to a lobe, one of which is in the middle.

A small number of species differ in having palmate compound, pinnate compound, pinnate veined or unlobed leaves. Several species, including the Paperbark Maple (Acer griseum), Manchurian Maple (Acer mandshuricum), Nikko Maple (Acer maximowiczianum), and Three-flowered Maple (Acer triflorum), have trifoliate leaves. One species, Manitoba Maple (Acer negundo), has pinnately compound leaves that may be simply trifoliate or may have five, seven, or rarely nine leaflets. One maple, the Hornbeam Maple (Acer carpinifolium), has pinnately-veined simple leaves that resemble those of hornbeam. Red Maple (Acer rubrum) flowers.

The flowers are regular, pentamerous, and borne in racemes, corymbs, or umbels. They have five sepals, five petals about 1 to 6 mm long, 12 stamens about 6-10 mm long in two rings of six, and two pistils or a pistil with two styles. The ovary is superior and has two carpels, whose wings elongate the flowers, making it easy to tell which flowers are female.

Maples flower in late winter or early spring, in most species with or just after the leaves appear, but in some before them. Maple flowers are green, yellow, orange or red.

Though individually small, the effect of an entire tree in flower can be striking in several species. Some maples are an early spring source of pollen and nectar for bees. The distinctive fruit are called samaras or “maple keys”. These seeds occur in distinctive pairs each containing one seed enclosed in a “nutlet’ attached to a flattened wing of fibrous, papery tissue. They are shaped to spin as they fall and to carry the seeds a considerable distance on the wind. Seed maturation is usually in a few weeks to six months of flowering, with seed dispersal shortly after maturity.

Most species require stratification in order to germinate, and some seeds can remain dormant in the soil for several years before germinating.


Tree in Kiang West/The Gambia

The name mahogany is used when referring to numerous varieties of dark-colored wood, originally the wood of the species Swietenia mahagoni, known as West Indian or Cuban Mahogany. It was later used also for the wood of Swietenia macrophylla, which is closely related, and known as Belize Mahogany.

Today, all species of Swietenia are listed by CITES, and are therefore protected. Species of Swietenia cross readily when they grow in proximity, the hybrid between S. mahagoni and S. macrophylla is widely planted. Mahogany is also the national tree of Belize. The name “mahogany” is also commonly used to refer to the African genus Khaya (closely related to Swietenia), hence the term African Mahogany. “Mahoganies” may refer to the wider group of all the timbers yielded by the three related genera Swietenia, Khaya and Entandrophragma. The timbers of Entandrophragma are traded under their individual names, sometimes with “mahogany” attached as a suffix, for example “sipo” may be referred to as “sipo mahogany”. In addition, the timber trade deals with various so-called “mahoganies”, under a variety of different names, most notably “Philippine mahogany”. These woods are unrelated to the above referenced Mahogany.

Mahogany has a generally straight grain and is usually free of voids and pockets. It has a reddish brown color which darkens over time, and displays a beautiful reddish sheen when polished. It has excellent workability, and is very durable and slow to rot. These properties make it a favorable wood for boat making, as tradition has shown, as well as for making furniture and upholstery (see Chippendale), musical instruments, and other durable objects. Some of the gift shops in the Caribbean especially St. Croix offer Cuban Mahogany in the form of jewellery. Mahogany is a very popular material for drum making, because of its great integrity and capability to produce a very dark, warm tone compared to other more common wood types like maple or birch. The famous Beatles sound of the 60s was made with Ludwig Drums in mahogany shells.

Today, several drum manufacturers have rediscovered the features of mahogany shells, resulting in several high end series offering shells made in this wood. A wide variety of electric guitars are also made from mahogany, like Gibson’s Les Paul line and most of the PRS guitars among others. It is noted, again, for its dark properties, as well as its weight (Gibson Les Pauls may weigh as much as 15 pounds), the combination of which produces a warm, rounded tone with huge sustain, for which the guitar is famous. It should also be noted that Mahogany is a very popular choice of material for Luthiers constructing all grades of acoustic guitars. Mahogany is a Japanese analogue to the English “haymaker”.

Cherry Wood

Cherry Tree

The word cherry refers to both the tree and the fleshy fruit that consists of enclosing a single hard stone seed, otherwise known as a drupe. The cherry belongs to the family Rosaceae, genus Prunus, along with almonds, peaches, plums, apricots and bird cherries. The subgenus, Cerasus, is distinguished by having the flowers in small corymbs of several together (not singly, nor in racemes), and by having a smooth fruit with only a weak groove or none along one side. The subgenus is native to the temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, with two species in North America, three in Europe, and the remainder in Asia.

