By Konas in THE LOG BLOG! 14Log Blog: Flame Birch
Not an accurate depiction of a Flame Birch tree
The Log Blog is back! Like a mighty Oak, this series of articles is growing very slowly. But it is growing. So without further ado, on to entry number 6… Flame Birch!
Like a high-end assassin, Flame Birch has many aliases: Silver Birch, Curly Birch, European White Birch. We call it Flame Birch simply because that’s what our mill calls it. Any wood that is described as Flame or Curly refers to the flame-like pattern that comes from abnormally wide medullary rays and exceptionally oriented tissues. The formation of curly grained wood actually slows down the growth of the tree. Birch is one of the most widely used woods for veneer and plywood worldwide and is also used for doors, furniture, and paneling.
Flame Birch heartwood is pale in color and doesn’t have a distinct heartwood. Lumber that comes from the core of the tree will exhibit brown, flame-like patterns that can be quite dramatic. We try to showcase these pieces in prominent places in our products.
The Silver Birch Tree is native to Europe, though in southern Europe it is only found at higher altitudes and is a medium-sized deciduous tree. Silver Birch generally grows 49–82’ in height, with a slender trunk that tends to be under 16” in diameter. The Silver Birch grows naturally from western Europe eastwards to Kazakhstan, the Sakha Republic in Siberia, Mongolia and the Xinjiang province in China, and southwards to the mountains of the Caucasus and northern Iran, Iraq, and Turkey. It has also been introduced in North America. It is the official wood of Finland. There is an old Finnish proverb about Curly Birch: “Curly Birch grows only so far from a church that one can hear the sound of the church bell.” Immediately after typing those words, “Ring My Bell” by Anita Ward popped into my head. I am guessing it is now in yours. You are welcome.
Like my mom always said to me, don't peel that!
The bark of the Silver Birch is quite striking. It begins purplish brown in young trees but turns silver white when the tree matures. It is paper thin and peels off on older trees. It is also very easy to ignite, even when wet. Please, don’t pull the bark off of the next Birch you see, it harms the tree and takes nearly 5 years to grow back.
IS SILVER BIRCH JUST WOOD? NEIGH, I SAY!
In 2007, an Irish-trained racehorse named Silver Birch won the John Smith’s Grand National. Just to be clear, no horses have ever been harmed in our shop. Puzz Longbeard’s wolf animal companion did come to an early demise in our Pathfinder game, however. A Drider hit him with a mace. In the face.
A solid jumper but this Silver Birch would've made a terrible Dice Chest
IS LUMBERJACK JUICE MADE FROM BIRCH?
Birch Sap is used in the manufacture of wine and beer in Northern Europe, Russia, and China. Please, I beg of you, do not tell the guys in the Dog Might Shop that they can make beer from the Flame Birch we have in stock.
TREE OF THE GODS
Birch is a sacred tree in Celtic Astrology and has been linked to many gods, including Angus Mac Og, Dagda, Audhumla, Cerridwen, Fand, Freya, Frigg, Lugh, Eostre, Venus, and Thor. Druids held that the Birch trees were the keepers of tradition and secrets, and honored them as such. I perpetuate this by whispering my deepest, darkest secrets to any Fiery Adventure Case that goes out.
SAVE THE CHILDREN
Some people believe that cradles made of Birch wood are designed to protect a child and keep fairies from switching the baby with a changeling. I don’t know if that’s true, but do you really want to risk having a changeling baby? I sure as hell don’t.
WOOD FOR CHOMPERS
Almost all toothpicks are made from Birch. I have a little bit of an obsession with toothpicks and have, many a time, expressed my demand that any establishment that serves food have a full stock of toothpicks on hand.
