The figures of the woods depend also upon the colour as well as on the fibre; in some the tint is nearly uniform, but others partake of several shades of the same hue, or of two or three different colours, when a still greater change in their appearance results.
In the horizontal sections of such woods, the stripes wind partly round the center as if the tree had clothed itself at different parts with coats of varied colours with something like caprice: tulip-wood, king-wood, zebra-wood, rose-wood, and many others, show this very distinctly; and in the ordinary plank these markings get drawn out into stripes, bands and patches, and show mottled, dappled, or wavy figures of the most beautiful or grotesque characters, upon which it would be needless to enlarge, as a glance at the display of the upholsterer will convey more information than any description, even when assisted by coloured figures.*
* The brilliant prismatic colours of the pearl are attributed to the decomposition and reflection of the light by the numerous minute grooves or striae, a more vivid effect of the same general kind.
A beautiful artificial example of the same description was produced by Sir John Barton, then comptroller of the Royal Mint; he engraved with the diamond, the surfaces of hard steel dies in lines as fine as 2000 in the inch, arranged in hexagons, etc. The gold buttons struck from these dies display the brilliant play of iridescent colours of the originals.
Those woods which arc variegated both in grain and colour, such as Amboyna, king-wood, some mahogany, maple, partridge, rose-wood, satin-wood, snake-wood, tulip-wood, zebra-wood, and others, are more generally employed for objects with smooth surfaces, such as cabinet-work, vases, and turned ornaments, as the beauties of their colours and figures are thereby the best displayed. Every tittle detail in the object causes a diversion in the forms of the stripes and marks existing in the wood: these terminate abruptly round the mouldings which have sharp edges, and upon the flowing lines they are undulated with infinite variety into curves of all kinds, which often terminate in fringes from the accidental intersections of the stripes in the woods.
The elegant works in marquetry, in which the effect of flowers, ornamental devices, or pictures, is attempted by the combination of pieces of naturally coloured woods, are invariably applied to smooth surfaces. In the same manner the beautifully tesselated wood floors, abundant in the buildings of one or two centuries back, which exhibit geometrical combinations of the various ornamental woods, (an art that has been recently pursued in miniature by the Tunbridge turners in their Mosaic works,) are other instances, that in such cases the plain smooth surface is the most appropriate to display the effect and variety of the colours, for such of the last works as are turned into mouldings fail to give us the same pleasure.
Even-tinted woods are best suited to the work of the eccentric chuck, the revolving cutters, and other instruments to be plained; in which works, the carving is the principal source of ornament: the variation of the wood, in grain or colour, when it occurs, together with the cutting of the surface, is rather a source of confusion than otherwise, and prevents the effect either of the material, or of the work executed upon it, from being thoroughly appreciated.
* Attempts have been nude to stain some of our European wool* during their growth, by inserting certain portions of their roots in Teasels filled with colouring matters, but I am not aware with what success. It is not however to be expected, that such a mode would be cither so effective or permanent, as that produced by the natural absorption during the entire period of the life of the plant, an experiment of too lengthened and speculative a character to be readily undertaken.
The transverse section, or end grain of the plain woods, is the most proper for eccentric turning, as all the fibres are then under the same circumstances; many of the woods will not admit of being worked with such patterns, the plankway of the grain: and of all the woods the Black Botany-Bay wood, or the black African wood, by which name soever it may be called, is most certainly the best for eccentric turning; next to it, and nearly its equal, is the cocoa-wood (from the West Indies, not the cocoa-nut palm); several others may also be used, but the choice should always fall on those which are of uniform tint, and sufficiently hard and close to receive a polished surface from the tool, as such works admit of no subsequent improvement.
Contrary to the rule that holds good with regard to most substances, the colours of the generality of the woods become considerably darker by exposure to the light; tulip-wood is, I believe, the only one that fades. The tints are also rendered considerably darker from being covered with oil or lacker, and although the latter checks their assuming the deepest hues, it does not entirely prevent the subsequent change. The yellow colour of the ordinary varnishes greatly interferes also with the tints of the light woods, for which the whitest possible kinds should be selected.* When it is required to give to wood that has been recently worked, the appearance of that which has become dark from age, as in repairing any accident in furniture, it is generally effected by washing it with lime water; or in extreme cases, by laying on the lime as water-colour, and allowing it to remain for a few minutes, hours, or days, according to circumstances. In many cases the colours of the woods are heightened or modified, by applying colouring matters either before or with the varnish; and in this manner handsome birch-wood is sometimes converted into factitious mahogany, by a process of colouring rather than dyeing, that often escapes detection.
