My Journey As A Creative Designer - Woodworking and Beyond #373: "Roasted Birch" - a New Discovery for Me

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Blog entry by Sheila Landry (scrollgirl) posted 06-17-2011 01:50 PM 5829 reads 0 times favorited 10 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 372: Two New Designs Part 373 of My Journey As A Creative Designer - Woodworking and Beyond series Part 374: My Turn for a Tool Gloat »

I love when I am so excited about work that I can’t wait to get out of bed to start the day. It may sound silly to some of you, but it does happen a lot lately. I was lying in bed thinking about the new projects and I couldn’t wait to finish working on them today.

What has got me all worked up, you ask? It seems that I have stumbled upon a type of wood that I had never worked with before and used it out of necessity and now that the project is finished, I absolutely love it.

You may have heard of it before. It is called “roasted birch” and it is actually yellow birch that is heated to over 300 degrees which turns it a deep brown in color, as well as stabilizes it. In my latest project, I was hoping to use some walnut for the running horses tray, as I wanted a dark brown wood, but I was disappointed to find that I didn’t have any pieces here that were suitable. In going through my stock, I came across this piece of roasted birch that I had purchased the last time we were in Halifax last autumn. I had obtained it from the new place we tried, Halifax Specialty Hardwoods and had totally forgotten about it. Their description about it is here.

It certainly looked like walnut, although I thought it felt a bit lighter (less density). It would certainly be a bit more fragile than walnut due to its dryness, but the design that I planned to make was not that intricate and I believed it would tolerate it well.

In cutting and working with it, I found it to be very easy. It was stable and had remained dead flat, which I am sure is due to the dryness from the roasting process. I must say though that when cutting it, it had the smell of – well – burnt wood. The saw dust was also very fine, which was also I am sure due to the dryness. It cut and routed beautifully though, with no surprises whatsoever.

When I took the teaser picture for yesterdays’ post, I thought that the colour looks very close to that of the other tray that I had made, which was sepele mahogany. It was slightly darker, with a little less grain I thought and more of an even dark brown tone to it. I did crack the edge of the tray in one place, although I didn’t break the piece all the way off. This does happen sometimes, and I thought it would be no biggie – I would just glue it and continue on.

When I applied the CA glue to the joint, the wood immediately darkened to almost black. I tend to be conservative on using glue and such, but I did need to use a little more, as I could see the wood was absorbing it like a sponge. No worry though, by being patient and holding it for a few minutes the joint held and caught. I went on to do other things for a bit before I continued.

I was a bit too hasty in making the tray, as I should have used my 1/3 sheet Makita orbital sander on the wood prior to cutting to get rid of the final planer marks and start off smooth. I usually do this, but it was raining that day and I suppose I was lazy. I find it isn’t usually a problem for me to sand after scrolling, as long as I don’t use a coarse grit sandpaper, which could catch on the delicate edges of more intricate fretwork. In this case I felt the wood would hold up well and I would be fine.

So I sanded this tray with 220 paper without incident. It sanded very quickly (again, due to the dryness) and it had an odd almost shimmer to it. I showed Keith how it almost looked iridescent, which I thought was strange. The spot where I had applied the glue had darkened the wood to almost black, and I hoped that it would blend in once oiled.

I chose to use my favorite finish – mineral oil and then spray shellac – to finish both of these trays. The sun was bright and it was beautifully warm out and I took my kitty Pancakes on the deck with me to work on the pieces. Unlike most people, I do like the finishing process, as it seems to unlock another level of beauty in the wood. It is a thrill to see the character and figure of the wood emerge as I apply the oil finish. This tray was no exception.

I use a shallow cake pan and first dip the piece in about 1/2” of oil. I then use a medium course paint brush to gently work the oil into the sides of the pieces. With fretwork such as this, it is imperative to take your time and tread lightly so not to snap off a piece. I then use 600 grit paper and work the oil into the surface of the piece by hand, again working slowly and gently. This gives it a warm and polished look and really works it into the pores.

