Have you ever turned tree fern? This is a question I am often asked and I'm sure a lot of you have ben asked the same question.
Until recently, the answer was "no". Have you ever tried to buy a super foot of tree fern, preferably 50 x 50 or 75 x 75 mm dried and dressed? It is as scarce as the proverbial hen's teeth and a protected species as well.
I always wanted to have a go so some two years ago the object of my desire stood in the way in the back yard (an area that is unprotected) and it somehow ambled into the workshop. Oh what joy, tree fern approximately 6 - 8 inches in diameter and about 6 feet long. After docking it into 12 inch lengths, I was on my way. It soon became apparent that the top 3-4 feet was not going to be much good, far too green, soft and hairy.
Growth in the top half the growth is too young and there is no development of good solid bulk. The lower section looked more promising, the old fronds were dried up and much firmer material was evident. A sticky liquid was already starting to exit from both ends. A condition I felt had to be arrested as such quick loss of moisture / sap would be no good to the seasoning process.
So, first thing to do was mount a 12 inch piece between centres and remove the loose outer layer of dead frond ends, hairy stuff, and bits and pieces of bark, - if they have any. This reduced the original cylinder of possible usable material to about 4 inches. Two pieces were produced for drying but before storing, they were completely covered in beeswax. Rolling them in molten wax in a frying pan does a great job. Mary did remark on several occasions that the steak and chops had a distinct honey flavour!
I stored them away in a constant temperature environment of about 18 - 20 degrees C - cellar type for 2 years. I watched them slowly shrink away, not unlike the way walnuts shrink as they dry. After two years all I had left were two pieces of shrivelled looking beeswax about 2 inches in diameter, not a good result as I started with 6 8 inches, However, they were nice and dry and ready to turn.
A small weedpot seemed a good project and so it came about. The result was pleasing enough, using only a 3/8 Inch spindle gouge it turned similar to Banksia nut with the little bits flying out at will and signs of that velvety fur often seen on Banksia nuts. Hardness was also very similar and some very interesting patterns and excellent results were produced where the material was compacted tightly. It finishes and polishes up nicely and has some lovely colours ranging from creams to brown with some black showing up. Drilling the centre hole was a dream, a 5/8 inch drill produced a continuous swarf about 2 feet long broken only by me stopping the feed in. The parting off caused a bit of chipping out, an area for further investigation.
In conclusion ,it was a project worth taking on for something a bit unique in looks providing you can get some raw material and let it season slowly. I am sure you will be rewarded.
The piece described here was part of the Show & Tell" segment on Saturday 14th February ‘98.