Introduction: Exotic Woods - Awesome Vs Awful!

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Exotic hardwoods are quite spectacular, featuring bold colors and interesting grains. Many of them are very hard and dense which makes them great to turn on the lathe. I didn't have much experience with turning different tropical hardwoods, so I thought it would be interesting to test a variety and make some cheese knives handles in the process. Here's my experience (hint, some woods I absolutely loved, and some I hated!)

Step 1: Design

So I got a bunch of different exotic hardwoods, some which I never heard of before, never mind actually worked with. I also got a set of cheese knives that needed handles. First up, I started with playing with design concepts. How big of a handle did I want for each knife? I settled on a similar shape for all of them, however a slightly different thickness and length, depending on the knife. Then I paired each knife, with a different wood. So today I'm going to work with African Blackwood, Desert Ironwood, Redheart, Black Palm and Osage Orange.

Step 2: Preparing the Blanks

Right off the bat, I cut the blocks to size on the miter saw.

Next, finding and marking out the center in each.

Then, drilling a hole in each one.

Finally, screwing in the insert attached to each cheese knife. Now I can screw in a mandrel that you attach to the lathe.

Now, in my highly scientific study, let's go to the lathe and start turning.

Step 3: African Blackwood

First up - African blackwood.

This wood grows in central & southern Africa, and measures 3,670 on the Janka hardness scale.

When I first started turning this I couldn't believe how awesome it was. It felt like turning butter, I got nice thick shavings, it was super smooth, and I felt like I was off to a great start here. It was really fun to turn. I did some sanding, and finishing with shellac, cut off the end part, sanded that smooth, then took it off the mandrel and attached it to one of the knives.

Step 4: Redheart

Next up we have redheart - this one grows in the region from southern Mexico to southern Brazil and ranks 1,210 on the Janka hardness scale.

Now redheart really lives up to its name. It's super red! I could definitely tell that this one wasn't as hard and buttery as the blackwood, however it still turned really nicely, I got some beautiful thick shavings, it wasn't too dry, plus I was just so memorized by the color, I thought it was so cool.

So just finishing up this redheart handle, and the color really pops when you get some finish on there, and this is the shellac again. Then cutting it off, sanding, finishing adding some wax polish, and trying it on. I really liked this wood as well.

Step 5: Black Palm

Now let's move on to the black palm wood. This one grows in tropical Asia and Africa, and ranks 2,020 on the Janka hardness scale. When I first started to handle this, you could really see how fibrous it is, it looks really interesting, unlike the other species in terms of the grain.

Right off the bat, I got dry hard little needles coming at me, that flew surprisingly far, the dust was really dry, and the shavings came off not in beautiful curls, but in angry little needles. I had to stop a couple of times to shake them off, and you can see here how dry and dusty it was. At this point I was sure I hated black palm and I never want to turn it again. It was uneven to finish, and looks pretty interesting with the super open grain, but after turning this one, I had to take a break, wash my clothes and take a shower.

Step 6: Desert Ironwood

So back the next day, and this time I'm working with desert Iron wood, which is grown in the southwestern US & northwestern Mexico. This one ranks 3,260 on the Janka hardness scale, so pretty high up there.

Immediately as I started turning this one, I loved it. It's really dense and hard, yet buttery to turn and I was able to get those really nice shavings. Throughout this project, I've really come to appreciate certain types of shavings - if they flow almost like water, like they're connected, and they're pretty thick and not too dry - well, then the wood is gold. Desert iron wood is gold. Loved this one. There was however a knot so I got a small crack right where the insert was, so I simply mixed up some epoxy, filled in the crack and glued the insert back in place. Then I finished it up on the lathe, sanded, and finished it.

Step 7: Osage Orange

Ok, so the final wood I'm turning is Argentine Osage Orange. This one grows in tropical America, so west indies, central & south america and measures 2,380 on the Janka scale. This one turned pretty nice. A little dry, and not quite as buttery to turn as the African blackwood or the desert ironwood, yet still really nice. It sanded really nice, and of course that yellow really pops when you put on a finish. And like with all the handles, I started with shellac, and then ended with a final coat of wax polish. And this one is for the cheese slicer, which is a tool that you'll find in every single Swedish household.

Step 8: Conclusion - Watch the Video

For a much better perspective on each wood, plus to see the knives in use, make sure to check out the video!