THOUGHTS FROM A WOODWORKER
Our Fiery line made from Flame Birch sells like hotcakes. We order Flame Birch in units of 1,000 board feet. We have a standing order with our mill for 5,000 board feet. We use a ton of Flame Birch. We know it well. And everyone in the shop loves it. It is easy to cut, takes a nail well, drills easily, and sands fairly easily. It can be tough to finish, especially for a newb woodworker. It has a slight tendency to raised grain, especially with the Fiery finish. If we get a complaint about a rough feeling finish, 99% of the time, it’s Flame Birch. That being said, it is stunning in our Fiery line. While I was coming up with those crazy finishes, I tried a lot of woods. Some of you that have been with us a while may remember our Abyssal Black Cherry finish. That finish was a complete nightmare. It required about 16 steps done very carefully. Not an exaggeration. And it sold like crazy. We also used Hickory for our Demon’s Blood finish. Easier to apply than Abyssal on Cherry, but Hickory is very tough to work with for building. Desperately seeking another wood for our best selling finishes, I tried Maple, Ash, Red Oak, some old Elm that we had, White Oak, and then a very pricey piece of Quilted Maple. Kablam! We had a winner. I remember it like yesterday. It was a Sapphire Adventure Case and it was AMAZE-BALLS. Only one problem. Quilted Maple is super duper expensive. Not what we wanted for a middle product tier. Then, Mike and I were at the mill and saw this old, dusty pile of Flame Birch, about 500 board feet of it. The owner told us that nobody buys it anymore and he couldn’t understand why. We picked up a board and, just like a newborn changeling baby, we brought it home with us. My first test, the dreaded Abyssal Black. What was once a 16 step process became a 3 step process. I am not good at the math but that’s like 27 steps fewer. The rest, as they say, is Birch-story. Like History. Or Herstory.
It took me an hour to find a pic of the original Quilted Maple AC
Since then we have expanded our color range and Flame Birch just keeps on keepin’ on right along with us. It took to our new Catalyzed Varnish like a champ and the new finishes look better than ever.
Imperial Ruby on a fine piece of Flame Birch
If you ever work with Flame Birch at your home shop, I have a couple of suggestions... Watch for tear out when planing, especially on heavily curled pieces. If it occurs, try a shallower depth and spin it around so you are feeding it in the opposite direction. Same goes for jointing. Because the grain can be very interlocked, it often works better from another direction. When finishing, use an alcohol-based finish and apply a top coat very quickly. Don’t give that grain a chance to raise. Just like my huge Ragnarok mug, as soon as it is dry… hit it again!
Our newest Fiery finish on Flame Birch, CAKE!
That's what us old folks call a CD, kids.
A Moss Flame Birch GM System
Sources: A bunch of pages from the innertubes and the only book I will ever read, The Wood Bible. For full disclosure, I also read the first paragraph of Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov.
By Konas in THE LOG BLOG! 13So, right off the bat, I have a confession to make. I am a liar. A terrible, terrible liar. Bolivian Rosewood is not a ‘True’ Rosewood at all. In my defense, I didn’t name it. But more on that later….
Native to tropical South America, Bolivian Rosewood is common to Brazil and, surprise, Bolivia where it prefers the drier areas of the forest. It is a medium size tree typically around 60 - 65 feet tall, though exceptional specimens can reach 100 feet with diameters approaching 5 feet. The bark of the tree is quite striking, showing high contrasting areas of white and a darker grey.
Bolivian Rosewood is most often used in the music industry because of its breathtaking appearance and superb tonal qualities. Test this on any Dog Might product made of it by singing directly to the item then holding it to your ear, like a seashell.
A ROSE (WOOD) BY ANY OTHER NAME…
Like the Orange Roughy fish, which used to be called Slimehead, industries often change the name of a species to increase sales. Bolivian Rosewood is actually from a tree named Pau Ferro. True Rosewoods come from the Genus Dalbergia and Pau Ferro is in the genus Libidibia, which means it is not a true Rosewood. Libidibia is an amazing word to say over and over. Try it. Now. You will thank me.
