Ornamental tree hides exotic and beautiful grain
Mimosa, a popular ornamental tree that sports fern-like leaves, makes a surprisingly good wood for scrolling. The light-colored wood is highlighted by a distinct dark grain that lends an exotic look to many scroll saw projects.
The scientific name for mimosa is Albizia julibrissin. It is also called silky acacia or silk tree. In addition to the fern-like leaves, the mimosa tree features showy and fragrant pink flowers. The mimosa also produces a seed pod shaped like a sugar pea. Mimosa trees are native to Japan, but can be found in many parts of the United States. The trees usually grow to a height of 20 to 40 feet. Mimosa trees have a relatively short life span because the species is prone to disease.
As far as I know, mimosa boards are not commercially available, so you will need to cut and dry your own lumber. I obtained my stock when helping a friend remove a dead mimosa tree. I originally intended to burn the tree as firewood, but changed my mind when I noticed the attractive grain pattern.
Because of the way the tree limbs arch out from the trunk, the wood has a fair amount of stress in it. Be careful when ripping mimosa into boards, as some of the pieces may bow or even split. Smaller branches can be cut on a table saw, but for the trunks and larger branches, I use a band saw.
While scientists classify mimosa as a hardwood–it is a deciduous tree that loses its leaves each fall–it resembles pine in density and hardness.
While mimosa and pine are similar in hardness, mimosa cuts better because it lacks the troublesome sap and pitch of pine. The contrasting colors of grain make mimosa suitable for fretwork and intarsia. I recommend ¼" or thicker stock for fretwork to minimize breakouts.
Mimosa can be fuzzier than other hardwoods and reacts to sanding like most softer hardwoods, such as basswood. I sand the wood with progressively finer sandpaper up to 220 grit.
A water-based clear finish preserves the natural color of the wood, but will raise the grain considerably. Be sure to sand between coats. If you use a clear oil-based or urethane finish, it will darken the wood, but will not raise the grain as much as a water-based finish.
Mimosa, while not commercially popular, makes a great wood for scrolling. The ease of cutting and beautiful color make it attractive to scrollers, but scrollers will need to harvest, saw, and dry mimosa wood themselves.