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Scrolling Tips

Advice on how you can improve your scrolling can be found by simply asking your last customer, family member, or neighbor. The best advice can be found by asking other scrollers. Saw has gathered on these pages some information that has been printed in our newsletter, some that can be found on the internet, and some from scrollers who are willing to share and be helpful to other scrollers. You will also find some useful charts provided by scrollsaw industry vendors. We are always looking for new tips and techniques, so if you know a tip or a technique that is not listed here, please use the form on the right to send it to us. We will gladly post your tip on the internet and publish it in SAW Dust.

From the Inland Empire Scrollsaw Association

First, about the numbers used for identifying blades. The numbers 2/0, 1, 3 etc. up to 12 do not mean much. It just tells you that the lower number is the smallest and the higher number the biggest. The numbers with a slash are just the opposite. A # 2/0 is larger than a # 3/0.  For wood, the # 12 is the highest and largest.
The most common blades are the skip tooth with or without reverse teeth and the blades with double teeth, also with or without reverse teeth. When there is an “R” after the number it means Reverse Teeth. One more item you maybe want to know is what does t.p.i. mean?  It means Teeth per Inch. A Gross of blades is 12 Dozen or 144 blades. On reverse teeth blades, the bottom 3/4” of teeth point upwards.
Remember that most of the teeth have to point downwards when sawing, with the reverse teeth pointing up. Don’t feel bad if you have it wrong or with the teeth in the back, we all have done that. If your eyes aren’t good enough to see which way the teeth face, slide the blade gently across a finger and you’ll be able to tell.
My skip tooth blades (the FD-SR) are a little more aggressive than most other blades. The double teeth blades do not cut as aggressivly and some people like that. They feel that they have better control over the blade because they cut slower.
Some people are more comfortable using blades without the reverse teeth, they feel it keeps the wood from jumping. However, with a little pressure you will have no problem with a blade that has reverse teeth. The reason I mention this, is that most people take the hold-down foot off. It is in the way to see the pattern lines clearly. Only scroll saws sold in the USA have this, no other country requires it.
The blades with reverse teeth will leave almost no fuzz on the bottom, eliminating sanding.
My recommendation would be to start with a # 5 double teeth, like the FD-PSR and try the FD-SR # 5 and 7. You can ask 3 or 4 scrollers about what blade they like to use and most likely they all use a different blade. The best way for a beginner is, to buy a few different sizes and in different makes. Experiment with them and find what you like best.                                        

Don’t start with intricate patterns or compound cutting. The best way to start is to take some scrap pieces of wood and draw some lines, steps, sharp angels and curving lines. Try to stay on the line. If you get off, don’t try to rush back. Take it easy and slowly merge back to the line. On most patterns, if you get off the pattern line, nobody will notice and you are the only one that knows.
Most scroll saw blades will not cut a straight line, like you do on a band saw. The blade wants to go to the right, therefore you will notice that you have to push your wood to the left to stay on the line.
This is due to a little burr on the right side of the blade, when in the saw. Most people think that the blades are stamped. This is not true. They are milled. However, there is still a burr, sometimes more or less. A brand new cutter will leave less of a burr than one that is wearing out.
Most scroll saw blades will not cut a straight line, like you do on a band saw. The blade wants to go to the right, therefore you will notice that you have to push your wood to the left to stay on the line. This is due to a little burr on the right side of the blade, when in the saw. Most people think that the blades are stamped. This is not true. They are milled. However, there is still a burr, sometimes more or less. A brand new cutter will leave less of a burr than one that is wearing out.
By using the 2" clear package tape you will eliminate most of the burning.  Especially in wood with oil, like Purple Heart etc. and very hard wood.  I like to first put the pattern on the wood and than putting the tape over the pattern.  Some like to put it on the wood first.  It is all up to the individual. Some might even use a different tape but most like to use the package tape.
It is almost like the tape lubricates the blade.  Not quite.  The tape has a chemical that is like a Silicone and releases friction.  If this chemical would not be on top of the tape, you never would be able to un-roll the tape from it self.

