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About this blog

An in depth look at each of the woods we use at Dog Might to create our line of accessories.

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Konas

#5: Wenge

Log 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.

GENERAL INFO

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

 

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Konas

#4: Leopardwood

LOG 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.

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GENERAL INFO

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Konas

# 3: Redheart

LOG BLOG #3: REDHEART

I have made no secret of my love for the next wood in this series, Redheart. It is wonderful. It is striking to the eye, feels amazing in the hand, and sculpts like a dream. Despite this, it is not one of our bigger sellers, probably due to its higher price tag. Because of this fact, I have made it my personal mission to put a piece of Redheart in the hands of every gamer in the world!

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This is not an accurate representation of the Redheart tree.

GENERAL INFO

Redheart is often called Chakte-Kok. In the Mayan language, Chakte means red. Redheart trees grow primarily in Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize. They are medium sized, growing to a maximum height of 70’ and possessing generally small diameters that are rarely larger than 18”. A common distinguisher for the price of lumber is the average size of the tree. A smaller tree, like Redheart, produces less wide, usable lumber. Even though governments have worked to keep this tree highly sustainable, the price hasn’t decreased due to the smaller size of its lumber.

Another factor keeping the price of Redheart higher is that the tree produces a large amount of sapwood. Most woods are sought after because of the attributes of their heartwood and Redheart is no exception. Having higher amounts of sapwood again reduces the amount of usable lumber. Sapwood is the outer, generally lighter colored wood between the harder heartwood and the bark. Sometimes sapwood can add a nice artistic contrast when used for making a product but most products contain exclusively heartwood.

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WILL MY REDHEART CHANGE COLOR LIKE AN UNDINE

Simple answer is yes. More complex answer is yes, but you will be able to control it somewhat. Freshly surfaced Redheart can be very bright, almost like a watermelon red. After it is worked, we apply 3 coats of a polyurethane-based finish that we refer to as Dog Might Varnish (or DMV if you are into the whole brevity thing). These applications result in the deep, warm red you see in the pics on this blog. That color will change to a deeper, brownish red if you leave any Redheart product exposed to sunlight for a long period of time.  The DMV will protect it somewhat but no commonly used wood finishes will protect wood 100%. If you keep your precious Redheart away from strong light, it will retain its initial color for years. This is important when purchasing wooden products from any manufacturer. Always ask them what finish they use on their products. You are after a film-building finish, like the mighty DMV. A simple rub in oil finish or wax offers very little resistance for the wood. I would avoid that product. If they don’t apply a finish at all, run for the hills.

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IS REDHEART FULL OF MAGICAL PROPERTIES?

The druids believed that humanity descended from the trees. They believed that we are, in effect, one and the same. Because of this, they went to great lengths to determine all the magical properties of the wood around them. Those that believe in this way of thinking believe that Redheart trees are full of bright and carefree energy; an excellent wood choice for those wishing to focus on the here and now rather than dwelling on the past or future events. It allows someone to set aside their fears and move their life in a positive direction and aid them in finding their personal truth. I am not one to judge anyone else’s belief systems. All I can say is that ever since I commandeered the Redheart Dragon Tray used for the pics in our Kickstarter project, my life has been amazing. Can’t say for certain if it is because of the Tray but it does look gorgeous hanging on my wall.

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This is mine and you can't have it cuz it's magical.

THOUGHTS FROM A WOODWORKER

If I were to write a book about Redheart, the first paragraph would look very similar to the opening paragraph of Lolita by Nabokov. In other words, I love it. The color is amazing - even after it ages. I believe it looks better after a year or two. It develops a deeper red in spots and gets brighter in others. The hand feel of Redheart is fantastic. It is silky smooth yet solid. Unlike our foreman, Puzz Longbeard, it is a delight to work with. It sands easily, sculpts like butter, and takes an incredible finish. While it might not be the best wood for making hardwood floors, it is amazing for the accessories that we create.

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You can have this, but it is going to be about a year before it gets to you.

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.

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A Redheart Dragon Sheath with just a touch of sapwood.

