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Landlubber Mike

Planking my Charles Morgan with African Blackwood - am I crazy?

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I'm so pleased with the "painting with wood" on my Pegasus that I'm all gung-ho for doing the same on my Morgan.  My initial thought was for the black areas (upper hull planking, part of stem and cap rails) to use pear that is stained black.  Now I'm think about using African Blackwood instead.  

 

The black-stained pear looks really nice, but it tends to hide the grain (at least the stain I'm using).  I'm thinking about going all natural with my Morgan - holly for the white areas, boxwood for the ochre areas, and something like maple for the deck. You see a little grain with those woods, so I'm thinking African Blackwood might look fantastic.  It sounds like it's less difficult to work as ebony, and possibly less of an allergy inducer.  It's a decent amount of area to cover, but pretty limited to things that aren't too difficult to craft.

 

Am I crazy?  Has anyone else here used African Blackwood on the builds that can share their views on it?  Thanks!

 

 

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I've used ebony for planking and am convinced it was spawned by the devil. But it does look very nice and finishes beautifully. The French have been planking with ebony for centuries. Just plan on sacrificing a blade or two and vacuum the area frequently as the dust ends up everywhere. Oh, and wear a mask, especially if using the thickness sander. You'll have to experiment if you want treenails to show. I made them from Swiss pear and they worked out well.

 

If you have curved areas to plank, such as a bluff bow, you can laminate two pieces of ebony together over a form and it retains the curve nicely. This was Harold Hahn's technique and it worked very well for me.

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Mike,

 

Have a look here for African Blackwood:  http://www.righteouswoods.com/african_blackwood_rosewood.html  I looked at some other pages I have bookmarked for wood and they all say essentially the samething.

 

They all report this is harder on blades and to work with then ebony.

Edited by mtaylor
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Thanks guys.  I've seen a couple of European builders who used it on their builds who said it was easier to work than ebony.  I can't recall if they were using it as extensively as I would need to on the Morgan though.  Not too many people in the states have used it from what I can tell.  A lot of people have used ebony for the wales or smaller pieces, but that's about it.

 

Woodcraft had a big sale a while back, and I bought some pen blanks and other sized pieces of exotic woods.  I think I've got a pen blank of African Blackwood, and a 1.5"x1.5"x18" of ebony.  I might try cutting some planks out of both to see if those woods would be too much trouble.

 

If anyone else has any experience with African Blackwood, I would greatly appreciate hearing about it.

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I hope you'll test it and let us know, Mike.  Blackwood is/was supposedly the original "ebony" a century or two ago.  I have no knowledge other than what I read.   

 

As for testing... when done, clean your blades and tools with acetone (outside of course).  Or, if you'll using the wood and need cutting it again, label the blade and keep it for ebony only.   I've found it leaves a residue on the blades and transfers that residue to other woods.  

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Another good way of cleaning blades is to use spray on oven cleaner. I put the blade in a tinfoil pan spray one side turn it over and spray again wait a few minutes and wipe off. Works great. I have been doing this for years, helps prolong life of blade especially carbide tipped ones.

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I've worked with black wood and it would look good. If you're looking for a little more character consider Bolivian rosewood. You can find pieces nearly black with strands of dark, dark brown and purplish grain running through them. I've used rosewood for the wales, black strikes and hatch coamings on my last several projects. A little warmer than "black-black". I'd consider yellow heart for the Morgan's ochre. I was aboard her today and that thought struck me before reading this thread!

post-3900-0-21450900-1466884409_thumb.jpg

Edited by DocBlake

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Thanks guys for the tips.  Really appreciate it.

 

Doc, thanks very much for chiming in.  Not sure why I haven't gone through your builds before, but wow!  Very nice!  Love how you mix the various woods together.  I think I'm very much in your camp of avoiding paints and "painting with wood" instead.

 

Few questions if you don't mind:

 

1.  Where do you source your wood?  And do you use a mini-table saw like a Byrnes saw to cut blocks into planks?  I haven't tried that yet on my Byrnes saw, which is the biggest saw in my shop.  I'm wondering if I can buy small thickness wood under 1", saw it into mini sheets, and then cut planks from those sheets.  I just don't know how large in thickness I can go with that saw.

 

2.  Do you have any pictures comparing African blackwood with Bolivian rosewood?  I did a quick search and most of the Bolivian rosewood that I came across seemed on the lighter side.

 

3.  Given your experience with African blackwood, is it going to be a tough job using it on the Morgan?  I'd use it for the upper hull planking (so, there will be plenty of bending near the bow), the cap rails, the stem (which I'd have to carve from 5mm stock), and the beginning part of the bowsprit, which I think is on the order of 6-8mm in diameter.

 

Thanks in advance!

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Mike,

 

I'd start here for sourcing:  http://modelshipworld.com/index.php/topic/384-where-to-buy-wood/  I've found with the "exotics" that supply varies and a place that had wood I wanted last week, won't have it this week.   Jason at Crown doesn't carry any black wood of any sort but he does from time to time have off-cuts.  

