Book ends with rare history

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Project by ous posted 03-06-2011 03:46 AM 2592 views 1 time favorited 12 comments Add to Favorites Watch

This is more a story then then any skill at wood working. I managed a plywood plant and saw mill in Panama in the 70’s. I had a friend who was a diver. On day he showed up at the mill with a part of a small piece of Railroad Tie and a very short section of rail and gave it to me. Now for the History. He had found this railroad tie and steel rail in the bottom of Gatun Lake which is part of the Panama Canal. It is French as identified by the rail being hollow. It was laid in the 1880’s before the United States took over the construction of the Panama Canal. I put the tie in moistened sawdust and let it dry down over a long period of time. After some research as to what timber was available at that time and how much it weighs per cubic ft. and how it smoked when it went through saw I am guessing it is Lignum Vitea. It was such a wonderful gift but what do you do with it? I brought it home along with a lot of other wood treasures and scratched my head for over 30 years and finally came up with this idea a few years ago. Do any of you have any ideas what to do with the rest of tie and rail???

-- Roy Montana

12 comments so far

View clieb91's profile


3664 posts in 4439 days

#1 posted 03-06-2011 03:58 AM

What a cool piece of history. The bookends are a good idea, How much of it is there? as long as you could avoid the rail enough it might make a very interstesting box or perhaps a bowl of some type. Might be able to do it with a router.


btw.. Welcome to LumberJocks.

-- Chris L. "Don't Dream it, Be it."- (Purveyors of Portable Fun and Fidgets)

View Brandon's profile


4152 posts in 3456 days

#2 posted 03-06-2011 04:24 AM

Very cool project! It’s hard to give any ideas without knowing how much material is left and what it looks like.

-- "hold fast to that which is good"

View BigTiny's profile


1676 posts in 3393 days

#3 posted 03-06-2011 04:37 AM

Start your own railroad?

-- The nicer the nice, the higher the price!

View Richard 's profile


394 posts in 3626 days

#4 posted 03-06-2011 05:42 AM

I bet it wood be an interesting piece to turn. depending on how much you have left, I bet you can make something small but interesting.

-- Richard Boise, Idaho

View Moron's profile


5032 posts in 4398 days

#5 posted 03-06-2011 07:11 AM

very cool

-- "Good artists borrow, great artists steal”…..Picasso

View Blake Thornton's profile

Blake Thornton

152 posts in 3146 days

#6 posted 03-06-2011 08:18 AM

I haven’t personally done it, but I’ve heard Lignum Vitae is very good turning wood

View Eagle1's profile


2066 posts in 3569 days

#7 posted 03-06-2011 12:08 PM

Thanks for the history lesson. I enjoyed it..

-- Tim, Missouri ....Inside every older person is a younger person wondering what the heck happened

View Bluepine38's profile


3387 posts in 3590 days

#8 posted 03-06-2011 05:10 PM

If they used Lignum Vitae for railroad ties, a diver might be able to make a fair amount of spending money
bringing up the ties and have enough left over to make their own railroad. Nice looking set of book ends.

-- As ever, Gus-the 80 yr young apprentice carpenter

View Bertha's profile


13567 posts in 3197 days

#9 posted 03-06-2011 05:15 PM

Its absolutely wonderful. Blake is right that lignum turns very well. It’s got a very distinctive smell when on the lathe (at least to my nose) & the final figure is something akin to muscle fibers. It’s a very cool wood but a much cooler story.

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View dpow's profile


504 posts in 3348 days

#10 posted 03-06-2011 09:23 PM

I love a great conversation piece like this. What a history lesson. Now, what to do with the rest…...if you are ever in NW Pennsylvania…................

-- Doug

View travisowenfurniture's profile


91 posts in 3195 days

#11 posted 03-19-2011 04:37 AM

Whatever you make, it might be cool to keep some amount of the worn edges exposed. This could invite questions which would lead to the interesting history. Maybe milling it into flat boards and leaving the sides rough and made into a blanket chest or a bench. If it were up to me, I would not finish it because it would bring me closer to the fascinating history. I’ve thought of using railroad ties before, but the ones I’d find locally are some sort of softwood soaked in tar and I’m afraid I’d dull or gum up all my tools. I’m sure whatever you come up with will be mighty fine and I look forward to seeing it.


View Porcupine's profile


32 posts in 2414 days

#12 posted 11-10-2013 11:56 AM

That is totally awesome. I would definitely turn it, using it for some awesome tool handles.

-- Joe, South Carolina

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