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Glossary

Bark

Bark is the outermost layer of stems and roots of woody plants. Bark refers to all the tissues outside the vascular cambium and is a nontechnical term. It overlays the wood and consists of the inner bark and the outer bark.

The term bark is also employed more popularly to refer to all tissues outside the wood.

Bark constitutes, on the average, about 10 percent of the volume of a tree, but the figure varies depending on tree species and age. This protective outer covering of the trunk, branches, and roots of trees and other woody plants protects against fire, and provides insulation in cold conditions. Among other functions, bark plays an essential role in transporting photosynthetic products in plant tissues.

 

Blank

A wood “blank” is the term usually given to a piece of wood which has been prepared for turning. A blank is usually rectangular with the corners still on the piece.

 

Burl (Burr)

A Burl is a wart-like deformed growth normally in the root or trunk but sometimes on the branches. This usually forms as a result of some injury to the tree, or infection under the bark, etc. As the tree grows the burrs can grow with it causing the surrounding growth wood to be twisted or wavy which results in unusual and beautiful figures.

 

Colo

Color in wood covers a wide range, (yellow, green, red, brown, black, and even nearly pure white woods exist), but most woods are shades of white and brown. Variations may show on a single piece of wood, depending on color differences between heartwoodsapwood, earlywood, latewood, rays, and resin canals. Natural color is subject to change by prolonged exposure to the atmosphere and by bleaching or dyeing.

 

Craftsmanship

The quality of design and work made by hand, artistry. Craftsmanship in art means a skill or dexterity exhibited by a person for creating an artistic work with hands. It is a quality which may be admired

Crotch

The crotch of a tree is where the main trunk begins to split and branch out. This is an area of high stress inside the trunk, which can result in some beautiful figuring in the wood. The intersection of the grain inside the branch and the trunk combine to create an interference pattern, much like two sets of ripples in a pond. It is often referred to as “feathering” or “feathercrotch”.

 

Endgrain

The term endgrain refers to the surface produced from a cross section of the tree's trunk, as opposed to facegrain which is wood cut lengthwise.

End grain is the grain of wood seen when it is cut across the growth rings. Rather than cutting a plank of wood the length of the trunk, end grain wood is actually cut at a 90-degree angle to the grain. End grain cuts produce highly-aesthetic wood; it is not only cherished for its rich and unique visual character, but also its superior durability.

 

Fibers

Wood fibers (also spelled wood fibres) are usually cellulosic elements that are extracted from trees and used to make materials, including paper.

The wood fibre can be extracted as a primary product, or collected during the milling of lumber. Wood fibres can also be recycled from used paper materials. The major constituents of wood fibers are lignin, cellulose, hemicellulose, and extractives. Each of these components contributes to fiber properties. Wood fiber is a component of wood and is characterized by its rigidity

 

Figure

A board’s figure refers to the ability of the grain in the wood to catch and reflect light. The term figure refers to characteristic, special or unusual markings that may be found on the surface of the wood. It applies to designs or patterns of wood surfaces. Interesting figure comprises a combination of color, grain, luster and texture. Different kinds of figures may be revealed, depending on how the wood is cut.

What causes figure to happen in wood is still up for debate; some say it’s due to a genetic aberration in a particular tree, while others think it’s caused by environmental stress. Whatever the reason figured woods are a great way to add a bit of visual interest to a project!

Curl: Curl figure is comprised of a tight, undulating “ripple” effect in a quarter sawn piece of wood. Curl can be a bit of a catch-all term, for example, all fiddleback is curly, but not all curl can be fiddleback. 

Fiddleback: This is a form of curly figure giving very straight grain with almost perpendicular curls from edge to edge. The name derives from the use of this figure for the backs of violins. Typically, the spaces in between a curl have to be a quarter of an inch or less for it to be classified as “fiddleback” curl. Tight, uniform, and usually close to a 90 degree angle to the wood grain, fiddleback curl is prized by luthiers for instrument backs and sides.

Flame: Flame is another sort of figure that can get caught under the “curly” umbrella, although it’s somewhere between curl and quilt, visually speaking. It looks much like the flames of a fire. Electric guitar makers love flame figure for bookmatched tops.

Quilt: Quilt is a pattern that almost looks like bubbling on the surface of the wood. Most often found in big leaf maple, quilted figure is another highly sought-after quality by luthiers; (a quilted-top guitar can often double or triple the price of one without).