This is one of the hardest things to figure out. The common saying is, “If it does not sell it might be over priced.  But, if you can’t keep enough on hand, you are under priced”. Don’t believe most people who say that they make a living at scroll sawing.  It might be there full time job, but making a living is something else.  When going to a craft show, it is was usually assumed that you should do at least 10 times your booth cost.  So, if the cost of a booth is $50.00, you should expect to sell at least $500.00 worth of projects. You might have made some nice money, not counting your hours. If you stay over night, consider a motel room, meals, travel etc. Do you pay your spouse for helping you?
Many people make things to sell and do craft shows because it is fun. They hope to make enough to cover their cost and maybe a little more.
Some, but very few, actually make a living.
Enjoy yourself doing scroll sawing. Buy a new tool from time to time, and go out for a nice dinner from the money you made. But a living?

These tips have been submitted by scrollers

Fuming Wood Tip from Jacky Funk
When staining fretwork made of oak, I do not stain but I fume the wood.  After project is cut out, I make a tent from a garbage bag, I put a piece of scrap board on the bottom. I place my project in the bag on the board, I then put a glass pie dish inside the bag away from the scrap board, I carefully pore 1 cup of industrial strength ammonia into the pie pan. I then secure the bag tightly making sure my project does not touch ammonia or sides of bags. I add strips of wood as needed to prevent this (before I pore the ammonia. I wait 3 days and my wood darkens. every nook and cranny is evenly darkened. It works wonderfully. This is an old way of staining oak. Make sure you wear goggles and a mask because the ammonia fumes are very strong.

Homemade Porcupine Pad Tip from Wayne Apon
I took a 3/4" piece of wood about 5" square and marked off 1/2" grid horizontal and vertical. I then took my pneumatic brad nailer and shot a nail at the intersection of each square. This is excellent for painting those real small pieces.
Place this pad on an old lazy susan table and you can rotate the table as you work at finishing. This will make it easier to get all sides without having to walk around the project.

Stack Cutting Tip from John Ludwig
To hold together a stack of 1/8" plywood I use Scotch 3-M Brand Blue low tack masking tape. No sticky mess to cleanup after I'm done cutting.

Use Hacksaw Blade Tip from Mark Tovar written by Tom Sevy
A DeWalt, and other scrollsaws with similar clamps will allow you to mount a mini-hacksaw blade in your saw. Just as a 2" blade in a band saw helps with cutting straight lines, a 1/2" blade in a scroll saw will also help with cutting straight lines. With the hacksaw blade you could also cut several metals, but I'd cover the table first to avoid scratching it.

Filing Tool Tip from Mark Tovar written by Tom Sevy
To make an excellent tool for filing, removing nibs after scrolling, and for many other uses, mount a jig saw (saber saw) blade in a wood handle. Using a blade with fine teeth will give a great tool. One way to mount in a wood handle is to drill a hole in the end of a 3/4" or larger dowel about four inches long. Fill the hole with epoxy and then insert the blade and let the epoxy set overnight.

Hangers for Christmas ornaments Tips written by Tom Sevy
Fish hooks make great hangars for Christmas Tree Ornaments. Using wire cutters, cut off the barb, but leave a little of the curve on the shank. Using a 1/16" drill bit, drill a hole in the edge of the ornament, then slip the "fish hook" into the hole. By leaving part of the curve on the hook you will get a good strong friction fit. A hook from a hook.
Cut enough pieces of heavy thread about three inches long. Squeeze some white or yellow glue on a piece of cardboard. Fold a piece of thread in half, dip your finger tip in the glue, roll the thread ends in the glue on your fingers, and set aside to dry for a few minutes. The whole purpose of the glue is to make the thread stiff and somewhat pointed. Then use a 1/16" drill bit to make a hole in the edge of the ornament. Put a drop of glue over the 1/16" hole and insert the stiff point of the thread. Let dry and you have a hangar. For larger ornaments use strong string and a 1/8" drill bit.
The general idea in #2 will also work for using fish line which gives an almost invisible hangar. But, fish line is so smooth that you'll have to tie an overhand knot in the ends. Then, put a spot of glue over the drill hole, and push in the fishing line knot. The glue won't stick to the fish line, but it will keep the knot from slipping out of the hole. Very small fishing line (4 pound test) will provide a VERY strong hangar. The trouble is in tying the overhand knot. Here's a secret to making it easier to tie the knot. Cut the fish line into 6 or 8 inch long pieces, fold over, and tie the knot about half way up and snip off all but about 1/4" beyond the knot. Most people find it very difficult to tie a knot near the end of slippery fish line. It is much easier to tie a knot in about the middle. Some people will find it easier to pull the knot tight with small pliers because the fish line is so smooth.

