The 'Dragon Lovespoon' has now been completed and many lessons have been learned along the way. I can see why white beech is highly regarded as a carving timber but I have also learned that it would not yield easily to some of my design intentions – and not at all to others. The idea of a darker and perhaps textured passage of carving in contrast to a relatively pale timber for most of the design, has appealed to me since I saw this effect in one of Mike Davies lovespoons. Pyrography was going to be the means I would use to tone and texture the dragon and to pyro-engrave the scales but a little experimentation on some white beech scraps showed that the soft oily/waxy timber would make this impossibly tricky.
The scales where carved onto the dragon, something which the timber did allow – white beech holds detail surprisingly well for such a soft timber – however its waxy nature made plan 'B' for achieving the two toned effect so difficult that the final result was something less than, or at least, something other than, what I had envisioned when I started out. The whole finishing process in fact was made difficult by the nature of the timber.
Along the way I was able to get some inkling of just how well this timber might be finished using the natural attributes of the timber to bring out its inner beauty. The natural oils and waxiness of the timber could enable it to brought to a very good finish without any other finishing products and perhaps just a little wax and rottenstone would be all the finishing necessary. Plan 'B' however and the two toned finish I was after had sent me down a contrary path to working sympathetically with the timber and so I persevered through various iterations of using artist oil tinted danish oil – washing off with turpentine and reapplying, until a final truce was bartered and some lessons about fighting against, rather than working sympathetically with the particular timber used, were learned.
Gilding with 24 carat gold leaf was another lesson attempted, a lesson that might have been easier on a flat surface rather than the concave interior of the spoon's bowl with two included hearts. The tooled finish inside the bowl, mirrored on parts of the large heart at the top of the spoon, added to the surface area that had to be gilded, more than you'd think.
I'd mentioned before that the white beech held detail quite well in spite of being very soft but the kind of deeply layered detail in this design left me thinking as I progressed, that a harder timber like rock maple would have left a finer finish straight from the tools in those hard to reach areas where the angle of attack for the cutting edge must necessarily be a steep 'scraping' cut. In this timber it was impossible to avoid some fuzziness and little tear-outs in these hard to reach areas. Some fine (400 grit) rifflers that I had recently purchased likewise left some fuzzy fibres, not on the surfaces they worked on but on the adjoining arrises. Fortunately this fuzziness was removed, where it could be reached, with narrow strips of abrasive, even at the same grit as the rifflers..?
The final result was not exactly what I had hoped to achieve, as to the two toned effect or to the fineness of finish that I'd desired. Instead the tinted danish oil with the bit of extra colour on the dragon has ended as an antiqued 'grunge' sort effect.
The use of white beech has been part of a quest to find some suitable Australian native timbers just right for love spoon carving and or designs suitable to the timbers used, but this will require the kind of knowledge only experience can supply. I'll be using white beech again as I still have a few pieces but next time I'll design to work with it rather than against the nature of the timber.