The word “cherry” comes from the French word “cerise,” which comes in turn from the Latin words cerasum and Cerasus (the Classical name of the modern city of Giresun in Turkey). The cherries selected for eating are derived primarily from two species, the Wild Cherry (P. avium), which has given rise to the Sweet Cherry to which most cherry cultivars belong, and the Sour Cherry (P. cerasus), used mainly for cooking and jam making. Both species originate in Europe and western Asia; they do not cross-pollinate each other. The other species, although having edible fruit, are not grown extensively for consumption, except in northern regions where the two main species will not grow. Given the high costs of production, from irrigation, sprays and labour costs, in addition to their proneness to damage from rain and hail, the cherry is relatively expensive. Nonetheless, there is high demand for the fruit.

Major commercial cherry orchards in Europe extend from the Iberian peninsula east to Asia Minor; they are also grown to a smaller extent north to the British Isles and southern Scandinavia. In the United States, most sweet cherries for fresh use are grown in California and Washington. Important sweet cherry cultivars include ‘Bing’, ‘Brooks’, ‘Kristin’, ‘Tulare’, ‘King’, and ‘Rainier’. Oregon and Michigan provide light-coloured ‘Royal Ann’ (‘Napoleon’; alternately ‘Queen Anne’) cherries for the maraschino cherry process. Most sour cherries are grown in four states bordering the Great Lakes, in Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, however, native and non-native cherries grow well in Canada as well. Sour cherries include Nanking and Evans Cherry. Traverse City, Michigan claims to be the “Cherry Capital of the World”, hosting a National Cherry Festival and making the world’s largest cherry pie. Likewise in Australia the New South Wales town of Young is famous nationwide as the “Cherry Capital of Australia”, and also host The National Cherry Festival which is famous internationally. From this town alone millions of tons of cherries are exported worldwide to Asia, Europe and North America given that, they are produced during the northern hemisphere’s winter (off season).

Popular varieties include the ‘Montmorency’, ‘Morello’, ‘North Star’, ‘Early Richmond’, ‘Titans’, ‘Lamberts’ and the very sweet and highly demanded ‘Ron’. Cherries have a very short fruiting season. In Australia they are usually at their peak around Christmas time, in southern Europe in June, in America in June, and in the UK in mid July, always in the summer season. Annual world production (as of 2003) of domesticated cherries is about 3 million tonnes, of which a third are sour cherries. In many parts of North America they are among the first tree fruits ripe; hence the colloquial term “cherry” to mean “new” or “the first”, e.g. “in cherry condition”. As well as the fruit, cherries also have attractive flowers, and they are commonly planted for their flower display in spring; several of the Asian cherries are particularly noted for their flower display. The Japanese sakura in particular are a national symbol celebrated in the yearly Hanami festival. Many flowering cherry cultivars (known as ‘ornamental cherries’) have the stamens and pistils replaced by additional petals (“double” flowers), so are sterile and do not bear fruit. They are grown purely for their flowers and decorative value. The most common of these sterile cherries is the cultivar ‘Kanzan’. Cherry flowers are sometimes eaten by the larva of the Green Pug moth and the leaves by the larva of other Lepidoptera including Coxcomb Prominent and Yellow-tail.

Cherries have been shown to have several health benefits. Cherries contain anthocyanins, which is the red pigment in berries. Cherry anthocyanins have been shown to reduce pain and inflammation[1]. Anthocyanins are also potent antioxidants. Cherries have also been shown to contain high levels of melatonin[2]. Research has shown that people who have heart attacks have low melatonin levels [3]. Besides being an anti-oxidant, melatonin has also been shown to be important for the function of the immune system. Research also indicates that melatonin suppresses COX-2.

All About Wood

tree knotWe all know what trees are, but do we really know what wood is? Read on to find out more…

Wood is a solid material derived from woody plants, notably trees but also shrubs. Wood from the latter is only produced in small sizes, reducing the diversity of uses. In its most common meaning, “wood” is the secondary xylem of a woody plant, but this is an approximation only: in the wider sense, wood may refer to other materials and tissues with comparable properties. Wood is a heterogeneous, hygroscopic, cellular and anisotropic material. Wood is composed of fibers of cellulose (40%–50%) and hemicellulose (15%–25%) held together by lignin (15%–30%).

Wood has been used for millennia for many purposes. One of its primary uses is as fuel. It is also used as for making artworks, furniture, tools, and weapons, and as a construction material. Wood has been an important construction material since humans began building shelters, houses, boats. Nearly all boats were made out of wood till the late 1800’s. It remains in common use today for wooden boats and wooden houses. In buildings made of other materials, wood will still be found as a supporting material (notably in roof construction) or exterior decoration.

