search  current discussion  categories  kilns & firing - wood 

best wood for ribs/finishes for ribs

updated thu 17 aug 06


Jon Lee on wed 16 aug 06

Hi All,

Reading the story about the scrap lumber bin got me thinking of the lumber
bin that I had done several dives in.
In this case, the lumber was free! (No ebony or mahogany though) In the
bins were: birds eye maple, quilted maple, tiger maple, cherry, walnut, oak,
these are really hard: ash, hickory, maybe too soft: birch, and pine.

Using a ban saw is a great start. I trace my original pattern onto a 1/4 or
less inch thick piece of lumber with a marker or a lumber pencil that I can
see well. I use a smaller ban saw blade so that I can make tighter
turns-especially on the back side where I may want a continued curve so that
I do not have to stop my cutting. (If this is too hairy for you, find
someone with a ban saw and have them cut it out for you) I can usually cut
out 25-30 rib tools in an hour.

I use a belt sander to shape the tools. Starting out at a coarser grit like
100. Then, it is hand sanding time. Generally I sand by hand with 200 and
then 400. I try to follow the grain of the wood and get out any scratches or
digs etc.

On a super AAA piece of lumber, I will commit to the following:

Belt sand with 100
Hand sand with the following grits: 200, 400, 800, 1000

Although I have never used grits higher than 1000 for ribs, they will go up
to 4,000 and possibly more
(These higher grits can be found in the automotive painting supply stores)

Just for giggles I want to share with the group something that I picked up
from a maker of gunstocks. When he gets to a grit of 200 or 400, the piece
of wood is dampened. Then, with a Burns O Matic torch or other Propane torch
found at
Ace Hardware or Farm and Fleet etc. the flame is passed over to raise the
grains of the wood. You will actually feel the hairs raise up. (Be careful
not to burn the wood) Pass the flame over slowly and not too close. You will
see the wood drying in front of your eyes. Then sand again. This will get
your wood really smooth. He may do this up to 2 times.
I have done this on a few rib tools and it does work well. This may take an
extra 15 minutes per rib tool.
Why? This will get your rib tool to an almost glass-like finish.

Use a dust mask as well. A respirator is even better. (Sometimes I sand

Someone who had seen one of my rib tools said, "Why are you using such
expensive wood?" I said, "It was free!"
Some of the woods out there in scrap bins are jewels ready created. And, why
not use this beautiful wood?
It is often destined to be burned anyway.

Next apply your finish of choice. After throwing for the day I wash the mud
off and towel dry my ribs.

Finishes??? What to use??? Any debate??? Ideas??? Your experiences???
Longevity of your ribs??
Your ideas and input are much appreciated as we all can learn from each

Danish oil works well. You can soak it for 1-24 hours. Then, wax.
(Sometimes just soak it in Danish oil overnight-wood will darken as well)

I have used Spar Varnish and this works well.

I have heard of people using tung oil and raw linseed oil 1/2 and 1/2
Any experience anyone??

Orange or walnut oil?

Any experience with Polyurethane?

Waxes? Kinds?

For all you teachers out there, I have found this to be a great project. I
have made hundreds of rib tools alongside my students. Some had never seen a
ban prior. I believed most of the students appreciated what it took to make
a rib tool. (among other tools) In many cases, they treasured their tools.
Some of my students made several for their arsenal. I said, "Anyone can buy
a tool."

Of course there are many logistical aspects to this project, but the rewards
can be well worth it. When students invest a couple of hours into a graded
rib tool project and you explain the subtleties of the rib tool and the
objectives of the project, students see the end result/goal to be relative.
Now, on the flip side you will have 5-10% of your students who will never
wish to do it again. But, I always say that you can lead someone-but they
have to drink on their own.

All the best,

Jon Lee