Thursday, July 16, 2009

Exotic Wood Jewelry From Scrap to Scrumptious Part II

I started out with 1" long pieces of the purpleheart and bloodwood, enough of them to make a 20" length of chain. I used a jig and cut them on a table saw. Then I drilled holes through them all at the drill press. Next came the sanding on a belt sander. Each piece was sanded smooth, the sides and ends rounded to make sort of a flat but rounded barrel type bead, using 80 grit down to 150 grit. I sometimes hand sand these with an even finer grit, but I skipped this step, and instead, used a fine sanding wheel inserted into the drill press. This sands them till they almost look polished.

The laminated piece was constructed from glued up strips of purpleheart, bloodwood, mahogany, walnut, and maple, and not necessarily in that order. I just arranged them so they were asthetically pleasing. I took the long strip to the chop saw and squared off one end, and measured, then cut out a square. The square went to the table saw jig and was cut in half at a 45 degree angle (one piece for the pendant), and the other half was halved again for the earrings. I sanded both sides and ends on the belt sander until smooth as glass, rounding the edges of the 3 sides so as not to snag or splinter. It then went to the sanding wheel as well.

Next and final step, and the most difficult for me as a beginning woodworker, was the finishing of these pieces. I chose to use a spray spar varnish by Cabot, which is simply a UV resistant finish. It helps to protect the vibrant colors in the exotic woods from darkening as quickly as say a glossy lacquer. Being the newbie that I am, I didn't know when too much was too much, and in trying to cover all sides, I got the first coat too thick. It seemed like it took forever to dry, and I was fighting rain and high humidity as well. Talk about a test of your patience! My instructor said that the heavy coating like that may peel on a customer at a later date, and I didn't want this to happen. So I took a piece of extremely fine grit wet/dry sandpaper, and with his help, wet sanded the finish down to the level it should be for a first coat. The buffing wheel was next, not sure why, as this wasn't explained to me. He did one of the triangles to show me how, and then I tried it. I got into the buffing wheel too hard (heavy handed) with my piece, and it smeared the red coloring of the bloodwood into the finish, ALL OVER THE REST OF THE PIECE!!!! I thought it was ruined, oh my GOD! I was ready to cry, I even had the lip quiver thing going on, LOL! After all that time of preparation and work! Seeing the tears well up, my instructor quickly came to my aid, and showed me how it wasn't ruined, and that I could take some fine grit sandpaper and take that awful red color that wasn't supposed to be there out of the finish. I sanded it out, and then back to the buffer with a MUCH lighter hand. I sprayed the second coat on all of the pieces then, and left to dry, this time the weather was cooperating, WHEW! The third coat went on without a hitch, thank God. Finishing wood is a pain in the pahtootie, but well worth taking your time in the long run.

It was finally time to put all the pieces together. I alternated the purpleheart and bloodwood to make the chain, using 20 gauge headpins to connect them, sorta like a rosary style chain. I used 10mm goldplated jump rings to attach the chain to the longest side of the triangular shaped pendant, as well as attaching the earring pieces to the leverback findings. And voila! After many hours of painstaking labor and love, I have created a wonderful, wearable art form.

Some factual information on the exotics that were used in creating this piece.

Purpleheart-Harvested from Central and South America. It is a very heavy and hard wood with a straight grain and a fine, even texture. It is sometimes difficult to work due to it's hardness and tendency to tear and splinter. It is a vibrant purple color, that with time and exposure to light, turns to a beautiful darker purplish brown. It glues easily, and polishes wonderfully, with no stain needed. Be careful when cutting or sanding though, as overheating the wood will cause it to burn, causing blackening or extreme darkening of the wood. Extremely hard to photograph and get the color right. Even though the wood is heavy, it is extremely lightweight in smaller pieces like I have used to make the jewelry, and very comfortable to wear.

Bloodwood-Native to South America, harvested mainly out of Brazil, but can be found in Peru, Panama, and French Guiana as well. It is known also as Satine or Cardinal wood, due to its red color variances from brownish to reddish pink. It is a very hard, heavy, strong wood, with a straight grain. It glues easily, finishes beautifully, polishes to a very good finish. Even though the wood is heavy, it is extremely lightweight in smaller pieces like I have used to make the jewelry, and very comfortable to wear.

Please feel free to comment, tell me what you think!


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Thanks Mary, for commenting. Yes, I agree, jewelry is VERY personal. It should be as unique and beautiful as you are.

  3. The process starts with rough sketches of design elements incorporating the wood, Rosenfeld sends her ideas off to Kelle and the two designers bounce ideas off of each other while working on their individual components.”It is important that I send him either an image of the stone or the basic color tones so he and I can pick the wood that would work best,” says Rosenfeld. “From there, we discuss strength and structure based on the type of jewelry I’m designing and species of wood before individually working on our portions.”