Wood to be used for construction work is commonly known as lumber in North America. Elsewhere, lumber will usually refer to felled trees, and the word for sawn planks (etc) ready for use will be timber. Wood which in its native form is unsuitable for construction may be broken down mechanically (into fibres or chips) or chemically (into cellulose) and used as a raw material for other building materials such as chipboard, engineered wood, hardboard, medium-density fibreboard (MDF), oriented strand board (OSB). Also, wood fibres are an important component of most paper, and cellulose is used as a component of some synthetic materials. It can also be used for kinds of flooring for example laminate flooring. Wood can also be used for cutlery, such as chopsticks and Toothpicks, and utensils, such as the wooden spoon.

In future posts I will talk about the different kinds of wood that I work with on a daily basis.

About My Bandsaw

grizzlyMy big bandsaw is a Grizzly G1019. I sure am happy with it. It’s not the biggest or the best, but it does everything I need it for. If I remember right, it was about $300. It’s a 14″ with a 3/4 horsepower motor. I think it was a great deal. It came 3 days after I ordered it. I picked it up at the local freight terminal. I opened the box in the bed of my pickup and carried in the separate pieces. It weighs 195 pounds and I didn’t have anyone to help me with it.

It went together fairly easily. Setting the bandsaw unit onto the stand was not as bad as I thought it might be. Got a chance to do it again a few weeks later when I got the riser block. Anyway, it came with a blade already installed and it seemed to be properly tensioned and tracking O. K. I adjusted the guides, squared the table and switched it on. It cut straight as an arrow with no blade lead. I couldn’t have been happier. I knew the stock blade wouldn’t be very good so I got a couple of better blades. Cut out a few boxes and then tried some resawing. I could only resaw 6″ without the riser and it handled it very well. Decided to get the riser block which added another 6″ for resawing. Putting the riser on went smoothly. Had to buy a wrench for the big bolt which holds it together. Again, setting the head on the block was easier than I thought. Checked it for coplanar and finished putting it back together. It still saws with no drift. Of course, the blades now are 12″ longer. 105″ instead of 93″.

I replaced the metal guide blocks with wood blocks. The first ones I made were oak, but when I got a piece of Iroko I used that. It’s oily and I thought that might be good. Plus I don’t think anyone else has Iroko guide blocks! I can set the small blades, teeth and all, in-between the blocks and squeeze the blade fairly tightly. That holds the blade true. I’ve rounded the backs of the small blades with a stone and put on some vegetable oil for lubrication. The small blades are 3/16″- 10 T.P.I. raker blades. They work very well for cutting out the drawers of my bandsaw boxes. They will literally “turn on a dime”. And they cut smoothly. I’ve gotten so I can change a blade in about 5 minutes, so for the outsides of the boxes I can use a 1/4″ or 3/8″ hook tooth blade with fewer teeth per inch. They cut faster, but there is a little more sanding to do. That’s easy to do on the outside of a box.

I have been using Timberwolf blades. They work with less tension, which I think is good. I have only resawn 8″ boards so far, with a 1/2″ wide blade, but the 3/4 hp. motor is very strong. It only took a couple of minutes each to resaw 8′ Cherry and Iroko. I made a wood fence for resawing. I just clamp it to the table. Along with a feather board, it works just fine.

After using the saw for over a year, I finally converted it to 240 volts. I was popping the breaker during resawing unless I was very careful. Now that isn’t happening any more.

How to Make a Bandsaw Box

Actually, the title should be “How I’m making bandsaw boxes”. My system is still evolving and I’m still learning. If you’re reading this, you’ve probably noticed that most of my jewelry boxes are made from a variety of laminated wood glued into blocks. I found that planing the wood before gluing it up helps make for better joints. Planing works best with longer pieces of lumber. Gluing works best with shorter pieces. I tried gluing longer boards together and then cutting blocks to length, but I found it too hard to clamp and get a good glue job out of it. So I plane the wood first and then cut it to length. It’s also nice to have a planer because a variety of thicknesses are obtainable after using the bandsaw to resaw boards. A nice looking board can be resawn to use on the front and the back of a box for a matched look. With a good bandsaw a 3/4″ board can easily be made into two 1/4″ or thicker pieces.