So why the name change, you ask. Was Bolivian Rosewood once called Slimewood? No, the name change is due to it almost identical properties to true Rosewoods. It’s working properties, graining, and luster mirror those other Rosewoods. Even professional musicians can’t tell the difference in tonal qulaities of Pau Ferro and Rosewoods. Another reason for the change is that many Rosewoods have worked their way onto the CITES endangered list and are no longer available. But fear not, Pau Ferro is not in danger. I would also like to point out that I used the word 'Rosewood' in this paragraph 5 times. Well, now its 6.
THE ROSEWOOD DEFENSE
Spiritualists believe that Bolivian Rosewood symbolizes love, healing, change, creativity and, most importantly, blocking unwanted forces. When the zombie apocalypse inevitably arrives, be sure to have some of this fine wood around.
THOUGHTS FROM A WOODWORKER
We when first started this little venture, using Bolivian Rosewood was a far-off dream. It is roughly 6 times costlier than the domestic woods we had been using. Now, we use a butt ton of it and it is truly glorious. Looking back, I am glad that we could afford it only after we became more experienced because, much like or Foreman Puzz Longbeard, it is a challenge to work with. It is oily. Very oily. It doesn’t like glue or finishes. The first time we used it, in our Adventure Case Kickstarter, I finished it with our old Poly based Dog Might Varnish. It was a little tacky but we went ahead and took pics for the campaign anyway. Fast forward to a week later, that damn box was still tacky. I am guessing that it is still tacky today, years later. The natural oils in the wood reacted with our old finish and stopped it from drying, ever. So, we would use a ‘dry coat’ on all Bolivian Rosewood from that point on. That meant soaking it in our varnish, then wiping it off, effectively using it as a sealant but resulting in a low gloss finish that didn’t match the rest of our products. I tried Shellac. It worked but, like our Head of Ops, Zoe, it is a pain in the butt to work with.
Yeah, this is the one. Still wet 3 years later.
Once we moved to our new location, we installed the new spray booth and switched to an industrial strength Catalyzed Lacquer finish. Our first Dragon Sheath made in Rosewood went into finishing, we all held our collective breath. An hour later…voila…gorgeous finish and completely dry to the touch. Glory, Glory, Hallelujah!!!!!
Bolivian Rosewood is also very hard, coming in at 1960 on the Janka scale. The wood has a high amount of silica which makes it very tough on tools, requiring new blades often after cutting. It is heavy, making it hard on the body. Want to have a good, hard day’s work, try resawing 8/4 Bolivian Rosewood on the bandsaw for a few hours. Your body will not be pleased. Lumberjack juice helps.
So, why the hell do we use this godforsaken wood, you ask. Because it is simply one of the most luxurious woods in the world. The color is warm and rich, ranging from reddish orange to dark violet brown. The grain is organic, curving softly through each piece in strong black lines. It feels amazing in the hand when finished. It is solid and strong but the surface is buttery soft, like the bum of a newborn. The luster, even before finishing, is incredible. It is consistent, beautiful, and, like a fine Scotch, only gets better with age.
By Konas in THE LOG BLOG! 8Log Blog: Wenge
The most sinister of all the woods we use, Wenge is a shop favorite. It’s rich, dark color makes it the perfect choice for the gamer that often makes the “Mwahahah” noise during gameplay, like the ruthlessly evil DM in my Pathfinder game, Dan. I don’t think he reads this blog so I feel safe making that comment.
Wenge is pronounced with 2 syllables with a long “A“on the final one, like When-Ghay. If you are into pneumonic devices, it rhymes with BenGay, the pain-relieving cream.
Wenge wood doesn’t actually come from a tree named Wenge but from a Legume tree named Millettia Laurentii. It grows in swampy areas in Africa including the Congo, Zaire, Cameroon, and Gaboon. (I feel like this entry of the Log Blog rates very high on fun words to say). The tree is modest in height, averaging about 60’ with a 2 foot diameter although they can grow bigger, up to 90’ tall.
