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Lignum Vitae, a wood that was once prized because of its extraordinary combination of strength, hardness, and density, is scientifically known as Guaiacum officinale or sanctum. The availability of both species which yield Lignum Vitae, Latin for wood of life in reference to the former use of the wood in medicines, is limited due to the trees being listed as potentially endangered and therefore covered by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) of Wild Fauna and Flora.  This limitation is not generally a major concern since the wood has largely been replaced by such modern materials as polymers, alloys, and composites.
As one might assume, based on the materials that have replaced it, Lignum vitae is the densest of all commercially traded woods and in addition the wood is quite hard and durable. Lignum Vitae wood has been used to make playing balls for the sports, including cricket and croquet.  The wood has additionally been used for such heavy duty purposes as police batons, mortars and pestles for grinding drugs and spices, and believe it or not, this wood has even been used as a part of the gem cutting process, perhaps the ultimate testimony to the hardness of the wood. A truly unique use of the wood has been as shaft bearings on US submarines, including in the USS Constitution.

The likely most ongoing, and even potentially bizarre, use of Lignum Vitae was its use in making insulators for the electric streetcar system in San Francisco which was rebuilt and modernized after the 1906 earthquake.  Originally the use of wooden insulators was considered a temporary solution, but the wood served the function admirably and the last of these insulators were not removed until 2009 as part of yet another modernization and retrofit. The alternative and historical uses of this wood should serve as a warning to wood turners about the types of challenges they might face when choosing to use Lignum Vitae.  In fact, I have read entire articles devoted to complaints about the difficulties of using Lignum Vitae for turning projects. The unique hardness of Lignum Vitae may present difficulties and frustrations to those who are unfamiliar with it, or who are unprepared or unwilling to devote the time and care required to work with it.  The wood is probably best treated with the same level of care and patience that would be lavished on acrylics and other plastics which have similar levels of hardness and potential difficulty. I would encourage any wood turner who is willing to invest time, energy, and patience to experiment with Lignum Vitae.  The experiment will yield happier results if the turner is forearmed with some knowledge and awareness about the wood, a factor which is likely true for anyone approaching any new and untested species of turning wood. Like many before me, I have just finished making a carvers mallet from a lignum vitae bowl.

Yes it's great wood for the job but I have always tried to ensure any furniture I have made or turnings have remained scratch free and the idea of belting a chisel with such a nice piece really goes against the grain. The 2 in this photo, I made years ago and they've had a lot of use.Both have lignum heads and I like the feel of the smaller one.

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21.11.2014 | Author: admin

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