After they’ve been cut to length, the pieces are stacked up and glued. I like a balanced look to my boxes so I usually have an odd number of pieces to glue together with thinner pieces for the front and back of the box. It may be a 1/2″ or a 3/4″ piece in the center with a piece of 1-1/2″ on each side of that finished off with a 1/4″ front and back. Or it might be three 3/4″ pieces sandwiched between five 1/4″ pieces. Or whatever works to end up with a box about 4″ deep. Most of my boxes are about 4″ deep. I think that looks good and also my spindle sander is only a 4″ one. There is a lot of sanding to do! I use Titebond II for glue with a very small paint roller to get an even coat on each surface to be glued. Then I’ll use six clamps on each block. That may seem like a lot of clamps for only a 6×8″ or 8×8″ block, but it’s not a very happy moment when you see a bad glue line on one of the drawers after cutting them out. I try to let the glue cure overnight even though a few hours would probably be enough time. The back piece is NOT glued on at this time. That is glued on after the drawers are cut out. If you do glue it on it will have to be cut off before the drawers are cut out. If you are using a solid block of wood for a box, the back needs to be cut off before the drawers are cut out. After the glue is dry and the clamps are off, pieces of double-sided sticky tape or mounting tape is used to hold the back in place while the outside of the box is cut using the bandsaw. This way the back is cut at the same time the rest of the box’s outside is cut. It doesn’t have to be done at this time. Cutting the back separately, especially after gluing it on, is another option.

I have a few box designs I use. I drew them out and copied them to my computer. I can resize them or mirror them using Photoshop. I then print them using a laser printer. The laser printer allows for ironing the pattern onto the wood. The pattern can also be taped or glued on to the block. I have some 1/8″ Plexiglas that I have used for other patterns, but I never got around to making any for these boxes. Freehand drawing or freehand cutting also will work.

After cutting the outside shape of the box the back is removed. The mounting tape works especially well, as there is a little space to allow a putty knife in. The drawers are then cut out. After lightly sanding the insides of the body the back is glued on, clamped and allowed to set. Again, the more clamps, the better. I went through a few different ways trying to clean up the excess glue there will be on the insides of the box and it’s drawers. I now use a small stiff-bristled brush with some water to get it off. Working quickly, right after the gluing is done, I get what I can with a wet rag and the rest using the brush. Dip it in the water, shake it off, wipe some glue off, and repeat. And repeat. Then wipe off any excess water. Getting all the glue out of the inside of the box isn’t as important as it is with the drawers. It’s harder to see into the body of the box, so I don’t think it’s as important. But in any case, wherever there is any glue left, the finish won’t be the same there. And it’s hard to sand in those corners.

Now I cut 1/8″ – 1/4″ off of the front and back of each of the drawer blanks. Since I mostly use a thinner piece of wood on the fronts and backs of each box, I cut just that thickness off. Then the insides of the drawers are cut out. I try to keep the thickness of each drawer about an 1/8″ or a little more. I think about the curves. I try not to make them too sharp to make for easier sanding. The inside of each drawer is sanded and the backs and fronts are glued and clamped. I do a good job sanding the insides of the drawers. Again smaller clamps for the smaller drawer pieces, but use enough of them to make sure the joints are tight. With a small gluing surface, like the drawer parts, the glue only takes an hour or so to set.

At this stage the inside of everything has been sanded and glued and it’s time to sand the outsides. The outside of the box can be well sanded and the edges rounded off. There is nothing to fit there, just make it look good. The drawers are a different story. If they are cut well and minimally sanded, they will fit nicely. The edges can be rounded. In fact, I round off all of the edges. I have 60, 100, 150, and 220 grit sandpaper. I mostly use just 150 and 220 on the drawers. Sometimes I need to use 100 on the outside of a box. I hardly need to use the 60 grit paper. After everything has been sanded and looks and fits right, the drawer pulls are glued on. The pulls are made from some of the cutoff pieces or of some contrasting wood. Again, cut, sand, glue and clamp. Get all the excess glue off.

After everything has been sanded, it’s time for the finish. Mineral spirits can be wiped on to check to see if there is any glue or other defect showing. If I want a shiny finish I use polyurethane. For a more natural look I use Danish oil. Both finishes take 3 or more coats. The Danish oil is brushed on and allowed to soak in. it will actually soak right through 1/8″ or a 1/4″. Any excess is wiped off. The polyurethane needs to be lightly sanded between coats. Thinning with mineral spirits helps to keep the runs to a minimum. Actually I have a hard time with polyurethane so I’ve been using the Danish oil a lot. No runs, no drips, no errors.

As you can tell, I’ve learned some stuff and still need to learn a lot more. If you have any questions or any advise, please feel free to email me.