Spalt: While there’s some debate about what causes wood to become figured, we know what causes spalting figuring, specifically, a fungus. Spalting can happen in almost any wood species, but it’s mostly found in maple. When the ends of a freshly cut log are exposed to moisture, a fungus can find its way inside the log and begin to eat. If left too long, the fungus will rot the log from the inside out. But if you catch it in time, it will leave random, dark tracks inside the wood that almost look like pen scribbles. It can be very attractive for decorative turnery.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of figured wood; there are many, many other kinds you’ll hear about (bee’s-wing, bear claw, pommele, tiger stripe, etc.) These are just the kinds of figure we run into the most.

Finish

It refers to sanding and polishing wood after the tool cutting is completed. While not always involving polish or other chemical treatments of the wood, at a minimum finishing involves sanding a piece smooth and removing any tool marks not part of the work piece design.

Home woodworkers often craft products that come into contact with food, such as cutting boards, serving bowls, utensils and more. Such products need to be treated with food-safe wood finishes before being used to prepare or serve meals.

Most finishes give wooden kitchenware a shiny, glossy appearance. Many finishes contain solvents used as bonding agents and should not be consumed directly, but become safe when the solvent has time to evaporate or bond with oxygen molecules. Oils, polyurethanes, wax, etc. are commonly used to finish wood products.

 

Food Safe

Home woodworkers often craft products that come into contact with food, such as cutting boards, serving bowls, utensils and more. Such products need to be treated with food-safe wood finishes before being used to prepare or serve meals.

In 1972, the use of lead as a metallic dryer was banned from wood finishes. Since then all manufactured finishing products can be considered food safe. Many finishes contain solvents used as bonding agents and should not be consumed directly, but become safe when the solvent has time to evaporate or bond with oxygen molecules.

To be considered truly food safe, a finish must cure properly, which takes much longer than drying. Curing times can vary based on type of finish and your home’s humidity and temperature levels. Around 30 days is considered standard for most food-safe finishes. 

Some examples of wood finishes:

Mineral oil, also known as liquid paraffin and butcher’s block finish, is easy to apply. It has lower water resistance and requires reapplication more frequently. 

Tung oil is extracted from nuts. Known for good water resistance, it often requires numerous coats. It leaves a natural finish that darkens the wood while showcasing the grain. Once thoroughly cured, it is food-safe. 

Raw linseed oil, extracted from flax seeds, has a good appearance. However it has a lower water resistance and a long curing time. Boiled linseed oil is considered toxic and not food-safe.

Walnut oil, made of pressed walnuts, is available as a salad oil. It is easy to apply, but requires frequent reapplication. Walnut oil is not recommended for those with nut allergies. 

Shellac, derived from Indian lac bugs, is a common food-safe film finish. It is highly water-resistant. Available in different hues, shellac is sold in liquid form or in flakes that must be dissolved in ethanol before application. (The ethanol evaporates during the curing process.)

Polyurethane protects wood from scratches or damage. It leaves a shiny coat. However, the fumes and long curing time require a well-ventilated area.

Beeswax is made by honeybees. Added to oil finishes, it makes them more water repellent. Solid beeswax needs to be melted to be applied.

Carnauba wax is a standalone finish or a topcoat with another finish. It tends to be harder and more water-resistant than beeswax. 

 

Grain

Wood grain is the arrangement of the fibers that make up the wood and is also the pattern produced by these fibers on the surface of the wood. The word grain tends to refer to the regular pattern of the wood and also to interesting irregularities.

Grain is often used synonymously with texture, as in coarse, fine, or even texture or grain, and also to denote direction of wood elements, whether straight, spiral, or wavy, for example. Grain sometimes is used in place of figure.

Grain direction usually can’t be detected from endgrain examination.

Straight: As the name suggests, the straight grain denotes that fibers grow straight and parallel with the tree’s trunk. Straight-grained woods are generally easiest to work and machine with minimal complications.

Spiral: Some tree species grow with the grain at a slight incline, with a spiral-like pattern circling the trunk.

Interlocked:  Taking spiral grain a step further, interlocked grain occurs when spiral-grained trees change directions, and spiral back and forth throughout the trunk, alternating between right-hand and left-hand spirals. Depending on the slant of the spiral, and the frequency of the direction changes, woods can be either shallowly or strongly interlocked. This change in grain direction can be seen the clearest on quartersawn surfaces, which creates a ribbon stripe figure. Both spiral and interlocked grain can present challenges when machining, and may result in tearout.

Quilted: Pillow-like, three dimensional effect caused when an uneven or wavy interlocking pattern, forming a bumpy surface on the log. It is a larger, more emphatic form of Pommelé (pattern of small circles or ovals that sometimes overlap each other)

Wavy: Just as the name implies, this grain pattern indicates when the grain of the wood grows in a wavy fashion. This pattern is most clearly seen in flatsawn sections of wood.

Irregular: This is a more ambiguous catch-all term that describes wood grain that swirls or twists in an “abnormal way”. Irregular grain can be due to a number of factors, such as knots, burls, and large branches separating from the trunk called “crotch” wood.

