Rafts of lumber

You’re an ambitious woodworker, passionate about creating stunning pieces that showcase the beauty and versatility of wood. Contrary to popular belief, you’ve heard whispers about a mystical type of wood that sinks in water. Curiosity piqued, and you set off on a quest to learn more about this elusive material.

Welcome, inquisitive woodworker, to your ultimate resource on the considerations when using wood that sinks in water.




Introduction To Sinking Wood

Wood may float or sink in water, but what exactly separates these two categories? As you may have guessed, it all comes down to the density of the wood relative to the density of water. Highly dense wood species possess unique characteristics not found in their lighter counterparts.

In short, sinking wood is denser than water, making it a unique and sought-after material for certain applications. However, there are several factors one must consider when working with sinking wood.

“The density and hardness of sinking wood make it an appealing choice for furniture makers and woodworkers alike, but working with this unique material can present challenges,” says Ross Adams, a respected woodworker and master craftsman.

Floating logs of wood

The Science Behind Sinking Wood: Density

Water has a density of 1 g/cm³. For wood to sink, its density must be greater than that.

Although most wood species have a density lower than water, there are few that surpass this threshold, opening up a world of possibilities for those willing to explore these rarities. But why are these woods denser than water? A combination of factors, including the wood’s structure and the concentration of lignin and cellulose within it, are responsible for this property.




Types Of Sinking Wood

Lignum Vitae (Guaiacum officinale)

 

Lignum Vitae, also known as the “Tree of Life,” is a truly exceptional wood species. Native to the Caribbean and the northern coast of South America, Lignum Vitae boasts an unrivalled combination of strength, durability, and density, making it the perfect choice for applications where these qualities are essential.

Key Characteristics:

  • Density: Topping the charts with a density ranging between 1.2 to 1.4 g/cm³, Lignum Vitae is the densest wood in the world.
  • Working Properties: Its oily composition yields a natural lubrication that allows for smooth cutting and minimal tool wear, despite its extreme hardness—up to 4,500 lbs on the Janka scale.
  • Colour: Lignum Vitae exhibits a beautiful range of colours, from a pale yellow heartwood to a deep, rich green.
  • Applications: Its outstanding properties make it ideal for heavy-duty engineering applications such as bearings, propeller shafts, and mallet heads. Additionally, its vibrant colours make it a popular choice for ornamental turning and heirloom woodworking projects.

 

Black Ironwood (Olea laurifolia)

 

Black Ironwood, found in the southern regions of Africa, comes in as a close second for the title of the world’s densest wood. Known for its attractive dark colour and exceptional resistance to wear, Black Ironwood has carved out a niche among artisans and industrialists.

Key Characteristics:

  • Density: With a density of approximately 1.2 g/cm³, Black Ironwood is one heavyweight contender.
  • Working Properties: This species is notoriously difficult to work with, as its extreme density (Janka hardness of 3,670 lbs) poses challenges for cutting and shaping. Carbide-tipped tools are highly recommended.
  • Colour: As the name suggests, Black Ironwood displays a range of dark brown to black hues, often accented with streaks of lighter brown.
  • Applications: Due to its remarkable resistance to wear, Black Ironwood is perfect for applications such as railroad ties, construction materials, and precision-engineered parts. Its highly attractive appearance also makes it an apt choice for custom furniture, sculpture, and turning projects.

Brazilian Ebony (Diospyros sp.)

 

Brazilian Ebony is characterized by its extreme hardness and rich dark colour. Found in the tropical regions of Central and South America, this highly sought-after material lends itself perfectly to furniture making and other woodworking projects, where both form and function are paramount.

Key Characteristics:

  • Density: Brazilian Ebony’s density averages around 1.1 g/cm³, making it an impressive heavyweight in the world of woodworking.
  • Working Properties: Due to its extreme hardness—up to 3,840 lbs on the Janka scale—Brazilian Ebony can be quite challenging to work with. However, sharp tools and slower cutting speeds can help tame this exotic beast.
  • Colour: Exhibiting a deep, dark brown colour with streaks of black, Brazilian Ebony is strikingly beautiful and adds sophistication to any woodworking project.
  • Applications: Its toughness, stability, and attractive appearance contribute to its popularity in the areas of high-end furniture making, cabinetry, and flooring. Moreover, its tonal qualities also make it an ideal choice for crafting musical instruments.

 

It’s vital to note that sourcing these rare woods responsibly is essential. Ensuring the use of ethically harvested and sustainably sourced materials will maintain the health of these ecosystems and prevent overexploitation.