Crafting Patterns from a Photo Tips written by Dustycanuck (Dave)
1.  Scan photo--once scanned, save it as JPEG format.
2.  Duplicate--this gives you a back-up in case of mis-haps ( I never get it right on the first try)
3.  Crop scanned photo to achieve desired preliminary results--you don't really want all that sky and trees, etc. in the back-ground.
4.  Erase all remaining back-ground--I generally enlarge scanned photo to 300%--400% to speed up the process. (Use the Eraser in the tool bar)--this can be a tricky thing, especially when you get close to the subject you want to end up with--steady hand required!  Using the pencil to do the fine touch-ups is also sometimes required.
5. This is where you start to change the actual subject of the picture. Up to this point, you have been working with a colour photo.  On the menu bar at the top of the screen, find "Image"--click--"mode"--"gray scale"--click. You will get a message asking if you want to delete or eliminate colour--Yes.
6.  You now have a normal black and white photo of your subject. Go back to "Image" --click--"adjust"--"brightness and contrast"--click. You will get a small screen come up with two slide bars on them marked accordingly. Play with these until you get as close to the desired effect that you want to obtain. You are not likely to get a scrollable pattern at this stage, but you are getting closer.
7. Enlarge once again as before. This is where imagination comes in real handy, because you have to decide what shadows you want to keep, and which you want to eliminate. Again, I use a combination of the available tools to actually eliminate individual pixels from the subject--thus the reason for enlarging again--you'd go blind trying to do this step at normal size!  going back and forth from your enlarged size to your normal size will give you an idea how you are doing. At any particular stage in the operation, if  you are happy with what you've done, SAVE!!!  That way, if you should happen to slip with one of the tools, you won't have to start all over again.

Clever Clamping Ideas by Tom Sevy
We often need a way to clamp wood which is either too fragile for clamps, or the situation doesn't lend itself to regular clamps. Here is a great idea which I recently read. Put a piece of masking tape (narrow or wide depending on the situation), sticky side up, on a flat surface. Perhaps hold down the two ends of the tape with cans of paint or other items heavy enough to keep the tape in place. Put one piece of the wood on the tape, then put the second piece (with glue) snugly next to the first on the tape. If you are gluing a vertical piece to a horizontal piece, you could put the horizontal piece down first, then place the vertical piece on the tape with glue, and then place a block of wood on the tape next to the vertical piece to 'push' it against the first piece, and to help keep it vertical.
Other ways to do gentle clamping includes: rubber bands and spring clothes pins. I have seen some people sharpen the tips of the clothes pins so they provide full pressure to a small area.

Pattern adhesion
Transferring patterns to the wood can be done in many different ways. Gluing on a Xerox copy is only one way. Two other ways of transferring pattern images are with heat and with chemicals. I think these methods came from Pat Spielman.
Heat: Starting with a fresh Xerox copy you secure the pattern to the wood, face down. A strip of tape across the bottom works great. Now take a hot iron (one used to iron clothes) on silk setting and slowly iron the pattern. The toner from the copy will be transferred to the wood. It gives you a reverse image so if left to right is important in the pattern, have the copy people run you a reverse image to begin with, then left to right will be correct. (This left to right principle is VERY important when your pattern contains any kind of lettering.) When you feel like you have ironed the entire pattern, fold it back leaving the tape secure at the bottom to see if you missed any areas. If you did, you can fold the pattern back flat and redo those areas without losing your registration.
Chemical: Again start with a fresh Xerox copy. Secure it to the wood as beforeand then dampen a cloth or sponge with lacquer thinner. Smooth the cloth over the entire pattern until the paper is damp. This takes a little practice but it saves a lot of time once you learn how. Of course, after you have transferred the pattern you remove the pattern and the tape. After you complete your cutting you have nothing to remove.
Prior to using either of these methods you should lightly sand your wood and then wipe with a tack cloth prior to transferring the pattern.