 

I don't have they Jim Saw, but I do cut planks with the one I have so I know it can be done.  Somewhere, I think it's in Grant's Granado log that he made a spacing tool (for lack of a better term) to cut planks from stock.

 

Do you have any other table saw or band saw?   I used my 8" table saw at one point to cut up some 2 X 3 X 24 billets of ebony I got from Woodcrafter's (I think that was the place).

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Hey Mark, thanks so much for the link and tips.  Unfortunately that's the only saw I have.  I have a scroll saw but that probably won't cut it (sorry for the pun).

 

I'll have to check some of those sources out.  The one thing I liked about Jeff was that he milled your order with wood that all matched up quite nicely.  I worry about ordering from other places where you get variations in the wood. 

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Hi Mike!

 

I have a Byrnes saw which I use to do most of the finish work on the planks I use. I also have a full-sized woodworking shop for furniture building. I typically will use my band saw or full size table saw to break down planks into billets, and then use my planer or thickness sander to finish them. The Byrnes saw is the final step. I have the advantage of some great local suppliers of rough hardwoods,including exotics at very reasonable prices. You can get manageable billets at WoodCraft or Rockler stares in your area. Take a trip there and see what they stock...typically everything in 1/8, 1/2, and 1/4" thicknesses, and widths of 2 to6 inches (easy to cut on a Byrnes saw).

 

I'm at the Mystic Seaport Wooden Boat Show now, but I'll send photos of the rosewood when I get home on the weekend.

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Thanks very much Dave!  Hope you're having fun at Mystic!  It's a fun place, I took my oldest daughter there a couple years ago, and she liked going on board the Morgan, or as she called it, the pirate ship :)

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I will be trying some African blackwood for a wale quite soon. I have ordered some ebony blanks as well though (I used ebony on my triton cross section and though it turned out well it was certainly quite 'splintery' )

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If the African wood produces more problems than it is worth, you might consider a different tack.

Your original complaint is rooted in your choice to use a stain.  Stain is essentially a paint - it covers.

You could get to your original goal by using a wood dye.

Aniline wood dyes come in two flavors - water base ( aqueous ) and alcohol based.

The aqueous soaks in more than the alcohol and may be clearer when finished. The cost is that it takes

longer to dry and the first application tends to raise the grain of the wood.  The fix is to either fine sand

after the first application and then do another - which may produce an inconsistent finish -  or treat the wood

with water or water with 1:10 PVA added to lock down the fibers - sand after and then apply the dye.

Dyes come in several primary colors as well as various wood shades.  White is the one that will require a paint.

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Hi Mike,

 

I know you already have your stock of wood for your project, but this might be an alternative for you and any of the other members. This gent does inlays for  instruments/furniture and has stock of ebony and holly and others. I have ordered both ebony & holly strips and sheets from him and they are flawless. Very nice material. With Jeff retiring, I've ordered from him also - again, flawless product - this may be another source. First link is the home page. Second and third gets you to the good stuff. Hope this helps. Mark

 

 
 

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MWB, thanks so much!  If I could kiss you right now, I'd give you a big one!  I've been trying to find a source of thin cut African Blackwood for literally months now, and to no luck (I've tried the Lumberyard, but it seems like they are having difficulty sourcing the stock).  I might just try ebony - I heard blackwood was easier to work with, but it seems very hard to find in thin sizes.

Edited by Landlubber Mike
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Hi Mike,

OK, no kisses!! Seriously though, I really hope it helps out. You might contact him and see if he can mill some specific sizes for you. It could open up a new source of business for him.

Mark

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Yes, just sent him an email to see if he could cut custom sheets.  Looks like he has really nice stuff.  I'll let you and everyone know if this works out.

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I just looked at the thin pieces I have and the surface is not sanded smooth, kinda rough. The wider pieces are smooth. I'm sending you a pm. 

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If the African wood produces more problems than it is worth, you might consider a different tack.

Your original complaint is rooted in your choice to use a stain.  Stain is essentially a paint - it covers.

You could get to your original goal by using a wood dye.

Aniline wood dyes come in two flavors - water base ( aqueous ) and alcohol based.

The aqueous soaks in more than the alcohol and may be clearer when finished. The cost is that it takes

longer to dry and the first application tends to raise the grain of the wood.  The fix is to either fine sand

after the first application and then do another - which may produce an inconsistent finish -  or treat the wood

with water or water with 1:10 PVA added to lock down the fibers - sand after and then apply the dye.

Dyes come in several primary colors as well as various wood shades.  White is the one that will require a paint.

 

Jagger, thanks very much for these suggestions.  Sorry, I responded very quickly last night when I saw your post without fully reading it (had to put the kids to bed).

 

I've tried using black dyes and stains.  They certainly look quite nice on pear.  The issue with black though is that at least with the ones I've tried, they tend to almost have a paint like effect whereby although the grain may be highlighted, the figure is not (I'm probably getting my terminology mixed up here).  So, you sorta get a uniform color across the piece, unlike other colors which highlight the grain and figure.  It's hard to get the highlight/lowlight effect on black though - folks that paint miniature figurines seem to face the same issue when using black.

