Sunday, November 1, 2009


I decided to start a new thread for the Mazerolle sawhorse build instead of continuing on with the "French Connection" series, since there are a lot of other French 19th century joined structures I wish to study and build and can take up that series later with those other pieces. The tréteau is but one example of French classic carpentry, and I thought it best that it have its own thread. Welcome to the puzzle.

Choosing the wood turned out to be easier than I thought, and I didn't even need to make a trip down the road to the local hardwood supplier. I had 5 planks in my little storage closet that were of adequate dimension to produce all the wood I would need for this horse. I hoped to get it all out of one plank, but I needed a little 24" bit out of a second plank.

The work will be done, once the stock is ready, almost entirely with ink line, knife, chisel, saw and plane, due to the nature of the odd-shaped joints involved. However I'm sure my electric drill, and possibly the router will still prove useful from time to time, and for the initial rough cut-out on the 8/4 stock, my circular saw was brought into action:

The saw is a 190mm 'finishing saw' made by Hitachi, available only in Japan. It is light in weight, has a 20 mm arbor, electronic motor control, cast aluminum base plate, and even a laser, which is handy once in a while. Too bad it couldn't actually cut with the laser - I guess that's a few years away! It's a very quiet saw and I could get away without ear pro if it were only a few cuts, - which it wasn't. It's a real pleasure to use a nice circular saw like the Hitachi.

So the wood. Let me describe it - the Latin name for it means 'many lobes on leaves' and it is a member of the pea family of plants, Leguminosae. It occurs in scattered fashion, not in stands, and is native to Panama to Ecuador and southern Brazil. This tree's wood that I obtained is FSC certified and the species is not threatened. The tree grows to a height of 100' or so with a trunk diameter of up to a maximum of about 50". It produces yellow or purplish flowers in season. Here's a young one:

The flowers, after pollination form large seed pods, which resemble a cross between a Chestnut burr and a Maple seed, on a rather large scale:

The average specific gravity of the wood ranges from 0.61 to 0.69, about 15~20% denser than Mahogany. This will not be the world's lightest sawhorse, but it will be pretty damn tough. The wood of this species is really stable, both in drying and in working, with a near perfect T/R shrinkage ratio of 2.3/1.

After the slicing and dicing with the saw, I discovered that the dust of this species is really not pleasant to breathe at all - good thing I did the work outdoors with a mild breeze at my back, and of course, will be employing no sanding in the actual working of the material. Here's the tidy pile of rough stock after the saw was put down:

One of the reasons I decided to use this species of wood was because I already had it on hand, which was convenient of course, but it also turns out to be, unlike most light-colored wood species, highly rot-resistant. It is also unappealing to termites and other insects. It has a grain structure that makes it near-impossible to impregnate with preservatives, which means it will also tend to not absorb moisture from the ground or air.

In it's native locales, this wood is used for heavy construction including railway ties, as well as flooring, and also ship components like planking, keel, decking and trim. I bought the wood though for its reputation of easy workability with hand tools and intend to turn some of my pile into furniture or cabinetry one day. I'm looking forward to pulling some shavings off of this stuff.

This wood is really stunning, I must say, even at the rough-cut stage:

Believe me, the above picture does no justice whatsoever to the vivid streaks of color in this species. Yellow, purple, and red steaks - so beautiful!

I will be using my palatial workbench - the irregular splay sawhorse that served the same duty for the lantern build (the "First Light" thread), as the basis of operations. Here, I am using the horse to stack the wood, letting it rest overnight:

Now, my next move is to take the pile of sticks to be jointed and planed to near-dimension at the window and door place down the street (maybe I can convince them to let me work the jointer and planer). That will save me a lot of labor and time for a mere $30, and give me a nice straight and square starting place for the layout. This sawhorse project is all about the layout after all.

So, has the reader guessed which wood I'm using here? Well, I'm not going to hold you in suspense in case you haven't twigged on (no pun intended): I'm using Canarywood, centrolobium robustum. This is the first time I've worked the stuff, so it will be a learning experience in many ways. Hopefully time will prove I made a good choice.

Go to part II.


  1. This will be another great build to follow. Your instruction is always of great interest.

  2. Thanks Dale - I appreciate your interest and compliments.


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