Sculpting Hard Timbers Part.1

Welcome to the first in a series of blogs that will discuss the nature of sculpting hard to very hard timbers that are native to Australia.
For the purposes of this discussion I will only be referring to local timbers which I have had the pleasure and sometimes challenges to work with.

 Möbius form in Gidgee(Acacia Cambagei)

When planning a new carving or sculpture we often take many things into consideration when selecting a timber to use such as workability, colour, figure, grain structure and so on. Australian timbers, like those from other countries, can be extremely varied in all or some of these characteristics and this give us tremendous opportunities to create a huge variety of forms

Many carvers have their favourite timbers that they are familiar with based upon their own experiences. I have found that it is a preference of many carvers to work with timbers that are soft enough to carve with hand tools yet provide a stiff enough medium to hold details desired in the design. There are many hours spent creating pieces using knife, axe, chisel, adze, scorp, hook knife and so on and it is a rewarding pursuit creating a myriad of designs using these tools.

What I want to discuss in this blog is how are we able to take the skills we have learned carving softer materials and transfer them over to work in harder material which cannot be carved with blades or other edged hand tools.

There are many great articles written about hardness of timber and where timber ranks on the scale and although there is sometimes conjecture and colloquialisms regarding the hardest timber in the world it is clear enough to say that Australia possesses many very hard timbers. 

I have selected Gidgee (Acacia cambagei) and Buloke (Allocasurina luehmannii) to work with for the course of this discussion. These are two tough timbers that have schooled me well, they are brutish at times and required some very specific treatment in order to shape them but they are also wonderful in many ways. The grain structure of the timbers, variations of colour and figure present in certain pieces are a wonder that can be  highlighted by a finished piece but the sheer heft of the material in your hand has a presence that is hard to compare.

Across the course of this discussion I will show the tools I have gathered and the techniques that I have found to be most effective when working in these materials. There are no doubt other combinations that can be employed to work in these timbers and I would be happy to hear from people at to what has worked for them. It is the working of the material which I will be focussing on rather than the step by step instruction of how to make a particular object.

Next up ... Right tools for the job