Lignum Vitae: very hard; very oily; very heavy

Welcome! Forums Project Series Walking Cane Lignum Vitae: very hard; very oily; very heavy

Viewing 4 posts - 1 through 4 (of 4 total)
  • Author
  • #139254

    And very, very scarce these days. And, it seems, attended by some unusual challenges.
    … for a Paul Sellers walking cane.

    Glue doesn’t work very well with it, since decades down the line, it will still be exuding oil. The M&T joint will have to be very precise, since because it is heavy wood (doesn’t float), the canes will have to be slender. Slender, tapered staff, slender handle. I have no idea whether to try wedges or dowels to fortify the M&T joint. I don’t even know it either wedges or dowels will work, because they would almost certainly have to be the same wood, if not steel. I’ll have to form Lignum Vitae dowels with tool steel, because I suspect the wood will fold an ordinary steel washer in half. Suggestions welcome.

    The glue will probably have to be two-part epoxy, selected for slow curing, because it’s best applied right after the wood is milled (too late for that), or at least right after final paring and sanding. The oil keeps coming. More suggestions welcome.

    The finishing should be simple. Polished to a very smooth surface, it seems the wood finishes itself . And, since Lignum Vitae has been traditionally been used for propeller bearings and sailing tackle on blue water (sea-going) ships, I doubt it will even notice rain or puddles.

    And pity the potential mugger who thinks he’s got a little old lady. She’s carrying a cane that might outdo a police cudgel.

    Has anyone worked with Lignum Vitae? I’d appreciate being able to ask some questions as this piece of work starts to move ahead.

    David R.

    Hey Jeff,

    I considered lignum vitae for a joiners mallet, but ended up using ash for now, mostly due to cost. Also it might have turned out just too heavy.

    Then I trued up a wooden plane with a lignum vitae sole. Tear-out happens very quickly if the plane is not super sharp and set shallowly.

    Have you calculated the approximate weight of the cane whether it will still be practical? Is lignum vitae not too brittle for this application, especially if the cane is very slender?

    If I was to make a mortise and tenon from this wood, I would probably try to incorporate one or two draw-bore pins for a mechanical blockade in addition to any glue.

    I would be hesitant to use this wood for a cane, I think it is better suited for other projects. Nevertheless, I’m interested in the progress if you stay the course.

    – David

    from Germany

    Matt McGrane

    Hi Jeff. I’ve never used lignum vitae, but I’ve heard that before trying to glue oily woods, it’s good to wipe the joint areas thoroughly with alcohol or mineral spirits (or something that will clean off the oil). David’s suggestion of a mechanical bond is a good one, though the joint in a cane is a bit small for draw boring. Another suggestion for a mechanical bond might be cutting slots in the tenon for wedges and widening the far side of the mortise to give room for the wood to go into when the wedges are driven home. Good luck.

    Matt, Northern California - Started a blog in 2016:


    Thank you for the input, guys. Hopefully, I haven’t bitten off more than I can chew. I’m definitely planning on mechanical reinforcement of the joint. I also plan to shave the square stock into rounded tapers with spoke shaves and draw knives. Lots of sharpening. I don’t have a shaving horse, and so have to figure out how to firmly fasten the shafts to the bench so they can be re-positioned frequently. No lathe, so it’s all by hand. Thinking of altering my “banger” bench to attach a cradle of some sort for the shaping. “V” shaped cradle for the first stages. The nice thing is that lining the faces of clamps with softer wood (which is any wood) probably won’t deform the shaft. I believe I’m going to lose a decent percentage of weight in the rounding process.

    I measure one 1/4″ dowel formed from the same wood would fit comfortably. There will be enough left over for that and even some wedges. Paul Sellers did a blog on wedges and interestingly located one set at the edges of the M&T joint. That would take nothing from the tenon except perhaps shaving a starting gap at either end. There is sapwood with nice contrast that I can use for those. Cleaning the joint surfaces might be helped along if I can find a couple good fine-cutting plane-making floats; they would be handy for other things.

    The whole project might collapse if the resulting slender shafts turn out to be too brittle. Research brought that possibility up high on the list. Shannon Rogers (WorthTheEffort) pointed out that density isn’t necessarily strength. As far as weight is concerned, there’s no way a frail person would be able to use such a cane. One piece is 42″, and adding a spike tip and decorative top would possibly make a woodland hiking staff for the hale and hearty.

    Since I’m taking a month in Maine shortly, I’m putting the whole thing off for an over-the-winter project. I want tools readily available. Since it’s all in fun, and since I’ll be prototyping with other woods, I’ll hopefully have some other nice canes as a consolation prize. You see, I consider failure a learning opportunity. Thanks again and updates will follow.

Viewing 4 posts - 1 through 4 (of 4 total)
  • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.