For some time now I've been interested in obtaining some Desert Iron Wood to use as totes and knobs and infills for my planes. My first attempts at purchasing this material didn't go well and I ended up with pieces with such obvious defects that I just didn't think they would be acceptable.
A couple of months ago I received an email from a supplier of this material advertising defect free bowl blanks. They were pricey but I knew the opportunity to obtain pieces this size defect free might be few and far between so I made a purchase.
When I received the blanks I was most pleased to find that one measured single digits in moisture content. A couple of weeks in my finishing kiln and it was ready to use. There was just one problem.
I've never turned a knob or shaped a tote from this material and the plane for which they were destined had to be ready for the recent Lie-Nielsen event at Woodcraft Atlanta.
Working unfamiliar materials with short time is not something that I approach lightly. Honestly I was excited to work this material and scared to death at the same time. If I invested a lot of time and then experienced a problem I wouldn't have sufficient time to recover. I finally decided nothing ventured, nothing gained and set about the work.
I began work on the rear tote early in the morning and finally applied the first coat of finish that night at 11:30. This material has a specific gravity of 1.20. I first thought that was a typo and it was more like Macassar Ebony which is 1.02. Nope, it's 1.20. I milled the blank with a fly cutter on the mill equipped with carbide inserts. The shavings coming off this material were shaped more like metal shavings than wood shavings. This stuff may well be harder than brass.
I do a certain amount of material excavation on a tote with power tools and I was thinking router tooling was going to be a problem, ironically the surfaces left behind by that tool were glassy smooth. When starting the hand tool removal of wood with a chisel I had envisioned having to pull up a new edge on my 1/2 chisel quite often. Once again this material surprised me. It actually got out of the way of a chisel fairly easily. However when I attempted to make the tight inside corner at the top the tote nice and sharp by cutting into the corner with the chisel I noticed this material kept fracturing right in the corner. I eventually had to resort to abrasives wrapped around the tight corner of a piece of brass to remedy this issue.
After all the fixing points were established and the final shape was attained with a varied selection of hand tools all the surfaces were final sanded up thru 1000 grit. When I flowed on the oil finish that night at 11:30 I was rewarded for my efforts. I've been to this point with a lot of different materials but the experience with this wood was something different and particularly special.
The turning of the knob the next morning went quite well and in the end I actually had the plane completed with a day to spare.