Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Walnut... an almost perfect wood

I love how walnut behaves. It has a subtle but rich chantoyance, the figure can be absurdly amazing, and the chocolately color is gorgeous long before any finish is applied. It is tough and durable, holds crisp details very well, and despite that, it is not all that difficult to work. It grows somewhat abundantly in North America, making it one of the best alternatives to imported tropical hardwoods. It is always on my short list of choices for furniture projects.

However, I am slightly bothered by it. Rather, my body is.

I am not allergic to nuts, but I definitely know when I have been working with Walnut. I discovered this in depth while preparing stock for a walnut rocking chair course. A truckload of planks had to be milled into various sized almost-complete components so that the students could focus on details, not stock prep. This involved many days of cutting, planing, routing, and sanding the walnut. I was fine for the first couple days but quickly noticed that my lips and mouth would be tingling afterwards (no, I did not lick any of the sawdust, and yes, I work dust protection). I found this amusing more than anything else.

As wood sensitivity goes, however, these things tend to get worse over time. So it has been with walnut. It seems that each exposure bothers me a little more. Today I merely ran a board through a thickness planer and cut it with handsaws, and I have had the tingle all day. It feels like I am thirsty and need to brush my teeth, but it is unshakable.

I'm not giving up on walnut, I love it too much. I do wear a respirator when machining it, but don't think I can handle that while using handsaws. If it doesn't get much worse, I will just consider it one of the aspects of working with it... I do hope I do not have to drop it from my list, as many have done with yellow cedar, for example.

Another small chest is on it's way...

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