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Thread: Lignum Vitae by the pound

  1. #1

    Lignum Vitae by the pound

    I found this in the scrap bin at woodcraft, it was $3 per pound. It is very heavy and has a fruity flowery smell to it. The guys at the store were really negative about it and said that I would never be able to glue it and that it smelled like industrial bathroom cleaner.

    Is this lignum vitae? Any advice for working with it / is it really that terrible? I searched KKF through google and there was not a whole lot of info.

  2. #2
    There is some variation in woods known as lignum vitae. There is also some contention about woods included, and whether or not they are "true" Lignum Vitae.
    Anyway. Here's some I have. Not all from the same stock. (The mallet handle is clearly not lignum).
    The mallet has been heavily oiled. The others are just cut and unfinished.
    Lignum Vitae has a heavy olive/greenish tinge to a lot of it. Grain patterns vary a lot. Sapwood is very light and is usually evident.
    The wood is VERY oily to the touch.
    I don't think it's particularly hard to work with. As with any oily wood, gluing is an issue.

  3. #3
    Das HandleMeister apicius9's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2011
    Honolulu, HI
    Does it say anything about Argentina aywhere? There is a 'Argentinian lignum vitae' which is cheaper and not quite as interesting as the real stuff, but very similar in characteristics. It isa bit of a pain to work because it is so hard and dense. Gluing is tricky because it is also quite oily. That basically means, it will be harder on your tools and abrasives and when you glue, be especially careful to clean and de-grease all surfaces. It also needs quite a long time to dry, always a bit of a gamble if you don't know how old it is. Wood like this usually ends up on my shelf and I look at it again 2 years later... Finally, keep the weight and the balance in mind when you use the heavy wood - more relevant for wa handles, though. I am sure, someone else knows more about it...Stefan

  4. #4
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Dec 2012
    San Francisco Bay Area
    I believe the trick to telling the difference between the Argentinian version (more common) and the true version (rare) is to look at the end grain. Argentinian has pores in clusters and on true lignum vitae, each pore is more distinct. To see this clearly, though, you probably have to sand to at least 320 on the end grain and then look closely. Either way, the woods are similar to work. They're both very dense, heavy and oily. As others mentioned, they will dull tools, gum up sand paper if you're not careful...and they can be tricky to glue well.

    If you make any glue joints - try and leave some ridges or rough edges on any non visible spot inside the glue joint. The more surface area, and rough texture the glue has to grab into, the better off you'll be. Epoxy will work but as Stefan said - degrease before gluing.

  5. #5
    Thanks for the info, I guess i'll let this sit for a year or two to be sure it is dry. It wasn't labeled and all the people at the store just said lignum vitae but I think the end grain looks more like the argentinian description with pore clusters. I was also going to see if it sank in water.

  6. #6
    Weird Wood Pusher Burl Source's Avatar
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    Jun 2011
    Kerby, OR
    Bottom photo grain pattern looks like lignum vitae.
    If you sand a portion and take it into direct sunlight the color will change within minutes.
    Mark Farley / Burl Source
    Phone 541-287-1029, Email
    Visit our web store

  7. #7
    oh, that's a liggie; even visually almost an identical match to a block i got years back for conversion to a maul. beautiful, beautiful stuff. good samples have a wonderful perfume and exude a filmy wax. scrape off, and in a few months it comes back. that oily wax is one reason why (i recall) they once made ball bearings out of it for early industrial use (steamers, even early submarines). it could take the abuse and the oily wax self-lubricated, so you didn't have to worry about adding grease.

    yours is almost certainly one of the lesser varieties. i think the original species was banned / became commercially defunct as far back as the early 20th century. super high demand, slow growth, restricted home area. some legit supply might still be entering the market, but not something you're likely to find in a bargain bin in Joe's Hardware shack ... and certainly not for bargain prices.

    that said ... they used this stuff for ball bearings and hard-use tools.
    worth repeating: it was used for BALL BEARINGS and hard-use tools, stuff normally made of iron or steel blends.

    density will be a working issue, but that oily wax is the bigger long-term problem. (use a scraper to remove; only sandpaper afterwards.) this stuff can bleed oily wax for years; mine's still going at six. best bet is to use physics and design to your advantage and avoid adhesive-based solutions entirely.

    brilliant when used for the right purpose; nightmare if you try to make it into something it's not. t'ain't oak, t'ain't pine, and it t'ain't maple 'er cherry neither.

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