Wenge is dense and heavy. On the Janka scale it is rated 1,930. For early craftsmen, Wenge was very difficult to work with. Without the benefit of modern machinery for cutting and transporting, they usually had to resort to fire for “cutting” the wood. Our Foreman, Puzz Longbeard, tried this in our shop one day with disastrous results. Early woodworkers would start a fire at the base of a Millettia Laurentii tree to bring it down, then continue to use fire to sculpt the wood, using damp pieces of material to protect the wood not being used. Thank Odin that we now have mighty, mighty power tools that do this work much, much quicker…and safer. If you ever plan on working with Wenge, keep your tools sharp then sharpen them again after cutting. Wenge dulls even the hardest blades quickly.
Now, let’s talk about the color. The heartwood of Wenge is a gorgeous warm brown but it is the nearly black streaks throughout that heartwood that make this wood the stunning specimen that it is. Overall the appearance is very dark but up close, the active nature of the grain becomes evident.
YEAH, ANOTHER POISONOUS WOOD
If you have read any of the previous entries in this here Log Blog you are probably getting the idea that our shop is just a big space filled with poisonous dust. Well, you aren’t far from the truth. A lot of woods we use here must be dealt with carefully and Wenge is no exception. First off, the dust has been reported to cause nervous system issues, abdominal cramps, skin irritation, and eye problems. Honestly, we have never had much problem with it but the Viking Mead we consume, I believe, acts as a shield against most physical ailments. It’s like a big wet shield. Worse than the dust is the splinters. The splinters from Wenge are nasty. Because it is hard and dense, it is very prone to splintering when in its rough form. Every woodworker in our shop has had at least a one inch splinter of Wenge inside some part of their body for at least 24 hours.
CUTS LIKE A KNIFE, BUT IT FEELS SO RIGHT
(The other Mike is Canadian so I thought he would dig the Bryan Adams reference.) Because of its hardness, Wenge takes a very sharp edge. So sharp, in fact, that in the Congo, sharpened pieces of Wenge have been used in ritualistic scarification and circumcisions. Perhaps the title “feels so right” was not the best wording…
NOTES FROM A WOODWORKER
I will never forget the first day we made an Adventure Case out of Wenge. It was the first time we had worked with this amazing wood and it did not disappoint. The color is, of course, amazing, but what we didn’t expect was the gorgeous luster it exhibited. It is truly an amazing wood. Many of our customers are shocked when they see it in person for the first time at a con. They have a hard time believing that the color is completely natural, only enhanced by 3 coats of Dog Might Varnish.
After working with Wenge for a number of years now, another aspect of the lumber I adore is its ability to take a beating. My aforementioned DM, Dan, has the very first Adventure Case ever made by us in Wenge. He has used it every session for the past 3 years and it has held up amazingly well. Because of its hardness, it resists dents and scratches and the sheen looks as good as it did the day we built it. Unfortunately, my characters haven’t fared so well over that same time frame. Damn you, DM Dan!!! Damn you.
Sources: A bunch of pages from the innertubes and the only book I will ever read, The Wood Bible. I also read the first paragraph of Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov.
By Konas in THE LOG BLOG! 15LOG BLOG #4: LEOPARDWOOD
Few woods have as much character as the next one up in the Log Blog, Leopardwood. Named for its distinctive spotted pattern, this lumber is unlike any other. Now I know that Barb wanted me to write about Bolivian Rosewood but - let’s face it - she has a bit of a problem and I, for one, will not be an enabler.
Leopardwood grows in carefully managed forests in Brazil. Unlike our foreman, Puzz Longbeard, this tree is a magnificent specimen! It can grow to nearly 100’ tall with enormous trunks as large as 4’ in diameter. For comparison’s sake, Puzz is about 6’ tall.