by James Kafka
When spraying my pattern, I keep a box (card board) about 24 X 24 X 24 or so around with one end cut out. Put pattern in box and spray. Over-spray stays in the box and not all over everything.

by John Nelson
Put lots of adhesive on the pattern to really adhere it on the wood. This will insure it will not come loose half way through your cutting. Clean out a used pump-spray bottle and fill it with mineral spirits or turpentine. After you complete all cuts on your project, simply spray the top of the pattern with the mineral spirits. Let sit for 20 to 30 seconds and the pattern will slide right off.

by Ken Adams
When placing your pattern, first put down a layer of "clear shelf paper", the kind that sticks. Then put the pattern down with whatever glue or adhesive you like. When the cutting is done, the tough shelf paper will make it easy to remove the left over pattern. It does not tear into small bits like the paper only will do. The reason for using "clear" shelf paper, is so you can see the wood grain.

The Tape Trick
This tip has been going around the internet for some time now. Originally we heard of it from David Sloan of Sloan's Woodworking, but David said that it was not original with him. So to whomever came up with this GREAT tip....Thanks!
This idea is a tip for success in working with little or no burning of the wood, no matter what thickness or type of wood you are using. Mount your pattern in your normal way and then cover the pattern with a clear packaging tape or carton sealing tape. The tape that has been used is Scotch Packaging Tape 2" wide and 2" wide Carton Sealing Tape made by Manco. The theory is that there is something in the tape that lubricates the blade and prevents the burning.
This idea has been extensively tested by a variety of scrollers and it does work. Some prefer to put the packaging tape directly to the wood and then apply the pattern on top. Others find it easier to apply the pattern first and then the packaging tape. Whichever way you prefer, your wood should NOT burn. The tape trick eliminates the problem of burning saw dust that remains in the kerf that would normally leave burn marks on your project. When used on Plastic material, there is little or no melting behind the blade.

Small drill holes by Tom Sevy
Here's an idea for when you need a very small drill bit but don't happen to have one. Snip the head off a long brad and use the pointed end of the brad as a drill bit. It actually works very well. In fact, for those who sharpen the end of a blade so it can go through a small hole, by using a brad, you can very carefully drill until just the point sticks through, then push through your sharpened blade so you don't have those ugly holes in a vein.

Using CD disks as material
How many of you throw away all of those CD disks that you get through the mail from AOL, Gateway, Earthlink, etc. Try using them as material for scrolling. One side is mirrored which should look great. The other side can be painted enough to cover the paper or cover with a solid paper prior to cutting. These CD's lend themselves to stack cutting very easily. Many of the same techniques for cutting plastic should be used.

by Jolene Murphy
I have been saving the CD's that I receive in the mail. I plan on painting them with Christmas designs and maybe glue floral or wood decorations to them, add a hanger, and use to decorate my Christmas tree.

by Pat Lupori
How about little mirror wreaths to decorate your tree. That should eliminate the problem of the hole in the middle of the CD.

by Hal Shearer
Any pattern where the central part of the pattern is removed would work with a CD. Such as a bell with ivy or text around it. Just pretend the center hole is a "Huge" entry hole. Shouldn't have much trouble threading a blade through that! Cut out the center of the bell and the hole magically disappears.

by Mike Moorlach
I use them as clock faces or glue cork to the shiny side for computer desk coasters.

Clogged Spray Nozzle by Donna
Sometimes the nozzle on the can of spray adhesive gets clogged. I found that if you soak the nozzle in something such as nail polish remover, it unclogs very easily.

Tightening Wing Nuts by Tom Sevy
A comment for those with arthritis who have trouble tightening wing nuts on a blade. From a piece of 1/2" oak about 1 X 2 inches, or another hardwood, cut a hole to match the wing nut. Then from another piece of hardwood, about 2 to 3 inches square, 1/2" thick, cut a handle that would be easy for you to use. Perhaps a large version of a wing nut, or a square with the corners rounded off. Then attach the handle to the cut out with epoxy. Drill a small hole in your auxiliary handle and attach it to your saw with a length of strong string so it is always handy, or put it somewhere on the base so it won't fall off. The additional size magnifies the strength in your fingers and makes it much easier to tighten and loosen. You may have to be careful not to over-tighten your wing nut.

