On Sanding

When I was just starting out I met a professor of woodwork from San Diego who was hanging out in CR for a while. He told me that he taught his students that one way of looking at woodworking was that each operation removes the signs of the previous operation. The planer smooths out the waves from the sawmill bandsaw, the hand plane further refines the surface, and then each grade of sandpaper removes the scratches left by the earlier grits, until you can no longer see scratches. On flat surfaces you can use a scraper and skip the sandpaper entirely.

Start sanding with the finest grit that will do the job – if it takes too long, it was too fine. Once the signs of the previous operation are gone, further sanding does nothing to improve things. Brush off the dust and loose grit before changing grits. Only skip one grade at a time. With coarse woods 180 might be the last grade, with dense, fine-grained woods, 400 grit might not be too much.

The finer grits clog up fast. To clean the sandpaper you can slap it, use compressed air, or wet sand with water or some kinds of finishes, like oil or oil/poly. That makes the paper last a long time.

A beveled edge foam sanding disc in a drill or drill press at 1800-2200 rpm is a big timesaver. I’ve heard of people making a finishing belt on stationary belt sanders by taking a worn out belt and jamming the edge of a two by four to further wear it down, and then using it as a polishing belt.

Flap finishing wheels are another time saver, use before the finish coat, and then to polish the dried finish. I use the finest grade I can find, 3M or Norton make them.

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Joinery

Butterfly joinery at Biesanz Woodworks

Butterfly joinery at Biesanz Woodworks

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Biesanz Woodworks at the Centro Cultural de Escazú

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Gallinazo trees in bloom north of Quepos, Costa Rica – Schizolobium parahyba

Gallinazo trees north of quepos Flowering Gallinazo (Schizolobium parahyba) trees between Parrita and Jaco, Costa Rican Pacific coast. It is a pioneer species used for reforestation but the wood is soft and used for pulp, boxes, pallets. Beautiful flowers. Scarlet Macaws like to nest in them because they can find or make a cavity in the wood.

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Growing cocobolo rosewood trees

growing cocobolo rosewood trees

Our cocobolo is reseeding!

To the left is one of many Cocobolo ( a rosewood variety) trees that Sarah and I planted 18 years ago. What is really cool is the little guy to the right – a baby Cocobolo!

Cocobolo (Dalbergia retusa) takes a while to put up a main trunk. This still hasn’t done much, maybe 8 inches you can’t see. Mature trees get over 30 inches DBH (diameter breast height), and I’ve seen some 4 foot wide at the base. I’ve heard of them around 5 foot wide, but all turned out to be hollow! When I’d buy a load, I had to buy the branches as well, which is how I got into the thicker spalted shapes, to use that stuff up.

Cutting up the wood on our large locally made band saw, you often find small stingless bees and dark honey.
The big trees on accessible private land are mostly gone, but in the dry forest parks it’s often the dominant species.

growing cocobolo rosewood trees

Cocobolo rosewood logs sprouting

Not only will big cocobolo logs sprout, but if you dig up a cocobolo tree and move it, it will keep sprouting from the old location for several years. When we built our new store in Escazu, San Jose, Costa Rica, the earth moving equipment bumped into our cocobolo tree. Other trees might have died; the cocobolo tree bled red sap and recovered completely. Our friend Tommy has some cocobolo trees on The Ark Herb Farm in Heredia. A backhoe ran over his tree by accident, but the tree bounced back up and grew fine.

Seeds are fairly easy to sprout and have a good germination rate. The growth habit is somewhat bushy and the branches do not tend to grow straight.
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Dalbergia calycinia – Rare highland variety of cocobolo rosewood in Escazu, Costa Rica

highland cocobolo
I’m so happy about this…I work mainly with Cocobolo, a rosewood of Central America, and eventually learned that sometimes I was buying a highland variety. After some years, I’d found it twice, growing above 4000 ft elevation, and finally found some in seed. We planted some,and after only 8 years three are in seed!

This was formerly common in the Costa Rican highlands, but made great charcoal, and was over harvested. Took some years to find out, but it’s Dalbergia calycinia. Much as in love, perseverance and the Sudden Lunge sometimes pay off! My wife and the grandchildren of J. Thurber will understand…

The native nurseries at ITCR and EARTH will share in the bounty. And thanks to John and Carla for helping gather the seed for these, way up between Escazu and Santa Ana.