I sat on the deck for maybe an hour working on these two pieces. The sepele tray came out beautiful too, but I couldn’t help but be in awe of the fantastic color the roasted birch turned out to be. It was a deep, dark almost blackish brown that at first glance resembled ebony. Even when Keith walked by, he said “wow!” I suppose that the best way I could describe the look was that of piano keys. It had that soft and satiny blackness with a tight and even grain. I just loved it.

I noticed that as soon as I put additional oil on it, it sucked it in like a sponge. Again, I am sure it is from the drying and roasting process. I allow the two trays to sit for a couple of hours, and then sprayed them with several thin coats of shellac. The results was amazing.

Never mind the designs, but these were two of the prettiest trays I have made I think. I knew though that it would be a challenge to photograph them properly and by the time they were ready for it, the sun was already going down and the long, deep shadows of the late afternoon were upon me. I would need to wait until today to take my photographs.

However, I did go out on the deck this morning and at least get some quick pictures to show you. I don’t think that they are too bad, but I know I can do better later.

First, here is the Running Horses roasted birch tray:

It seems the shellac put a bit more of a shine on it than usual. Perhaps it just shows that way because of the darkness of the wood. Here is a more detailed look at it:

And finally, here is the tray sitting on top of the piece prior to finishing. I hope you can see how much darker it became when oiled and finished.

It is hard to believe it is the same piece.

And here is a picture of the sepele tray:

And its detail:

I have always liked the rich color of sepele, too. The shimmery grain is deep and rich and also looks quite attractive.

All in all it was a great day. I also finished up the little charms on the shell tray with the pearls. I am going to be taking final pictures of all of these projects today, as well as finishing the pattern packets for them all to get them on the site. I hope to have a site update done by the weekend with all of our new things.

The finishing process is something that I find to be so satisfying. It pains me to see nicely made things with poor finishes or sometimes even no finish. Unfortunately, I see lots of that in scroll sawing. A year or so ago, I may have just slapped on some polyurethane spray when I was done cutting and called it a day. But after joining here on the site and seeing the difference a good finish makes with projects, I have learned that taking a little time to finish things properly goes a long way to making them look professional. The oil/shellac combination I frequently use works so well with the intricate fretwork that I do and it is fairly quick and easy and brings the pieces up to a higher level.

I have enough of this roasted birch for one more tray and also a piece that is approximately 3/16” thick which will be nice for a box or ornaments or even jewelry. I plan to get more the next time we are in Halifax, as I think it is a wonderful alternative to something like ebony when dark wood is desired for a fraction of the cost.

I hope you enjoyed seeing it.

-- Designer/Artist/Teacher. Owner of Sheila Landry Designs ( Scroll saw, wood working and painting patterns and surfaces. "Knowledge is Power"

10 comments so far

View William's profile


9950 posts in 3114 days

#1 posted 06-17-2011 02:09 PM

I like the roasted birch. I’d never heard of that before. As a matter of fact, I had to go back and do a double take on the post title today. I actually got a good night’s sleep last night and haven’t downed my first pot of coffee yet. I thought the title read, “roasted bird”. Then in the third paragraph, I linked “roasted bird” with “latest project”, and I, wait, WHAT THE HELL?
I’m sorry. I thought you may like to share in my eye opening awaking this morning. Normally the coffee does the trick. This morning it took the mental image of you trying to roast a bird to burned, charred, crisp, and trying to scroll a project with it. I have no idea where my mind was going with that one. I guess I thought you were making one of a kind compound cut chess pieces.
Hold one. I don’t care if it’s through dripping or not. I gotta have some coffee.
That’s better.
I love the roasted birch. It looks like ebony from the photo I looked at above. Does heating it like that effect the way it cuts? After heating it, does the wood have a charcoal quality, that rubs off on your hands? These are the immediate questions I have on this one. Other than that, it is beautiful and possibly something I may want to try one day.
Nice job.


View Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)'s profile

Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)

9238 posts in 3191 days

#2 posted 06-17-2011 02:26 PM

LOL, William! It is amazing how our perspective is different before that first cup (pot) of Joe! Remember I am a “city girl” and try not to associate the meat I eat with once living animals. :)

As far as the wood goes – No, it doesn’t rub off at all. It is like ‘regular’ wood in that respect. It is, however a bit brittle and I would have to think twice about doing lots of curly fretwork pieces with it. It would look amazing with some of the geometric stuff (like the Wright Inspired Candle Tray) that I have made in the past, as the designs are far more sturdy. I was thinking on using the thinner piece for perhaps some art deco ornaments.

It ‘feels’ kind of like antique mahogany that you would associate with old furniture. It has that airy quality of very dry wood. Beware though – it is very ‘dusty’ and you really need to watch.

I was reading up on it this morning before I wrote my blog and I saw that most like to work with it because of its stability. It is not treated with chemicals to be stabilized so the ‘green’ people are happy.

I also read that it doesn’t take certain types of glue well – probably due to the dryness. Some tried CA glue and found that it didn’t hold. I would think that you would need a glue with some more body to it, so it won’t all be absorbed away from the surface.

One other “negative” was that it was difficult to nail because it had a tendency to split. I would think that pre-drilling would solve this problem, as most dry woods would do the same.

There are few negatives about it, but as far as my needs and usage it is a good addition to have on hand. Unlike walnut, that can vary in color drastically and fade, this wood is dark and even and consistent in color. I don’t know whether it fades or not. I will have to look into it more.

I still like walnut for many things, but this will also find a place in my wood arsenal for certain types of designs. It is always good to have choices and I can’t get over how close this looks to the small pieces of ebony I have – at a fraction of the price. It may not be perfect, but it is a good alternative in many cases where I want dark, nearly black accents. :)


-- Designer/Artist/Teacher. Owner of Sheila Landry Designs ( Scroll saw, wood working and painting patterns and surfaces. "Knowledge is Power"

View William's profile


9950 posts in 3114 days

#3 posted 06-17-2011 02:43 PM

You don’t associate the food you eat with once living anmimals?
I’m from the south, and we try to eat pretty much anything we can kill. Actually, I’m only two generations out of the swamps of Lousiana, so, even though I won’t now, I have pretty much eaten anything you can think of. Add to that my twenty three year war veteran of an Uncl raised me. I used to love camping with him, where we disappeared into the woods for weeks at a time with only the bare essentials. He found it important to teach me to live off the land. That means he taught me which bugs and roots to eat if your traps didn’t produce any meats.
Anyway, I’ve gotten off the main story I wanted to tell about not associating your food with living animals.
When I was younger, I was a huge hunter. There was a time in my childhood when we were poor enough that if you didn’t hunt, you didn’t get meat. If you didn’t garden, you didn’t get vegetables. You get the idea. Things had gotten better though by the the time my little sister came along. We still loved the occasional deer or rabbit though.
When I was fixing venison (deer) one night, she informed me that she didn’t eat deer meat because it came from a “cute little deer”. Better than that, she says she was refusing from then on out to not eat anything that once was a living animal.
I couldn’t help but think of all the hamurgers and such that she liked, so I asked her where she thought hamburger meat came from.
Her response?


View William's profile


9950 posts in 3114 days

#4 posted 06-17-2011 02:48 PM

And I agree about the ebony look. I’m always interested in cheaper ways to get looks similar to exotic woods. It may not be perfect, but that is a much cheaper alternative to ebony in my opinion. Most people can’t afford ebony, I being one of those people.
I also love Walnut. It is a beautifully dark wood and easy to work with. Unfortunately, I have a hard time getting my hands on much of it around here without spending so much to put my family in the poor house. So I don’t get to use much of it.
I do have plenty of what was originally presented to me as mahogay. While I am aware that there are different species of mahogany, I never really knew exactly what this was until recently when I gave some of it to SuperD. He has since told me that it is sepele. I’ve researched it some, but not enough to comment much on it besides that I find it a beatiful wood and easy to work with for scrolling.


View Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)'s profile

Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)

9238 posts in 3191 days

#5 posted 06-17-2011 02:49 PM

I know! I know! I may as well have painted a target on my back admitting that! It is funny how we are raised. When I lived in the Chicago area, we frequently went to Greek Town for dinner. Some of the best food in the world I think. Mostly consisted of lamb (there was always one on a spit in the front window of our favorite restaurant, The Parthenon) Now here in Nova Scotia, I still make pastisio and dolmades and grilled lamb. My friends here (who eat deer and moose, mind you) can’t stomach the fact that I eat Mary’s Little Lamb.

I am getting better though. Those fresh lobsters are mighty tastey. I don’t even look them in the eye anymore before I throw them into the pot. So I am learning!

-- Designer/Artist/Teacher. Owner of Sheila Landry Designs ( Scroll saw, wood working and painting patterns and surfaces. "Knowledge is Power"

View William's profile


9950 posts in 3114 days

#6 posted 06-17-2011 03:07 PM

It goes so much deeper than that. I was raised up where you could reach in the pickling jar on the counter at your local store and pull out tasty bits of meat to eat. Things like:
Pickled eggs
Pickled pigs feet
Pickled pigs ears
Pickled pigs snout
Then there’s the old favorites of some of the cajuns and country folk I was raised around:
frog legs
chittlins (pork intestines)
mountain oysters (bull testicles)
tripe (stomach lining from cattle)
Needless to say, it was a different time and a different place. I wouldn’t touch most of this stuff now with a ten foot pole. I, too, have became “cityfied”. My brother jokes with me now about being a city boy. I have gotten too used to living within ten minutes of Wal-Mart. I buy most of my meat from the meat section of the grocery store. I still like deer meat, but prefer it processed into sausage. Also, I suffer withdrawal when my internet goes down for more than a few minutes.
This brother that picks on me about all this though has no room to talk. My family and I now love primitive camping. It’s our way of getting away from everything. My brother won’t camp unless it’s at a campsite that has electricity so he can plug up his microwave, computer, and DVD player.


View ArtistryinWood's profile


107 posts in 3958 days

#7 posted 06-17-2011 08:24 PM

Very nice tray Sheila, I have seen roasted Birch and Maple in some of the specialty wood stores here, didn’t know it would go that dark when finished. Might be good for G + G style accents.

Lamb is an acquired taste which i have, but Shellfish, not so much.


-- It seem's to me i could live my life, a lot better than i think i am. Andrew, Midland, Ont.

View AkBob's profile


201 posts in 2818 days

#8 posted 06-19-2011 09:07 AM

A bit off topic however, you create some amazing art.I wish I had half the skill you do with the scroll saw. I keep blaming the saw, I know it hates me :)

View Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)'s profile

Sheila Landry (scrollgirl)

9238 posts in 3191 days

#9 posted 06-19-2011 01:51 PM

Thanks so much, Bob! You just need to make peace with it and it will be a wonderful friend! :)

-- Designer/Artist/Teacher. Owner of Sheila Landry Designs ( Scroll saw, wood working and painting patterns and surfaces. "Knowledge is Power"

View huntter2022's profile


275 posts in 2887 days

#10 posted 06-21-2011 04:54 PM

I missed this one some how . Must of been them few days I was out helping on the farm . Got to love them down home country food . They are much fresher and tasteful then what you can buy in the store . Sheila , another fine project you have made . The roasted birch looks like it was painted black great selection of wood .

-- David ; "BE SAFE BE HAPPY" Brockport , NY

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