October 10, 2021

Carving Rhododendron Wood | With Great Examples

Thinking of carving rhododendron wood. If you’re a woodworker, you’re probably pretty familiar with the various types of wood. However, you may not be sure what kind of wood something is made of. Take rhododendron wood, for example. I’ve seen it on various woodworking projects I’ve done, but one can get confused when they get it because it looks like a willow. However, the wood is made of the inner bark of the rhododendron tree, and it’s called “rhododendron wood” because it has bright yellow flowers. 

What is rhododendron wood

It is an ornamental plant known for its evergreen leaves and large, beautiful, rose-like flowers. The Greek name means the tree of roses, and rhododendron wood is of broadleaved trees on steep slopes, including beech and sweet chestnut. 

It is popular in forestry woodlands, and the flowers come with white, pink, purple, yellow, and sometimes red blossoms. Rhododendrons are for home landscapes and make wood material. Rhododendron is a large genus of flowering plants with more than 1,000 wild species, and these are popular in the Himalayan region and Southeast Asia. 

Why you should carve rhododendron wood

Rhododendron wood carves smoothly and is light, and it becomes hardwood when dried. The wood is heavy and close-grained. That makes it ideal for decorative bowl carving and homemade mallets, wood-splitting wedges. 

The offcuts make better carvings, and that makes it economical. The wood is nice to carve and comes out strong. It is closely grained, and that brings consistency, and it is attractive when polished up. 

Broneirion – rhododendron by Penny MayesCC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The wood has a uniform density and tight, fairly consistent grain with a solid pith. The Rhododendron comes with fine-grained wood that makes beautiful bowls, spoons, and furniture, and that is why you should invest in timber. 

How to carve rhododendron wood

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yJ7W3k7yW4o

Wood from Rhododendron is dense, and that makes it better for carving utensils from it. In some areas, it is called Spoonwood. The tree grows everywhere like weeds, and it is a good source of wood used without a negative impact on the forests. 

Rhododendron is known to be poisonous, but researchers found out that the leaves and flowers are poisonous. The poison manifests through the level of grayanotoxin in the different parts of the plant. The grayanotoxin is a neurotoxin that causes illness or death in animals and humans. 

The highest concentration is in the flowers and leaves. It is deadly if ingested in the highest quantities. However, the chances of consuming more wood to be toxic are low. Handling the wood is safe since there is no risk of absorption through the skin. 

So, carving a spoon from Rhododendron that weighs 1 ounce when dried contains 3.8mg of GI, which is way too low to be toxic. Even if you are consuming the spoon, it remains less toxic. That means making utensils using rhododendron wood is safe, but it remains a personal choice to use if or not.

What tools to use

  • Chisel.
  • Carving knife.

Where to begin carving

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VUyYGoGtYrA
  • As soon as you gather your tools, familiarise yourself with the types of wood carving. These are whittling, relief carving, carving in the round, and chip carving. Choose the style of your choice and learn about it in detail.
  • Whittling uses a stiff-handled whittling knife. The knife gives sharp, angular strokes, to the finished pieces. 
  • Relief carving involves carving figures into a flat wooden panel. It gives you a  three-dimensional design, and that requires multiple hand tools to complete the project.
  • Carving in the round uses a variety of tools, and the finished piece will be three-dimensional. Softer and more natural lines are what you get. 
  • Chip carving uses knives, chisels, and hammers. That is the most popular method. Chip away at the wood little by little to create three-dimensional patterns on a wood board. Be prepared to hold the handle. 
  • Choose the right rhododendron wood. Get labeled, higher quality wood from a craft store or wood supplier instead of picking it from the forest. If you are buying online, buy from trusted shops and go through reviews before purchasing. 
  • Get the correct carving knife. Make sure it is sharp, easy to grip, and rigid. More movement from the knife gives you inaccurate cuts. The blade has to be 1.5inches long and the handle long enough to be comfortable in your hands. A utility knife craft knife is ideal for starters. 
  • Make use of gouges to scoop out the material. Make use of it for gouges to carve, shape, and smooth surfaces.
  • Use chisels. Chisels are sharp, flat tools used in conjunction with rubber mallets. Good chisels are especially important for wood chipping practices.
  • Gather scrap wood for tests and more experience. You cannot work on the actual piece right away. Time to familiarise yourself with the tools and avoid cutting Howard’s yourself. If the knife slips, you will injure yourself
  • Use sharp tools even when practicing for the tests. Keep your hands behind the sharp cutting edge. So that your fingers remain safe. Keep it steady for control.
  • These tools can slip as you work, and if your fingers are in front of the blade, it’ll result in an injury.
  • Start carving along the grain and make your cuts along the grain instead of working against it. Cutting up against the grain causes splintering. Carve in a downward direction onto the lines of grain. You can also carve diagonally across the grain or parallel to it, but do not carve up against the grain.
  • Practice standard cuts and endure the pressure. Push the cutting edge of a gouge straight into the wood, and pull it out without pushing it any further.

Is rhododendron good for whittling

Whittling is the skill of carving shapes out of raw wood using a knife. The repeated process of shaving off pieces of wood is ideal for rhododendron wood since it is strong. The chances of splitting and getting damaged remain low, and that is why the carvings come out better as artistic creations.

What wood is bad for carving?

Red Oak is a difficult type of wood to work with. It requires a mallet to carve, and it is quite porous. You cannot carve the wood into objects that directly contact water, and it comes with long and big grains. 

Despite its difficulty in carving, it gives a smooth finish that requires minimal staining. Red Oak is ideal for professional woodcarvers. It takes experience to deal with it, and more knowledge on dealing with it makes the project easy. It remains a durable hardwood in woodwork. 

Can you use rhododendron wood?

Yes, you can carve rhododendron wood as illustrated in this post and the videos included. It is also great for creating art directly on the tree.

Is rhododendron wood good for carving?

Rhododendron wood is heavy and close-grained which makes it perfect for carving decorative bowls. It makes for a lovely finish that is durable.

Is rhododendron good for whittling?

Rhododendron is good for whittling when it is not yet too dry. Leaving it too long will make it harder to whittle.

Conclusion

When it comes to woodcarving, two types of tools are needed to carve the wood: the chisel and the gouge. The chisel is used to cut out the figure on the wood, while the gouge is used to get the shape of the figure. The rhododendron wood is straightforward to carve so that you can do it by yourself.

David D. Hughes
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