 

Growth Rings

 These are the rings which indicate the growth pattern and age of a tree. The rings are often distinguished by the light/dark pattern of the wood produced as the sap rises early in the season less in the latter season.

 

Heartwood

Also called true wood, is the non-functioning xylem (sapwood) tissue towards the center of the trunk which provides the hardest and most durable part of the timber. The contrasts created between the heartwood and sapwood can be very intense in some pieces, and their patterns prized.

Lathe

A wood lathe is a machine tool that rotates a workpiece about an axis of rotation to perform various operations such as cutting, sanding, knurling, drilling, etc.

Wood turning lathes are typically used to shape wood into cylindrical profiles. Objects made on a wood lathe include such items as furniture legs, lamp posts, platters, goblets, mortars, bowls and other ornamental forms.

The origin of turning dates to around 1300 B.C. when the Egyptians first developed a two-person lathe and like any early machine it was astoundingly simple. The device used a simple strap to spin the rig, and it required a second operator to do that spinning. One person would turn the wood work piece with a rope while the other used a sharp tool to cut shapes in the wood. Early bow lathes were also developed and used in Germany, France and Britain. The first record of a mechanical continuous revolution lathe is in the form of a sketch by Leonardo da Vinci, C. 1480.

 

Live Edge

Live edge woodworking has become a must-know topic. If you follow rustic or organic interior designing, you’re in all likelihood aware of the popularity of live edge woodworking. What does live-edge actually mean? Live edge defines the unfinished edge of the woodwork. It is the periphery of wood not altered by hand tools or woodworking machinery. As a result, the untouched end retains the original characteristics of a tree, its shape, and bark. This design element is referred to as a live-edge.

Because of the organic nature and odd cross-section shape that live edge turning produces, it creates a truly unique art piece. This is most evident in the natural lines of the bowl’s rim. It isn't straight, the edge of the rim is not only uniquely made up of the untouched edge of the tree, but the rim line is wavy and irregular.

 

Luster

Natural luster is characteristic of some species. Sometimes referred to as sheen, a wood’s luster is a measurement of how much light it will reflect. Typically, any wood may appear to have a high sheen if a glossy finishing agent has been applied overtop the wood; however, some wood species are able to take on a very high polish without any sort of finish applied to them. Ebonies and many types of rosewood are known for their high natural luster; spruce, ash, basswood and poplar are also recognized for their luster.

 

Natural Edge

The terminology difference between “live-edge” and “natural edge” is loose. This is often debated in woodworking circles. Some say it's the same meaning while others argue that when the bark is removed it is no longer a "live edge" and instead "natural edge."

The term natural edge is then applied when describing the raw organic shape of the edge without the bark, and the term live edge if the piece still has the bark.

 

Sapwood

This is the relatively soft and perishable wood from the outer part of the trunk; a non technical term for xylem. It transports the sap from the roots to the leaves, and is usually a different shade of color than the heartwood.

 

Tearout

When we turn a side grain wood bowl, we are basically turning a bundle of linear wood fibers, these fibers run across the surface of the wood bowl blank. With each rotation of the lathe, the end-grain or ends of these fibers will pass by twice. These fiber ends are known as end grain.

It is this end-grain that can rip, snap, or simply break off and that creates grain tear out.

Typically, side grain, or the longer parts of the wood fibers, cut smoothly and don’t bend or break as quickly as the end-grain.

Texture

The term texture describes the degree of uniformity of appearance of a wood surface, usually transverse. In the most basic terms, the wood texture describes how a wood feels. Given an equal amount of sanding and smoothing operations, different woods will feel smoother than others. Some will still feel somewhat soft and rough (what is described as coarse texture), while others will feel very smooth and glassy (referred to as a fine texture).

Also related to the texture itself is the uniformity of the texture. Because of the size and distributions of the pores, wood can be very uneven textured. Diffuse porous woods with small pores tend to be the most evenly textured.

If a wood species has very large pores, the finish surface will likely be grooved with tiny slits and valleys, but if the pores are listed as small or very small, such as the pores of Hard Maple, the wood will likely be finished to a smooth and level surface.

Turning

Woodturning is the craft of using a wood lathe with hand-held tools to cut a shape that is symmetrical around the axis of rotation. In wood turning a piece of wood is rotated on a lathe and shaped with various cutting tools, the turner controls the contact of tools and wood entirely by hand. The cutters are not fixed, nor advanced automatically, as with the metal-working lathe.

 Two distinct methods of turning wood are spindle turning and face plate turning. Bowls, platters and other vessels are face plate turned, while pens, furniture legs and spindles are spindle turned.

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