Konas

#2: Chechen

Ah, gorgeous Chechen. As I write this, it sits in spot number 2 on the list of my favorite woods that we use (#1 is Redheart). Chechen is strong, heavy, displays an amazing variety of colors, and takes a fantastic finish. For the linguists out there, it is pronounced Chuh-Chen with the emphasis on the second syllable, not Cheh- chen like the Republic. Weird warning about this article: There is a disgusting pic below. Not for the faint hearted.

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A close up of the colors of Chechen

General Info

Chechen is grown primarily in the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Jamaica, Guatemala, Belize, and Mexico. It is a very valuable tree and is a wonderful source of lumber for these nations. 

The heartwood of Chechen is incredible, displaying high contrasting stripes of reds, oranges, and golds with alternating grainwork of dark chocolate browns.

On the Janka scale of hardness Chechen measures 2,250, making it one of the hardest woods we offer. The Janka hardness scale measures the resistance of a wood to denting and wear. Technically, in one of the more unique tests we have heard of, it measures the force required to push a small steel ball halfway into the wood. In comparison, Red Oak and White Ash (the wood that professional baseball bats are made of) score right around 1,300 on the Janka scale. Our foreman, Puzz Longbeard has a very hard head. His head scores in the 800s.

The Chechen tree is a small to medium tree with dark black sap. One of the most distinguishing facts about the tree is that is it poisonous, but more on that later.

Amazing looking fresh cut timber.

Incredible looking Chechen timber.

Chechen lumber is also known as Black Poisonwood, Chechem (it’s original Mayan name), Coral Sumac, Cedro Prieto, or Caribbean Rosewood. Don’t be fooled, however, it is not a member of the Rosewood family but has gained that moniker due to its amazing coloration and because every wood secretly yearns to be a Rosewood.

Fort Save vs. Poison (dc25)

If you are travelling through Latin America or the West Indies, be wary of trees with black sap! The Chechen tree emits a toxic sap that can cause some nasty skin reactions. It starts with a redness but will develop into itchy and burning blisters and is, like shaking hands with Puzz Longbeard, very painful. As if that wasn’t enough, the rash won’t start for a few days after contact so you can’t even be sure where you got it or how to treat it. On the bright side, the sap from the Gumbo-Limbo tree acts as a natural antidote to the poison and these trees often grow near Chechen Trees. The Mayans had a wonderful myth about these 2 trees involving 2 brothers that fell for the same beautiful woman. A vicious brawl ensued and both brothers died. While the brothers were chilling in the Underworld, they both prayed to their Gods to be able to look upon the beautiful woman again. The Gods granted their wishes and each of them was reborn as a Chechen and a Gumbo-Limbo tree. Spoiler Alert: the mean brother became the tree with the toxic sap. Rest assured, only the sap is poisonous. The wood, once kiln dried, is safe as is any Dog Might product made with Chechen. Before I forget, I would like to nominate Gumbo-Limbo for coolest tree name ever.

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I warned you.

Thoughts from a Woodworker

After years of going to our lumber mill, they would, on occasion, order rough boards of woods that were more rare. Then, they would try to sell them to us with nearly a 100% success rate. Our first introduction to Chechen was the direct result of these fiendishly good sales tactics. Immediately, after the first planing pass, we were hooked.

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My personal minimalist wooden wallet made from a fine piece of Black Poisonwood

 Now, everyone in our shop loves Chechen. It may not be everyone’s absolute favorite, but all our woodworkers appreciate its beauty. Chechen is incredibly hard but remains relatively easy to work. Because of its density, sanding it can really suck: you just have to know going in that it’s going to be a time-consuming process. Plus, the resulting finish is well worth it. It is because of the hardness of the wood that it has such a gorgeous luster. And the color, oh my, that color. The pics of Chechen products on our site just don’t capture the sheen. The warmer tones in the wood really come alive after varnishing, especially the golden hues. The grain work, often straight, can be interweaving and almost wild at times. Chechen is a near perfect mix of beauty and strength. When I finally go to the great mead hall in the sky, it damn sure better be made of Chechen.

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A Dragon Sheath, made from the only board of Spalted Chechen we have ever seen

 

Sources: A bunch of pages from the innertubes and the only book I will ever read, The Wood Bible.

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Konas

#1: Black Walnut

Welcome 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.  

 

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AMERICAN BLACK WALNUT

General Info

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.

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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.

History

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.

Oddities

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.

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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.

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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.

 

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