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I was at Woodcraft today and picked up a hunk of African blackwood to experiment with.  I've never worked with a wood this dense and hard before.  Anything to watch out for, or special precautions that I should take when working with it?

Thanks,

Alex

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Some react to the dust when sanding or grinding on it.  It will fill  your grinding belts in a hurry.

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Make sure you work it cold, don't let it get hot when you're sanding or cutting.  It can get real gummy.

It is, however, a beautiful wood to work.  Polishes nicely and smoothly.

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It's an awesome wood. My favorite to work with. If you have a variable speed grinder, set the speed very low when working it. It burns easy. 

Bill and Gary also pointed out the allergy and heat problems.

For finishing you don't need any oil or coatings. Just polish it. It shines up like obsidian when you do it right.

Don't try to burn a tang into this wood. It will split on you.

Luck!

Dave

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Thanks for the tips guys.  I'm glad to hear that it's enjoyable to work with, makes me feel better about spending $40 on a little 2x2x12 chunk of wood.

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Woodcraft and lowes take my paychecks. It's robbery. I rarely walk out of either place without spending $100. You just know they bought that chunk of wood for $5. Sorry, I feel your pain. 

Black wood is awesome though!

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6 hours ago, Alex Middleton said:

Thanks for the tips guys.  I'm glad to hear that it's enjoyable to work with, makes me feel better about spending $40 on a little 2x2x12 chunk of wood.

One of the tips that I  got from a master knifemaker when I was first getting started was, "Don't worry about the cost of the materials.  Most of the value of the knife comes from your time & experience.  Buy the best materials that you can and add that much to the price of the finished knife." 

This may not always be true as you wouldn't put $500 worth of ivory on a $100 knife but I think that you get what I'm after here.  I've paid twice what you did for enough wood to make just one handle.  It's all relative.  Just save the blackwood for a special knife.  You'll  know when you have a blade finished whether it deserves something special in the handle or not.

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Don't sand it wearing a shirt that you don't mind being permanently stained.  I did in a work shirt that I was going to keep half way nice with a nice dark stain from the sanding dust.  It is a fantastic wood though.  Just sand to fine finish and then just buff.  It's so oily all you need to do is buff after than.  No wax needed.

Doug

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16 hours ago, Gary Mulkey said:

You'll  know when you have a blade finished whether it deserves something special in the handle or not.

That is definitely something that I'll keep in mind.

It will be easier to swallow the cost of materials if/when I ever decide to start selling what I make.  Right now it's money going out, and nothing but satisfaction coming in.  While it's definitely worth a lot to me, personal satisfaction doesn't count for much when the wife goes through the checkbook! :D

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10 hours ago, Doug Lester said:

Don't sand it wearing a shirt that you don't mind being permanently stained. 

Thanks for the heads up Doug.  I typically wear junk clothes when I'm out in the shop, but sometimes I sneak out there for an hour or two after work and don't change beforehand.

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I got a chance to work with this today.  Definitely takes a bit more patience while shaping it than what I'm used to.  I actually kind of like it, you can't screw it up nearly as fast as the wood I normally work with! :D

Seriously though, I'm pretty happy with this stuff.  Definitely worth every penny.

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Posted (edited)

Has anyone ever turned this stuff on a lathe?

Edited by Joshua States

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Posted (edited)
On ‎3‎/‎3‎/‎2018 at 6:40 PM, Dave Stephens said:

Just polish it. It shines up like obsidian when you do it right.

Dave, can you elaborate on this?

Edited by Joshua States

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It's an excellent turning wood as long as you keep your tools sharp.  It is also an excellent carving wood, in terms of holding fine detail- but likes to be scraped rather than cut to a finish.  It's very hard so cutting it takes sharp tools and some effort.  The grain is usually pretty straight and it's not as splintery as ebony can be.  To finish it, I like to sand up to 1000 grit, rub light machine oil on it, buff lightly with pink no-scratch compound.  Usually the grain is closed but sometimes open grain/pores will surface; spot sanding with super glue to fill works well.

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Salem pretty well  nailed it.  It is an excellent  wood for carving or turning as long as your tools are sharp as it will  hold detail very well.  (I don't have any recent examples of carved blackwood but if you go to my most recent post you can see how it checkers.)

The only wood that I can think  of that sells as well as blackwood might be ironwood burl but exhibition grade ironwood is getting hard to  come by and blackwood is plentiful (at least for now).  Be sure to  let us see how your project turns out and enjoy.

Gary

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8 hours ago, Joshua States said:

Dave, can you elaborate on this?

Sure, I mean just buff it. I sand to 220 grit then buff it with grey rouge on a sown cotton wheel, then with pink scratchless rouge on a loose cotton wheel. If you have a high speed buffer, don't push the wood into the wheel too hard or you'll burn it.  Burns have to be sanded out.

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Yep.  I was showing my latest piece with a blackwood grip yesterday and people kept asking me what the material was.  Some of them couldn't believe it was wood until I told them it's what clarinets are made from.

I carved (badly), scraped, sanded to 400, scratch brushed with a soft wire wheel on a Dremel (Foredom, actually), gave it a good rubdown with #0000 steel wool, then buffed on a sewn cottom wheel charged with tripoli.  Wipe off the goo with an old t-shirt or a clean loose buff as Dave does, and people will think it's some kind of cast resin until they touch it.

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Clarinets and bagpipes!  Use at least a dust mask and a have a shop vac to suck up the sanding

dust and carving chips.  Alan's right, it finishes beautifully.

 

 

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Posted (edited)

Thanks Salem, Gary, Dave & Alan. I have a dagger project planned for a fluted blackwood handle and this is what I needed to know.

Edited by Joshua States

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On 3/12/2018 at 12:17 PM, Bill Hoffman said:

Clarinets and bagpipes!  Use at least a dust mask and a have a shop vac to suck up the sanding

dust and carving chips.  Alan's right, it finishes beautifully.

 

 

AT LEAST A DUST MASK!!! I spent a couple minutes with some blackwood on a very slow speed 36 grit belt friday without my respirator. Tuesday I finally got over the symptoms of bad food poisoning (it wasn't food poisoning). I guess I can't say I never work without my mask, but its a hard reminder. 

On a good note, If you can find a local wood distributer that carries reject clarinet bells its a great source of blackwood. Gilmer Wood in Portland Oregon ships anywhere in the world and are great people to work with. Their wood is all photoed and numbered on their website. Their "scrap bins" are well worth digging through if you are close enough to go in. 

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