Beware of Australians Bearing Softwoods
Among us old-school newspaper cronies, we have a saying: If your mother says she loves you, check it out. Meaning: Don’t believe a word anyone tells you.
So when I arrived in Australia earlier this month I inoculated myself against some of the most common Australian practical jokes. (Out of respect for this beautiful country, I’ll say no more on this topic.) However, the Australians are clever and persistent when it comes to having a good laugh, as you will soon see.
Today at the Melbourne Guild of Fine Woodworking we began building the Schoolbox from “The Joiner and Cabinet Maker.” It’s a smallish dovetailed chest. All of the students received a stack of parts for their chests that were New Guinea rosewood.
However, the owner of the school brought a stack of parts for me to use that was a different species – white cedar.
I thanked Alastair Boell, who owns the school, and then started teaching the students how to plane and dovetail their rosewood components, knowing that my boards would be a bit easier to deal with.
If you are from Australia, you can stop laughing now.
White cedar in Australia (Melia azedarach) is not the white cedar of North America. Here, white cedar is a dang-tough hardwood – somewhat harder than white oak. So as soon as I started dressing my boards I got into the weeds because the wood fought back.
I got all my boards surfaced and then it came time to do some dovetailing demonstrations. Every time I started sawing, the wood grabbed the sawplate. The stock was quite dry, but it just wouldn’t behave when sawn or planed.
After a few hours into the class, Alastair mentioned that the wood I was using was cut from branches from a white cedar street tree. Yup. Reaction wood. Hard reaction wood.
I laughed and laughed. Then I started in on making this schoolbox as perfect as possible with this nice firewood.
Results to come.
— Christopher Schwarz