It has been compared to Ebony and has been used for traditional purposes by the Solomon Islanders for many years. But is this exotic species suitable for wood turning? In this article, we test it on various projects – a bowl, a vase – to see what sort of tools, techniques and finishes produce the best results. How does it stack up against Aussie Redgum? Read on to find out more.
Also known as and Tubi by the local Solomon Islanders.
A very rare, slow growing, dense and durable timber, with heartwood that is dark brown to black in colour.
Where is it found
It is endemic to (only found in) the Solomon Islands.
The timber I used had been sourced from a mine site and was otherwise to be burned. Because it is very slow growing and rare harvesting/logging of this tree on any large scale would be unsustainable. It now has some legal protection but mining is still a threat to it.
It’s suitability as a woodturning timber
The samples I was given were quite green although I would not have suspected this unless I had been told. Even when I cut a piece on my bandsaw I didn’t notice any moisture but the timber is very dense and the two pieces I was given started to crack before I had a chance to turn them. I certainly noticed its weight; it is very heavy and it has a very striking colour. The two pieces I had to use measured 220 x 220 x 100mm and 100 x100 x 450mm long. The first I used to make a bowl and the other was cut into shorter lengths for three different projects. I have read the heartwood can be black (like ebony) but the pieces I had were more a dark brown with some black figuring.
The timber turned well and was not overly hard on the tools (no worse than the red gum I use regularly). The end grain had a tendency to tear out so I had to be mindful of cutting with the grain and keeping my tools sharp. Shear scraping worked well to clean up the torn grain. It sanded well but I needed to go through to 1000 grit because the sanding marks were still obvious after P400. I also noticed heat checks had formed after I had sanded, the result of too much heat being generated when sanding.
This piece had started to crack but the end grain had not been sealed. I have been told that in future this will be done but I would suggest extra precautions should be taken to prevent any cracking from occurring. I would store this timber in a cool place, certainly out of direct sunlight and even be inclined to work it as soon as I could. Perhaps cut it into thinner pieces to relieve some of the tension. The pieces were both 100mm thick and I would have thought this contributed to the cracking.
However, when the cracks were filled with a mix of CA glue and wood dust they blended in quite well with the natural colour of the timber. Problem fixed to a large extent.
I was keen to see how I would go turning into the end grain, which I suspected was going to be hard going. Not so. I chose to do a small vase and used a Rolly Munroe deep hollowing tool to take the wood out. I hollowed out to a depth of 120mm and sharpened the tool only once before I started. I was conscious of working with the grain; ie from the middle outwards and found the wood cut cleanly and sanded easily.
The outside of the vase was shaped with a skew chisel and a spindle gouge. I was surprised at how easy it was given how hard the timber is and was also surprised with how little it moved. In fact the outside rim has remained quite round 3 days after turning it which suggests it is a very stable timber and would be suitable for lidded containers.
The vase was sanded to P1000 and I applied a Danish oil which produced a beautiful finish.
The more I used this timber the more I liked it. It turns, sands and finishes well, is stable and extremely strong. It would be excellent for spindle turning (pens, finials etc) and lidded containers as well as a variety of other projects. I might even try making a recorder out of it as it would be an ideal timber for this purpose. The colour and figure is a personal matter but it is quite striking.
My only concern with using it is the fact it is such a rare timber so I would only buy the timber from a reputable dealer who has gone through the right channels to acquire it. I believe, from the research I have done SITCO Australia is such a company.