Compound Cutting by Jim Handrich
After you cut the first side of a 3D pattern out, put the piece back in and use a brad nail 1 3/8" for 1 1/2" stock to hold the all ready cut piece in place. This works better than trying to tape it in place. Put a couple of nails in the waste material. 

Sand Shading help by Rick Hutcheson
When sand shading marquetry and intarsia, it is sometimes difficult to get the hot sand just where you want it to be on the piece. This tool will make it easier to place the sand exactly where you want it. Take a regular teaspoon and drill about a dozen holes into one side of the spoon with a 1/16" drill bit.  This will allow you to scoop up the sand from one side and pour it out exactly where you want it from the other side of the spoon. The picture shows the first one Rick made and he says he would cut back on the number of holes because the sand pours out very fast.  

This article is reprinted from The Jerusalem Post and is combined with some pictures of the work described that have been sent to SAW Dust by Benny Band. Enjoy this example of Scrolling from Around the World!

The Jerusalem Post
City Lights Section
by Gloria Deutsch

How to fill your time after retirement is a problem which different people solve in different ways. Benny Band, who was one of the first, if not the first, English speaking immigrant to set up shop as a handyman back in the early seventies has returned to one of his early loves, the art of fretwork.

His Ra'anana apartment is filled with the fruits of his labors - St. Paul's Cathedral on the dining room table. The Taj Mahal on the sideboard. Sadie Band, his wife of forty years, encourages her husband's new found hobby with enthusiasm. She doesn't complain about the dust, she gives up part of her washing balcony as a drying room for the pieces before they are assembled and perhaps most important, she uses her computer skills which she has passed onto Benny, to get him the necessary patterns, information and contact with other fretwork enthusiasts through the internet.

Even back in South Africa as a kid of 13, Benny was discovering the joys of fretwork.

Fretwork is a very old craft, around for several hundred years, in which intricate cutting on thin wood produces a delicate lacy pattern. Today it's possible to work with electrically powered scroll saws, but Benny crafts his pieces entirely by hand.

Working eight or nine hours a day, it took him about two and a half weeks to finish St. Paul's Cathedral. The intricacy of the work is measured by the number of inner cuts and in the case of St. Paul's it took 803 inner cuts and 290 pieces.  It sounds a lot until you hear about the piece his internet friend is working on: a frame with the 23rd Psalm cut out around it and nearly 7000 cuts.

Benny and Sadie came to settle in Israel in 1961. They returned briefly to South Africa in 1968 but by the time Yom Kippur War was over, they had come back for good.

"We complain every day but never leave," remarks Benny. He had been in the diamond business and was also a professional musician and talented drummer. But in 1974 there was no work in diamonds after the war and someone asked Benny if he would paint their apartment. After that he was recommended to another customer and soon the work began to flow in. He told Sadie he was going to set up as a handyman and began advertising in the Jerusalem Post.

"They didn't even have a "Services" column at the Post in those days," recalls Benny. "They started that column for me. Israeli's didn't know what a handyman was."

It is thanks to people like Benny who took pride in the now expected norms of punctuality and good service that Israeli standards have improved.

"The first job I did for an Israeli, I asked for a broom to sweep up. they thought I was crazy."

He started a carpentry shop in which he was joined by his elder son and carried on with the painting and decorating, welding, "whatever I could do to make a living."

He believes he was the first to conceive the self-assembly modular furniture which is so popular today for do-it-yourselfers.

"We couldn't compete with the big home chain stores today, but we started the trend."

So what does it take to be a fretwork enthusiast? Judging by the models Benny proudly displays, patience is clearly a prerequisite. But you also need the right tools. They are all simple and all available in Israel.

The first step is to get the pattern which is to be transferred to the fine wood, usually plywood. Patterns can be ordered from magazines like Hobbies, based in England or through the internet. Originally Benny would trace the pattern on the wood, but he then discovered he could make photocopies and paste them on giving a greater accuracy. The glue is specially mixed so that when the piece is cut out, the pattern can be easily removed. To save time, Benny cuts two identical pieces together, the saw going through both of them at the same time.

