Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Wonderful West Australian Blackbutt.

One of my favourite timbers to work with would have to be Blackbutt. Western Australian Blackbutt, to be precise - Eucalyptus patens. A very hard, dense and light coloured timber, the tree grows naturally in the wetter areas of the jarrah forest in the south west of Western Australia. Around the edges of swamps and watercourses, and in low lying areas. A tiny proportion of the original forest now remains. With most of these remnant trees now locked up in National Parks and stream reserves, it is not as readily available as it used to be. Fortunately, my mate Terry at Heritage Sawmillers http://www.wahardwoods.com.au/ can still get hold of a few logs every now and then. That is where I obtain most of my Blackbutt timber.

For those who like the technical stuff, Blackbutt is a hard wood. The Air Dried Density (at 12% moisture content) for WA Blackbutt is 930kg/m3, compared with 530kg/m3 for Douglas Fir, and 700kg/m3 for European Oak. (Source:  Wood in Australia, Keith Bootle, 1983, published by McGraw Hill.)
Yep, it's hard and dense!

A blackbutt kitchen.
I don't make kitchen cabinets any more as a rule, but I did build one recently over a period of months for Tim and Bec. You know, it's family. Long ago, I did a lot of kitchens for customers, but my construction methods have always been different to the modern cabinetmaking industry norm. While the insides (shelves, backs and dividers) might be the normal white melamine faced MDF board, my kitchen cabinets are different in that I
A shot of the cabinets under construction, showing the internal framing.
always use solid timber framing.

It is a method I learned from Harry Kornoff when I worked for him back in the early 1980's. Thanks, Harry! These are kitchens built to last, with not just timber framing but solid timber doors and panelling too. While I have done plenty of solid timber benchtops on these kitchens, Tim and Bec were having one of those black granite-look tops.   

A few pics of Tim and Bec's kitchen:
The black granite tops and the Blackbutt doors and panelling go together very nicely.

The jarrah floors also look good with the Blackbutt cabinets.

That's an appliance cupboard in the corner on the benchtop.

Nice looking kitchen, eh?
One of the things I love about WA Blackbutt is the variation in the colours in what is normally a pretty pale yellowish brown timber - but the timber itself has other interesting properties which I appreciate. The extractives in it (the naturallly occurring chemical compounds which give any timber's heartwood it's colours and other characteristics) mean that it has a natural waxy-ness about it. I know from experience that Blackbutt shavings on a concrete floor make for a dangerously slippery surface. Stacks of freshly machined Blackbutt pieces are prone to sliding off each other. However this natural waxy-ness combines with the high density of the timber to make WA Blackbutt absolutely wonderful to carve. It is one of my favourite timbers to use for carving wooden spoons. That waxy-ness also makes for great drawer sides and drawer slides. I have also used it for making extension table mechanisms. While some people claim the natural waxy-ness prevents good glue adhesion in joints, this has not been my experience over many years of playing with this wonderful wood.

A few more pics featuring WA Blackbutt:

WA Blackbutt spoons I made some years ago for a customer. Sorry about the grainy picture. 

WA Blackbutt Table, titled "Four Foot Long". (Circa 1990).

WA Blackbutt panel (with carved detail shown) in the front of a Font I made for the Leeuwin Barracks Chapel, 2009. The Altar and Lecturn are also made from Jarrah with the feature Blackbutt front panel.

WA Blackbutt drawer sides in this Hall Table (2007) contrast nicely with the jarrah, highlighting the dovetails.

... By the way, did I mention how much I love working with WA Blackbutt?

1 comment:

  1. The kitchen is fabulous! But the hand tools are, well, how can I talk you into making for a stranger? ;)

    Thanks for sharing your skills!