Briar wood is from the Heath tree, and it grows in the Mediterranean. This small shrubby bush grows very slowly, and develops a large burl root. This burl is the valuable part, and is sold to specialty wood stores. The most common use for Briar is tobacco pipe making. However, there are many more uses for this beautiful wood.
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Most Briar wood is small, because of the main industry using the material. When harvested after many years of growth, the burls are larger, but they are cut down to smaller blocks for tobacco pipe making. Some of these are really small, only an inch or two long, and rectangle in shape. Others can be several inches long.
All Briar wood for tobacco pipes is air dried for many years, sometimes a couple decades or more to ensure the wood is completely stable. While this is something that tobacco pipe makers are interested in, for the woodworker it does not make as much difference. Any Briar you buy for woodworking purposes will be perfectly stable, and make an excellent project.
The attraction to Briar wood is the figure. Briar has one of the most interesting burl figures in the world. The wood is strong, and the closed grain allows the surface to be polished to a high gloss very well. The picture on the left shows a Briar wood ring, with a contrast stain.
This process involves applying a very dark stain, sanding, then applying an earth tone stain. The reason you see the grain well in the picture is because the grain takes in the stain deeper than the flake, and when sanded it stays there longer. Once another light colored stain is added over the top, the contrasting look between the grain and the flake is enhanced.
Briar wood is from the Heath tree, and can be purchased in places that sell tobacco pipe making supplies. The wood is beautiful, works easily, and takes a polish extremely well.
Another technique that can be done to Briar wood is to rusticate the surface. This process involves using different methods to age or weather the wood. In this case, a wire wheel was used to rough up the surface, and a series of stains were applied to give the look.
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This is a similar process to the finish I did on this tobacco pipe, and there are a few other rustication methods that produce nice looking results on these picture frames. If you look at examples of rustication, many of them are applicable to Briar wood. The surface is changed dramatically when rusticated. One of the most popular methods for tobacco pipe makers is to sand blast the Briar following the grain lines. This creates a wind weathered look that is easy to notice.
My Wedding Ring is made from Briar, and I describe the process in my book. I encourage any woodworker that makes smaller projects to give Briar wood a try. Look online for tobacco pipe making supplies, and they will have it. I buy my Briar from JH Lowe, as they tend to have the best prices. Their blocks come in a wide range of sizes, and they take phone orders.
Do you have any questions about Briar or a project you would like to make with Briar? Please leave a comment and I will help you. Happy building.
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