The fretsaw, which can be bought at DIY stores like Ace or Home Center, consists of a handle with a removable blade. The blade has to be very fine to saw through the wood, once an initial hole has been made with a drill. Then it's just a question of sawing until the pattern is completed. The next step is to file down the holes so there are no rough edges and Benny was delighted to find unexpectedly a packet of needle files in one of the local shops. Finally the pieces are stained, sanded again and lacquered. The last stage is the assembly and voila, Buckingham Palace in miniature on the coffee table.

When I asked to see the workroom, Benny and Sadie both laughed. In fact, Benny does all of his cutting and sawing at the kitchen table. Since the flat is spotless he clearly caries on his work tradition of cleaning up after himself.

Although he doesn't pretend to be a computer whiz-kid, Benny finds he can use the Internet and e-mail quite adequately and is in constant contact with other fretwork enthusiasts, particularly in the United States. He discovered that one of his e-mail friends was also a painter and a drummer until taking up fretwork full-time.

"I can't sit around and be idle," says Benny. Thanks to his hobby, he won't have to.


During World War II, the US supply of brier roots and burls (grown in the Mediterranean basin) was closed off. Rhododendron roots and burls became the main substitute so the supply of smokers' pipes could continue.

Of course, we're not talking big, straight logs here; the national champion is only 8 inches in diameter and 40 feet tall. It's in the South Carolina mountains. We are, however, talking about a pale tan wood that is very tight grained and fine textured. It's rated somewhat heavy, hard and strong. It machines well, carves nicely, and takes a good finish.

Aside from pipes, rhododendron is good for inlay or small parts, for carving, and is sometimes used for tool handles. Use is limited, primarily, by the size and shape of the plants. My sample was a dead, standing tree back inside a thicket. I had to cut out a "straight" (HA!) section and leave the top still laced in the surrounding plants--trying to pull out what I had cut was like picking up one coil spring from a box of springs! If you go collecting your own supply of rhododendron, you'll find my experience to be the norm rather than the exception. It's worth the work, anyway.

One of the trees down by the riverbank near my favorite fishing hole had big, heart-shaped leaves some 5-10" long. They grew in little clumps of three. Later in the summer, there would be long, cigar-shaped bean pods hanging from the tree, and all of us boys would go down there and climb up to pick them off. You slit them open, pull out the insect grubs that seemed to always be inside the pod, and threaded the grub on an Eagle Claw pattern, size 8 fish hook and uttering your own particular magical incantation before tossing it in the water. If your incantation was right, the grub turned into a bluegill. If you came up with a bare hook, other words were invoked.

Catalpa grows occasionally in TN and further north, but is really more common further south of us. The tree was formerly planted over a pretty wide area of the southern states because the wood is extremely rot-resistant. It was thought this would be a good source of railroad cross ties before creosote treating really got into common use. Catalpa makes poor ties, because the wood is relatively soft, weak, and not tough. The rails just wear huge grooves in the soft wood. It's a nice pale tan color, with a good looking annual ring pattern to the lumber. Some really nice outdoor furniture and fancy carvings that I've seen were catalpa. Trees will get 20-24" diameter. The national champion is in Illinois, 84" diameter, and 80' tall, so good sized boards can be found. A close comparison in woodworking qualities would be basswood. Catalpa will hold dimension well when properly dried, and is fairly easy to dry. Planing and sanding must be done carefully, to avoid fuzzing, and don't waste time trying to bend the wood.

Ant there's Those Days when I could easily wish to be under that tree down by the fishing hole, making magic chants again. But it's true, you can't go home again...somebody made a golf course there and cut our catalpa..The tree got the last laugh however. The groundskeeper still cusses at all the catalpa sprouts that keep poppin up on his greens...........

Bill Parrish

Osage Orange - Maclura pomifera

Speak of osage orange, bois-d-arc, hedge apple (and several other names) and you are talking about the same tree.