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Doing laundry with Chumico Soapseed in Costa Rica

chumico or soapseed

I gathered a hatful of chumico soapseed below a big tree in the lower pasture, turns out they’re great for doing laundry.  Put the rind from 5-6 seeds in a cloth bag and toss them in with non white clothing, does 5 loads.  I love the tropics!

Chumico (also known as soapseed, soap nuts, Florida soapberry) grows widely in Costa Rica’s Central Valley.  Look at my photos to see the seeds, and I have saplings at my nursery, and free seeds at my shop next door.  Chumico is the Costa Rican name.  Kids here used to play marbles with the round black seed inside the rind.  The scientific name is Sapindus saponaria.

Jana says “If you don’t live in Costa Rica you can buy them from http://maggiespureland.com/ also from http://www.laundrytree.com. They’re great, make the clothes very soft. They do turn whites a little beige. The soap nuts also seem to keep the inside of the washing machine cleaner…who knew?”

They don’t produce suds, but then you don’t need suds to get things clean.

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How long ago did somebody hammer this into a cocobolo tree?

rosewood cocobolo with huge nail

Anyone want to guess what year this 4.5 inch square spike got hammered into the cocobolo tree? The tree kept grew another 1.25″ inches in diameter after it happened, and the bark healed over. No, sorry, can’t use growth rings to figure it out because tropical woods don’t have pronounced growth rings.

Since cocobolo rosewood (Dalbergia retusa) is such a dense, slow growing wood, this spike is probably pretty old. Anyone want to make a guess?

Cocobolo used to be used for fenceposts in Costa Rica. Almost all of the highland cocobolo went for charcoal. A whole bunch went to make some really ugly hash pipes. I just hate to see it get wasted…

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Brush fire behind Biesanz Woodworks


These brush fires scare us – we have four drying rooms full of wood, not counting the sawdust and the stacks of logs. This is the second brush fire in two weeks. We used to put the sawdust in a pile outside the workshop. Not anymore. In 1999 the sawdust pile caught fire, and we couldn’t put it out. We emptied out our water tank on it; no luck. We hired a water transport truck and dumped that on it – three times. Finally we hired a backhoe and had it move the sawdust around while we poured water on. That did the trick. Took four days total.

I think we didn’t bother calling the fire department that time. Carlos, the private water guy can bring almost three times as much water as a public fire truck with its skinny little tank. And besides, he often gets there faster than the fire trucks.

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Thoughts on woodturning tools

barry biesanz at the lathe woodturning One of the early articles in Fine Woodworking magazine quoted Bob Stocksdale, the pioneering American craft turner, that he almost never used anything but a deep gouge, a round nose scraper, and a parting tool. Everything else he called, “Just one more thing to pick up and put down.”

I liked his attitude, but like most of us, I was a sucker for the Latest Thing, and ended up with a lot of stuff I’ve never used. Here’s what I do use.

3/8″ long and strong deep gouge, longish side grind. I went through a lot of Jerry Glaser’s gouges, but now they are out of production. Tried a bunch, and now like my Hamlet gouge from England, I think I found it at Crafts Supplies USA online, good catalog. ¼ is great too, but careful with the overhang or you can and will snap some –and these are not cheap!

5/8″ roundnose scraper, for the bottom of the bowl, and the inside should of a pot form, here it’s a light angled cut. Mine is a Glaser.

Shear scraper. An old roundnose with a long side grind on the left side, used tilted for a very light evening cut on the inside of an open form.

Parting tool. Sears makes a great one, narrow and thin, but too short for much of my work, so every few years I take an old Rockwell 14″ planer blade, grind a diamond profile and then a V tip, slightly skewed. Works for light shaping of the outside bottom curve.

1/4″ roundnose, for beginning the inside of an enclosed pot form. I have one from Sorby that has lasted years, holds a great edge.

Stewart armbrace handle, with straight cutter I have the offset tip as well, and almost never use it.. Great for stuff with an overhang of the tool under 6 or so inches.

Glaser 1″ skew, truing up the outside of a bowl if needed. Smoothing the curve.

Oneway Deep Hollowing System. For very deep bowls this is indispensable. Takes getting used to, and when I use it, I do a series.

3/4″ long and strong deep gouge, for roughing out bowls.

Slow speed grinder with pink 80 grit friable stone.

Add a flatter gouge for spindle work, and this is all you’ll need, IMO.

Sharpening – grind with a light touch and make shavings. If you can’t do it freehand w/o a jig, you’re not turning and sharpening enough!

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