Blackwood & Ornamental Turning
Ornamental turning consists of a wide variety of techniques for producing decoration upon the surfaces of turned objects. Since African Blackwood is in the rosewood family, it contains a high proportion of resins and oils as is typical of this family of hardwoods. This natural oily quality, along with the extremely fine grain texture, produces excellent results when it is used for ornamental turning. A highly polished surface may be obtained with a very carefully honed cutter.
Blackwood may be used for the main body of a piece as in the perfume bottle at the left, or for trim details in combination with other woods. A ridge or a rim will hold its shape without breaking with even the most delicate cut executed upon it. The uniform, unfigured surface color, a dark plum brown/black, offers no distraction to compete with the geometrical patterning created by the technique of ornamental turning. It is in the same category as elephant ivory, which was once used in the craft in the Victorian era, as a material whose even coloration and smooth texture best shows off the effects of the decoration.
Blackwood also exhibits a delightful, flowery fragrance as it is being cut. This is a result of the volatilization of some of the oils it contains. Its lower content of silicates and other abrasive minerals (which are found in some woods such as ebony) keeps it from dulling the cutters as quickly. This allows the turner to work for a longer period of time before the cutter must be resharpened. In sum, African blackwood is a delight for the woodturner to utilize and must be marked as one of the finest hardwoods in the world for fine lathe work. More detail and examples of this craft may be seen at my ornamental turning gallery.
Even though the utilization of blackwood by ornamental turners represents a very small proportion of the commercial harvest of the wood each year, it plays an indispensable role in the execution of this craft and its loss would be keenly felt. Wise management and conservation of this remarkable resource can insure that it is available for future ornamental turners to render their particular creative magic, as well as continuing to play its vital role in the East African ecosystem.
Further information can be seen at my ornamental turning site which has a page with background of a scanned blackwood board, the mpingo wood photographs on this site and at the Windsor World of Woods page on African blackwood.
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Last revised 21 Apr 2008.