 

Generally though, using stains and/or oils on natural woods gives a really nice effect, as you sorta get more of an aged look with highlights and lowlights without really having to do much.  Some of the Eastern European masters use a bitumen type of finish (still not exactly sure that that is) which gives that effect in a really beautiful way.   It's that look that I'm trying to emulate.

 

I have to admit that I'm feeling my way through the wood/color issue, as I only have one model under my belt and have otherwise done no woodworking except to put up a decorative chair rail in my daughter's bedroom (plus, I'm not sure that I have a single artistic bone in my body).  What I'm coming to realize, at least for my own sense of aesthetics (or lack thereof), is that not only do I want to try to use complimentary colors on my models, but also, to the point possible, use similar "textures" for lack of a better word.  For example, on my Badger, I used a tung oil finish on the walnut upper hull, stern counter and tanganyika deck.  Elsewhere I used white, red ochre, and black paint.  When I look back at it, what I really like about it is the natural wood sections.  In contrast, I think the painted areas look plastic.  It certainly is the case that my painting skills aren't the best, but paint definitely covers up the character in woods.  

 

So, it seems like the better course would be to try to go all natural woods (maybe with some non-black stains) to keep the wood character, or use woods with very tight grains like pear and boxwood to go along with painted areas so that the "texture" is the same across all areas of the model.  I'm trying to do the former with my Pegasus (with stains thrown in) and the Charles Morgan.  I do think that when I eventually get to scratch building the HMS Lyme, that I'll stick with natural pear and boxwood with a tung oil finish, maybe with either ebonized pear for the black areas or ebony/blackwood.  

 

Anyway, it's been fun experimenting and learning about this kind of stuff and sharing it with everyone.  This is probably more than you were expecting - sorry, just some rambling thoughts on my end.   :rolleyes:  

Edited by Landlubber Mike

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After months of searching for a supplier of African Blackwood, I gave up and went with ebony.  Thanks to MWB's recommendation, I was able to source ebony sheets and strips to ship model specifications from Matt at Inlay Banding:

 

http://inlaybanding.com

 

Matt was really great to work with, and did a custom order for me to exact specifications.  He was even able to get ebony sheets down to as little as 0.7mm.  Matt most does work for inlays and veneers, but I think he would make a great resource for ebony and other exotics (along with ebony, he does holly, maple, boxwood, satinwood, maple and others).  Now that Jeff is retired, I would highly recommend Matt is you are looking for ebony or other woods.

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Just be careful with any exotic wood. The dust can be irritating to some, or downright toxic, so wear a mask when milling. Padauk wood, for example, a beautiful red wood, is especially nasty, according to Father Bill Romero, who framed his 3/16th Essex in it. He had to stop building the model because of coughing spasms. I had heard that African Blackwood can be irritating to some, but not all, who use it. So be careful.

Edited by uss frolick
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Hey guys, sorry, been busy and haven't been on MSW much recently.  Sorry to have missed your posts.

 

USS Frolick, thanks for the warning.  I started using ebony on my Charles Morgan, and have been very careful to the point of using dust masks, vacuuming constantly, dust collector running, etc.   Frankly, I should be as careful milling any kind of wood, but you certainly should be careful working with exotics.  Getting ebony milled to exact specifications is really going to help minimize the sawdust too as I won't have to use my thickness sander much.  It's a really beautiful wood though, and just having the stem done in ebony so far encourages me that using it will make for a very unique build.

 

http://modelshipworld.com/index.php/topic/12593-charles-w-morgan-by-landlubber-mike-model-shipways-new-bedford-whaling-bark-scale-164/?p=444511

 

 

SpyGlass, I'm using General Finishes products on my Pegasus. Here you can see the tests I ran using GF black stain and GF ebony dye stain:

 

http://modelshipworld.com/index.php/topic/7267-hms-pegasus-by-landlubber-mike-amativictory-models-scale-164/?p=227035

 

 

For my Pegasus, I went with GF black stain on the wales.  It went on very smooth and evenly, and although it's a bit tough to tell from the pictures, unlike using paints, it went on thin and kept the definition between the planks.  The GF ebony dye stain is a bit different in that it seems to go on thinner.  I was worried about using different woods and having different "blacks" on the model, so went with the GF black stain which seemed to produce a more uniform color.

 

http://modelshipworld.com/index.php/topic/7267-hms-pegasus-by-landlubber-mike-amativictory-models-scale-164/?p=378715

 

 

As a word of caution, you hear that people have used Fieblings shoe leather dye on pear.  The effects look great initially, but I've heard from multiple sources that it starts wearing off over time.  I've had no such issues with the GF stains.

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I've used Fiebing black leather dye on pear.  If you topcoat it with poly, there is no risk of it "wearing off".  Like any pigment, it my be subject to degradation by UV light, but that holds true for multiple stains, dyes and tints.  It looks great on pear...mimicking ebony!

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Agree with Doc Blake here - my dyed Pear with Fiebings on Confederacy has looked great for its 7 years - its all top coated with Danish Oil.  I cant even comprehend the thought of trying to plank a bluff bowed ship like the Morgan with Ebony....

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