 

Wood SpeciesDensity (g/cm³)Janka Hardness (lbf)OriginNotable ApplicationsKey Features

Lignum Vitae

(Guaiacum officinale)

1.2 – 1.44,500Caribbean and Northern South AmericaBearings, propeller shafts, mallet heads, ornamental turningDensest wood in the world, natural lubrication, vibrant colours

Black Ironwood

(Olea laurifolia)

1.23,670Southern AfricaRailroad ties, construction materials, precision-engineered parts, custom furnitureExceptional resistance to wear, dark colour, difficult to work

Brazilian Ebony

(Diospyros sp.)

1.13,840Central and South AmericaHigh-end furniture, cabinetry, flooring, musical instrumentsExtreme hardness, rich dark colour, stability, and tonal qualities for instruments
Woodworking ChallengesSustainability ConcernsHistorical UsesCommon Names

Lignum Vitae

(Guaiacum officinale)

Oily composition requires special attention when gluing; it should be pre-drilled before screwingOverexploitation has led to CITES regulations: trade of this species is now regulated.Traditional shipbuilding; used to create balls, pulleys, and other parts for shipsTree of Life, Gaiac tree

Black Ironwood

(Olea laurifolia)

Sharpening tools frequently is crucial due to the wood’s dense natureAfrican Black Ironwood is not currently listed in the CITES Appendices but should be used sustainablyVarious traditional African tools and weapons; fence postsIronwood, Dead Man’s Hand

Brazilian Ebony

(Diospyros sp.)

Difficult to work with due to its interlocked grain pattern and high-density blunting cutting toolsBrazilian Ebony has been overharvested, leading several species in the genus Diospyros to be listed on the IUCN Red List.Ancient ebony was often used to make ornamental turning pieces in Europe, as far back as Roman times.Ebony black or blackwood
Logs of wood in the water

Sourcing And Sustainability

Given the rarity and high demand, the sustainability of sinking wood species has become a critical consideration. Organizations like FSC and PEFC work to promote responsible forestry, ensuring the long-term availability of these woods without harming the environment.

Before purchasing sinking wood, verify that your supplier is adhering to sustainable practices and holds certifications from such organizations.

Working With Sinking Wood

Though highly desirable, sinking wood can pose challenges during woodworking. The density and hardness can quickly dull standard tools and make shaping and cutting a laborious task.

Hand tools like chisels, goulettes, and hand planes, made from high-quality metal alloys or carbide-tipped, can help overcome these challenges. Other tips for working with sinking wood include using slower cutting speeds, more frequent sharpening of tools, and allowing for ample drying time to avoid warping or cracking.

“Working with sinking wood requires patience and good technique. Start with sharp tools and work slowly. Enjoy the journey—it’s a rewarding experience,” advises renowned woodworker Samantha Baker.




Applications And Potential Use Cases

Sinking wood is well-suited for a variety of applications, including:

  1. Intricately carved furniture
  2. Heavy-duty industrial components
  3. Musical instruments
  4. Luxury flooring

These woods’ longevity, resistance to wear and decay, and overall beauty lend themselves to projects that require lasting performance and aesthetic appeal.

Expert Tips And Tricks

  1. Make responsible choices by exploring alternative local species with similar characteristics to minimize the environmental impact of your projects (sources like the Wood Database are invaluable for this).
  2. Connect with other woodworkers to share knowledge and experiences when dealing with sinking wood. You never know what clever tips you might learn from fellow enthusiasts.
  3. Regularly monitor your tools and equipment to extend their life and ensure accurate, clean cuts, especially when working with sinking wood.

Discovering the world of sinking wood can offer endless opportunities and inspire innovation in your woodworking ventures. By understanding the factors to consider, from sourcing to working with the material, you’re well on your way to creating masterpieces unlike any other. Happy crafting!




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James Davis

James Davis

I’m James Davis, a carpenter with eight years of experience in carpentry services, repairs, installations, renovations, and maintenance of interior doors. I have a diploma in carpentry and joiner trade from the Education Skills Australia Institute and take pride in delivering high-quality results to ensure customer satisfaction. I’m a blog writer for Octopus Doors Company and enjoy sharing my knowledge and tips on maintaining security measures and choosing the right door materials, paints, or handle styles. I specialize in custom-made interior doors and strive to make every home look fabulous. Contact me anytime for help with door-related issues.

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