Leopardwood is pronounced by saying “Leopard” and then “wood”. It is also known as Roupala Montana. It was named by Jean Baptiste Christophore Fusee Aublet in 1775. The name Roupale was a name used locally in French Guinea and Montana refers to “coming from mountains”. Jean Baptiste was clearly an expert in names having 5 of them himself.
Leopardwood is very consistent in its coloring, displaying medium to dark reddish brown tones with grey or light brown “flecks”. The unusual spotting is due to medullary rays that are displayed when the lumber is sawn. Medullary rays are bands of connective tissue that radiate between the pith and bark of the tree, which results in gorgeous visual effects in finished pieces. The flecks vary in size from board to board. Other woods have medullary rays, like White Oak, but few have so many so densely packed.
Leopardwood is fairly dense and hard, measuring 2150 on the Janka scale. Because of the density of medullary rays, it can be hard to work, having a tendency to tear out during planing. It is commonly grown in Latin America.
Give to me your Leopard, take from me, my Lace*
Leopardwood is sometimes confused with Lacewood and is referred to as such occasionally. “Lacewood” is used to describe any wood that displays specks that resemble lace. Leopardwood is therefore a type of Lacewood. Sometimes lumber mills will have 2 bins, one Lacewood and one Leopardwood. In those instances, Lacewood is selections of a few different types of wood that are hard to separate. Leopardwood is darker in color and denser than other woods commonly lumped into the category of “Lacewood,” and therefore easier to distinguish from the others.
LEOPARDWOOD? HOW ABOUT 'LOVEWOOD'!
Looking at any finely finished box made of wood fills me with love, but Leopardwood takes it one step further. In Trinidad and Tobago, the mashed or bruised roots of the Leopardwood tree are sniffed as an aphrodisiac. One day, I tried sniffing wooden boards of it in our shop. The other woodworkers described me as “extra complimentary” that day. This was not a scientific test, mind you.
THOUGHTS FROM A WOODWORKER
Leopardwood has an interesting history with Dog Might. We love it, use it often, have experimented with it a ton, and don’t sell very much of it. It’s odd. I personally believe that people don’t buy it because it doesn’t look like wood. It doesn’t matter though, because we love using it and we will continue to do so.
Why, you ask? It’s just cool as hell. It is easier to work than some of the other woods we use and, when it is sculpted, beautiful things occur. The medullary rays react wonderfully when moving across a contoured surface, like the curved bowl of a Component Collector. We have also tried some very cool staining techniques with it, to varying degrees of success. We used some hand mixed dyes to create a line of Adventure Cases and Dice Chests that we called Dragon Scale. They were very cool. The Leopardwood, when dyed red or green or blue, looked like the skin of a dragon. But, after selling a bunch of them, we found that the finish was unreliable. The wood was often too dense to allow the dyes to soak in or it was impossible to seal coat and varnish the finished product. We managed to get enough to fill our orders, and they did look amazing, but we quickly took them off the site. Lesson learned. We were disappointed, though, and we may revisit Dragon Scale finishes at a later date.
Before I forget, I must mention that for those of you allergic to Poison Ivy, Oak, or Sumac, the oil in Leopardwood can cause a similar reaction. The dust also can act like an irritant so, I highly recommend wearing a mask when working with this wood. I always recommend that Puzz wear a mask when he is in the shop, but that’s for different reasons.
Sources: A bunch of pages from the innertubes and the only book I will ever read, The Wood Bible. I also read the first paragraph of Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov.
*Some of you youngsters may not get that reference. It’s from a Stevie Nicks/Don Henley song.
By Konas in THE LOG BLOG! 26Welcome to the first entry in our new blog, The Log Blog. In this series of articles, I will be writing about the amazing woods we use at Dog Might to create our line of Kickass Gaming Accessories. I will feature a new wood in each article and share its history, general properties, some fun facts, and, finally, my personal thoughts from a Viking lumberjack’s perspective.