The bog-oak is by some considered to assume its black colour from the small portion of iron contained in the bog or moss, combining with the gallic acid of the wood, and forming a natural stain, similar to writing ink. Much of the oak timber of the Royal George that was accidentally sunk at Spithead, in 1782, and which has been recently extricated by Col. Pasley's submarine explosions, is only blackened on its outer surface, and the most so in the neighbourhood of the pieces of iron; the inside of the thick pieces, is in general of nearly its original colour and soundness. Some specimens of cam-wood * have maintained their original beautiful red and orange colours, although the inscription says that they were "washed on shore at Kay Haven, in October, 1810, with part of the wreck of the Royal Tar, lost near the Needles twenty years ago, when all the crew perished."
* Specimens of woods for cabinets should be left in their natural state, or at most they should be polished by friction only; or if varnished, then upon the one side alone. Their colours are best preserved when they are excluded from the light, cither in drawers or in glass cases, covered with some thick blind.
The recent remarks on colour equally apply to the works of statuary, carving and modelling generally: thematerials for which are either selected of one uniform colour, or they are so painted. Then only is the full effect of the artist's skill apparent at the first glance; otherwise it frequently happens either that the is offended by the interference of the accidental markings, or fails to appreciate the general form or design, without a degree of investigation and effort, that detracts from the gratification which would be otherwise immediately experienced on looking at such carved works.
This leads me to advert to modes sometimes practised to produce the effect of carving; thus, in the Manuel de Tour-neur,† a minute description will be found of the mode of making embossed wooden boxes, which are pressed into metallic moulds, engraved with any particular device. The wood is first turned to the appropriate shape, and then forced by a powerful scrcw-press into the heated mould, (which is made just hot enough to avoid materially discolouring the wood,) it is allowed to remain in that situation until it is cold; this method however only applies to subjects in small relief, and is principally employed on knotty pieces of box-wood and olive wood of irregular curly grain.
The following method may be used for bolder designs, more resembling ordinary carving: the fine sawdust of any particular wood it is required to imitate, is mixed with glue or of cementitious matter, and squeezed into metallic moulds, but in the latter case the peculiar characteristic of the wood, namely its fibrous structure, is entirely lost, and the eye only views the work as a piece of cement or composition, which might be more efficiently produced from other materials, and afterwards coloured.
* Received from the hands of H. Hardman, Esq. † Second Edition,, vol. ii., pp. 441-51.
Each of these processes partakes rather of the proceeding of the manufacturer than of the amateur; extensive preparations, such as very exact moulds consisting of several parts, a powerful press, and other apparatus, are required,* and the results are so proverbially alike, from being "formed in the same mould" that they lose the interest attached to original works, in the same manner that engravings are less valued than the original paintings from which they are copied.
Another method of working in wood may be noticed, which is at any rate free from the objections recently advanced: I will transcribe its brief description. †
"Raised figures on wood, such as are employed in picture frames and other articles of ornamental cabinet-work, are produced by means of carving, or by casting the pattern in Paris plaster or other composition, and cementing or otherwise fixing it on the surface of the wood. The former mode is expensive, the latter is inapplicable on many occasions.
" The invention of Mr. Straker may be used either by itself or in aid of carving; and depends on the fact that if a depression be made by a blunt instrument on the surface of wood, such depressed part will again rise to its original level by subsequent immersion in water."
"The wood to be ornamented having first been worked out to its proposed shape, is in a state to receive the drawing of the pattern; this being put in, a blunt steel tool, or burnisher, or die, is to be applied successively to all those parts of the pattern intended to be in relief, and at the same time is to be driven very cautiously, without breaking the grain of the wood, till the depth of the depression is equal to the subsequent prominence of the figures. The ground is then to be reduced by planing or filing to the level of the depressed part; after which, the piece of wood being placed in water, either hot or cold, the parts previously depressed will rise to their former height, and will thus form an embossed pattern, which may be finished by the usual operations of carving." See Appendix, Note A, page 459 of this volume, and also Appendix, Notes J.K.L., of Vol. II., pages 954-956, for recent and more available modes of carving by machinery.
* See the Section on Tortoiseshell. † Trans. Soc. of Arts, vol. xlii., p. 52.