The Banksia Seed Pod!
Australia’s native treasure!
By Cindy Drozda
Banksia is a genus of plants that occur in Australia and Papua New Guinea numbering 75 named species. Of these, 61 are found in Western Australia, including the Banksia Grandis, the species that generates the large seed pods."
The Banksia take their name from Sir Joseph Banks, the botanist who was on Captain Cook’s ship “Endeavour” that arrived in Australia in 1770."
It was from a subsequent trip to Australia that specimens were gathered resulting in seeds being grown in European glasshouses and 2 new species being named. One of these was the Banksia
Grandis named by Carl Wildenow in 1798.
Although it’s the size of the seed pod that makes it attractive to artists, the name probably refers to the tree’s large leaf size."
Banksias in general occur as plants ranging from prostrate shrubs, to larger bushes, and trees of around 50 feet in height. The Banksias Grandis is restricted to a natural occurrence in only the southwest corner of Western Australia. More specifically, the coastal plain and Darling plateau from a point some distance north of Perth extending over an area about 650 miles southwards
and eastwards along the coast and about 100 miles inland at most." Banksia Grandis grows as either a large shrub or a small tree depending on its location, either on the coastal plains or as an understory tree in the eucalyptus forests. "
The cones commonly used for woodturning are the fruit body remains from the flower head spike that blooms from October to January. These cones can be from 4 to 16 inches long. Once the stunning, upright, golden yellow or red flowers fall off, the cone matures on the tree and the seeds develop. Often it is the heat of a forest fire that causes the seed case holes, which give these pods their unique appearance, to burst open and release their seeds."
"Banksia Seed Pods are a truly renewable resource, since no trees are cut down to harvest the Pods. Working with Banksia Pods is an adventure, but the results are well worth the effort!"
Here are a few hints for turning Banksia Pods
Explore your creativity, and be willing to risk.
Banksia Pods are an unusual material that offers a lot of possibilities, both for success and failure. Buy an extra pod or 3 and don’t be afraid to lose one on a new idea. The greatest successes come to those who are not afraid to fail!
Choose the right pod for the project.
Not all pods are created equal. The lighter, browner ones tend to be more sound inside. Whitish or yellowish color can indicate a punky interior. Cracks at the core will not yield a good finial, knob or stem, but make a great looking mushroom cap. Nicely formed, undamaged “eyes” and a less weathered exterior make a better natural edged piece, but if you are turning the exterior away the weathered ones work just as well. A lot can be told about the pod by cutting off the ends.
Make sure the pod is dry.
Weighing is one way to keep track of the drying process, and “just giving it plenty of time” is another. A simple drying kiln can be made from an insulated box with a light bulb inside and holes around the top and bottom to allow airflow.
"Think of it as a piece of branch wood, but with no grain strength.
A natural surface around the circumference, and a small diameter but long length, make a pod suitable for projects that you would think to make out of a branch. Although it looks like the heart of a branch, the core of a pod has no grain structure and a thin finial will break off very easily.
Be sure to use eye protection!
When roughing the exterior of the pod, there are fur and sharp particles flying around. Also, expect to need a bath after turning a pod (they are very dusty)!
"Be careful cutting the ends off on the bandsaw.
A vee-groove shaped sled to hold the pod from rolling is a good idea. Keep your body parts out of the path of the blade!
Start with the pod between centers.
After cutting the ends off, the center core of the pod can be used for the centers to mount the pod evenly most of the time. A chucking point can be cut, or a tenon for mounting into a recess in a faceplate-mounted waste block. I have not had good luck cutting the end off and just gluing it flat onto a waste block.
Pods scrape, cut, and sand well, but they are abrasive.
High speed steel, or especially the new “powder metallurgy” tools, carbide tipped drill bits, and good quality sandpaper are really valuable for turning pods. Sanding at slow speeds gives better results.
A pod jam-fits better onto a waste block than onto another piece of the pod.
Using a waste block of soft Maple, Alder, Mahogany or other compressible wood gives a better and more secure jam chuck than a piece of Banksia Pod. If the delicate, thin-walled pod piece is jam-fit into a recess instead of over a tenon it will reduce the risk of cracking it. Use tape for insurance when finishing the bottom without the tailstock. Jam-fits with thin-walled pod pieces are never very strongly gripped. It is easy to break the piece or knock it off the jam chuck.
Use CA glue to strengthen thin walled pieces.
When hollowing to the maximum diameter of the pod, the “eyes” can tend to fall out. CA (“Super Glue”) soaked over the outside of the piece before hollowing will glue in the eyes, and will not stain the finished piece. Be sure to let the CA dry completely before turning on the lathe. And wear your safety glasses!
Finishing off the lathe works best.
For best results plan to sand to at least 600 grit. Some finishes that I like are: General Salad Bowl Finish or any thin-bodied oil that penetrates well (to minimize wiping finish off from inside the eyes), Spray on film finishes such as lacquer, polyurethane, shellac, etc. It is very tedious to scrape wax or French polish out of the eyes! That is why I finish off the lathe.
Signing your work.
The “Gelly Roll” Metallic gel ink pens write on the sanded surface of a pod and show up well. Be careful that your finish will not cause the ink to run. I usually use a Dremel vibrating engraver to sign my pod pieces. Filling the engraving with the “Gold Stick” wax stick gives a gold engraved look. For best results with the Gold Stick, do the engraving after the finish is dry.
If you have any questions, or just want to talk about Banksia Pods, please contact me by email any time!