Our first entry will be a Dog Might favorite, American Black Walnut. Feel free to suggest other woods or ask any questions you might have in the comments section below.
AMERICAN BLACK WALNUT
Black Walnut is an extremely popular wood among woodworkers. Its ease of use, coupled with its rich brown coloration puts the wood in a class by itself. Beyond it’s well known color, the wood also has good dimensional stability, shock resistance, and strength properties. We have made many wooden mugs out of Walnut to hold our Lumberjack mead and, after many a rowdy night, they are still in use today (except for one, but that was due to our foreman, Puzz Longbeard, and his predilection to smashing things with his flail which has, subsequently, been banned from future game nights).
Black Walnut, known to smarter folks than me as Juglans nigra, grows mainly in the Eastern and Central United States. It occurs in moderate numbers nearly everywhere in the U.S. east of the Great Plains, except for New England and south Florida. Clearly, Black Walnut trees have a tremendous fear of Lobsters and Gators.
Black Walnut trees grow up to 150’ tall with long, straight trunks up to 3’ in diameter. Their black or dark gray bark is deeply marked with furrows and ridges. Their compound leaves, much like myself, are smooth on top and fuzzy underneath.
Native American Indians found many uses for Black Walnut trees long before Europeans arrived, using walnut tree sap in their food preparation and making dye from the nut husks. Archeological evidence in the upper Great Lakes region indicates walnut consumption dating back to 2000 BC. I can also personally attest to Walnut consumption in the lower Great Lakes region a couple of weeks back.
Because walnut was such a valuable and in-demand species for so long, it's probably the most studied and researched hardwood species in North America. Scores of articles have been published and genetically superior stock has been offered. Substantial efforts at planting walnut and caring for plantations have also been put forth.
Black Walnut trees often stand alone in the forest because their roots and dead leaves produce juglone, a toxic chemical that can kill other vegetation. The tree's roots secrete the poisonous substance in a toxic zone that can reach a 60-foot radius from the trunk. The affected area extends outward each year as a tree enlarges. Horticulturists recommend not planting tomatoes, rhododendrons and azaleas within 80 feet of any walnut tree.
The Black Walnut is one of the first trees to lose its leaves in autumn. Like my buddy Phil who went bald in his early 20s, they all shed early.
Walnut husks can be used to make your own homemade wood stains. Use the pigment inside them with household ammonia to make a rich walnut stain that will allow other woods to darken up and continue to darken with time. The nuts are also perfect for throwing at slow moving zombies.
Thoughts from a Woodworker
When I was just a wee Viking lad, I thought of Black Walnut as stodgy and very traditional. As Dog Might began to grow, we were trying out loads of new exotic woods from far off places. Seeing Bubinga or Padauk for the first time just blew my mind as I had never witnessed lumber like that in person (I have always been a fan of the new shiny). As a result, Walnut got pushed down on my list of favorite woods. But with experience comes a respect for the subtlety of the classics and I began to take notice of this gorgeous wood. The lovely deep browns interlaced with rich purples and reds caught my sawdust filled eyes more and more. I must admit, the joy of working with the wood could be influencing this as well. It is wonderful to work. It sands easily, cuts well, sculpts like butter, and takes an amazing finish. I also started to recognize how rare dark colored, usable wood is. Peruvian Walnut is readily available and we have used it a number of times but it is much lighter and feels much more fragile in hand. For my gaming table, I need a wood that can stand up to some abuse.
Me and the other owner are such fans of the wood that we used a live edge slab of feathered crotchwood (no jokes, please) to build our conference/ gaming table in our new Dog Might HQ.
So, think of Black Walnut like I think of my dear old Polish Great Grandmother. When I was younger, she seemed old, stuck in days long gone, and anything but contemporary. As I matured, I started to see her as she truly was; complex, worldly, and stunningly beautiful. Come to think of it, she also had great dimensional stability.
Sources: A bunch of pages from the innertubes and the only book I will ever read, The Wood Bible.