The tree is usually short, heavily branched, and forms a natural hedge; it has thick bark, high strength (you won't break limbs easily), and thick milky sap, and THORNS. Long, sharp thorns. The wood is very similar in color to mulberry (like a light through a jar of honey) that darkens to a deep golden brown over time. 

The wood is also VERY:

With exceptional durability or rot resistance

Formerly, two prime uses for the wood were as archery wood (bois-d-arc means "bow-wood") and for the wooden pins that held the glass insulators on utility pole cross arms. For an indicator of durability, consider that cross arms were creosoted and the osage pins were untreated wood -- and the pins normally outlasted the cross arms.

Last time I got an osage orange log to the sawmill, it was an old dead-and-dried-on-the-stump bolt about 16" diameter by 6 feet long. The sawmill was a 54 inch diameter mill with 175 hp diesel motor. The motor stalled and sparks were flying after two boards came off.  If you saw any osage, saw that sucker while it's Fresh Cut! 

Since it’s spring in most areas of the country, I thought I’d start this series with a tree that should be in bloom and recognized by many people.

The tree sees most of it’s modern commercial use as a nursery tree, for landscaping and ornamental plantings. Not many people are aware of the thousands of cords of dogwood that have been cut for the wood in our past, however. Although all the ones I knew are now gone, there were formerly entire sawmills specializing in dogwood dimension blocks. You might remember only the small trees like the ones in your or the neighbor’s yard....but given time, dogwood can get on up there. The nations largest recognized flowering dogwood, the one most common, is a specimen in Virginia that is 38” diameter and 33’ tall.

Dogwood is heavy, hard, strong and close-grained. It sands, turns, bores, bends, etc. pretty well. It holds dimension good when dried. The outstanding property of dogwood has been it’s wear resistance, and shock resistance. It gets a polish to it when you rub it repeatedly, and seldom ever splinters. Millions of shuttle blocks have been made of dogwood for this one old shuttle block was preferred over a new “unset” block for smooth functioning in those huge, mechanized weaving looms in the big textile plants, and the more they were used, the slicker they got. I’ve made some very successful drawer runners and guides out of dogwood for this very reason.

The wood is a pale brown heart, with lighter colored sapwood. Sapwood is quite thick. Often 30-40 years growth is still sapwood. Some color variants show a salmon-pink to red heartwood, with some shades of green on occasion. The annual rings are indistinct in plain-sawn lumber, and there are fine ray fleck that appears in the quarter-sawn face. The amount of ray fleck varies somewhat with age and size. From what I’ve seen, some dogwood sapwood is only lightly figured, while some of the old heartwood may look almost like a piece of quarter-sawn sycamore.

The disease dogwood anthracnose is getting into the TN area, and is wrecking havoc with the dogwood trees. It affects mostly older trees, and most affects those trees in an understory....where dogwood most often grows in the woods. Yard and ornamental trees are less affected by the disease, but the disease is killing many trees. Someone who really wanted some dogwood could likely get up an expedition and get a permit to remove dead tress from a US Forest Service land, like the Cherokee National Forest. A day’s cutting could get a LOT of useable dogwood, and anything not good for woodworking makes VERY GOOD firewood



Did you ever grab one of those big vines growing in the woods and go Tarzan swinging? Or, to be more honest, how many times did you go swinging? My answer is "one too many" or "how Bill broke his arm in the 4th Grade".

I got curious about appearances a couple years ago, and cut a section out of a vine about 3" in diameter. It cut fairly well when I got the band saw on it, and gave only very minor problems when planed and sanded. The colors are shades of tan and brown with a very distinctive grain pattern, of medium texture.

Overall, it would be a fun "play" wood for small parts, inlays, or trim. I wouldn't trust the strength, delicate creature that I am, for chair parts or legs as main parts, however. My sample dried quite easily, finished fairly well, and simply looks unusual and distinctive.

Besides, grapevine chopping is a common part of "TSI", or Timber Stand Improvement, and any vines you cut will help forest management just a little bit. Be careful of what you cut if going after grapevines - I have seen poison ivy vines large enough to saw, also I have NO idea what the "saw timber volume" of grapevines is in Tennessee, nor any idea of the National Champions specimen.

The intarsia Raccoon was made from Grapevine wood by Rick Hutcheson.



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