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My Love Affair with Redgum

Getting the right timber to start a project is very important to how it turns out.  In Episode 9 of A Minute of BS I talk about my favourite timber: Redgum or (to save any confusion) Eucalyptus Camaldulensis.  This is a great wood once it’s finished, but not the easiest to work with.  I use it a lot, not only because of its local abundance, as this story will show, but because it speaks to me and informs what I make from it.  I’d love to know more about what timbers you like to work with in your part of the world, and why.

But first, let’s find out about Norm’s tree, Billy’s saw and Neville’s mill.


 

Big Redgum in flood waters
Big Redgum in flood waters

Norm’s Tree

Redgum, also known as River Redgum and Murray Redgum (a reference to one of Australia’s major rivers upon the banks of which these beauties grow) is widespread along the rivers and valleys of south-eastern Australia and is one of the dominant species in western Victoria, where I live.  I think this last fact has contributed significantly to it being top of my list of timber favourites.

Because it is a local timber it makes it is very accessible.  I have local farmers who let me clean up the big branches that have fallen in their paddocks and some of these branches are as big as the trunks of other trees.  It is the main timber sawn at the Galpin’s mill, just 1km down the road from where I live.  I wrote an article about Neville Galpin’s operation that featured in Australian Woodworking.

YouTurn-Redgum-Fallen-Giant-with-Norm
Norm with the fallen Redgum on his property in the aftermath of the fires.

I was also offered a massive Redgum that had fallen (literally) victim of bushfires that swept through the Grampians National Park and the adjacent property of a friend in Februaruy 2014.  Norm (owner of this property) returned home not long after the fire had ceased being a threat to find this centuries-old giant lying on the ground; a badly burnt lower trunk meaning it was unable to support its huge mass any longer.

Rather than cutting it all up for fire-wood Norm offered it to me.  A generous offer, yes, but what was I to do with it?  Obviously I wanted to cut it into useable boards or slabs, but how?

YouTurn-Billy-Breaking-Down-Big-Redgum
Billy dwarfed by the massive Redgum as he begins cutting for transport.

Well, after a bit of thought and some consultation with my buddy Billy a plan was hatched.  To see how we managed to get the logs onto a truck so we could then get them to the Galpin mill where they could then be cut into useable boards see my YouTube video called “Loading a Giant”.

 


 

What’s Special About Redgum?

But this article is about much more than Redgum specifically and my favourite timber.  It is about favourite timbers generally, what makes a timber your favourite (yes, try to pick only one) and the advantages of having a local (indigenous) timber to use in your woodturning.

YouTurn-Redgum-Timber-from-Norms-Tree
Sawn Redgum boards air-drying on my property.

Redgum is not an easy timber to turn.  It is hard and inclined to tear if not cut with sharp tools.  It creates a lot of dust and is heavy which makes carrying an 8 foot long board a physically arduous exercise.

However, it does respond well to shear scraping which is a technique I often use for finishing cut. It also has an attractive colour which can vary from a pink-red to a brown-red and the figure in some boards is stunning.  Fiddleback is often found in the timber from bigger specimens and there is also a quilting pattern that is quite common and very attractive. Burls are occasionally found on Redgums and these can be massive in size (8’ in diameter) and solid.  Others are broken up by several gum veins.

Redgum blanks waiting for the lathe.
Redgum blanks waiting for the lathe.

So, with it being both attractive and accessible I have a reliable source of a timber that is suitable for the grinders and bowls I make.  I therefore use it a lot and, as a consequence, have developed a very good understanding of both its characteristics and limitations.

I am not suggesting for one moment that Redgum is the ideal turning timber; it’s not and there are plenty of timbers that are much better to turn.  But its top ranking as my ‘favourite’ timber was not based on its suitability as turning timber but more on the other factors I have mentioned.

 

Same bowls, different colours.  This is one reason why I love Redgum.
Same bowls, different colours. This is one reason why I love Redgum.
Redgum is my favourite timber because it is local, it is a majestic tree and very much an icon of the Wimmera.  It has beautiful timber and I have developed a good understanding of its characteristics and how to work with it.  Redgum is a physical presence in my natural and working environment and has helped shape me as a woodturner.

 

Redgum is my favourite timber because it is local, it is a majestic tree and very much an icon of the Wimmera.  It has beautiful timber and I have developed a good understanding of its characteristics and how to work with it.  Redgum is a physical presence in my natural and working environment and has helped shape me as a woodturner.   I am sure it has had a significant influence on my style of work.

Australian woodworkers are blessed with the timbers we have and can use.  They vary from the desert hardwoods to the unique Tasmanian jewels.  Wherever you live you will be able to find a timber to work with and, if you give it some time, it just my start to shape your life as a woodworker.  You too might have a love affair with a particular timber.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Title: Oak bowl
Description/caption: Mike Jones’ oak bowl
Author: Mike Jones

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