About Me

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I'm a life-long New Englander, father of 4 challenging kids (I know: I'm supposed to say "wonderful", but while that'd be true, technically speaking, it'd also be misleading), and fortunate husband to my favorite wife of more than 20 years. I've got over 20 years experience breaking things as a test engineer, quality engineer, reliability engineer, and most recently (and most enjoyably) a Product Safety / EMC Compliance Engineer. In the photo, I'm on the left.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

What does “exotic” mean?

I’ve been doing a fair amount of wood working lately. Pen making, actually. For this endeavor, I have ordered a number of pieces of wood that the sellers advertise as “exotic” wood species. These are species like Chakte Viga, Yucatan Rosewood,  Bocote, Wenge, Cocobolo, and many others. By the way: I strongly advise you to NEVER work with Cocobolo: it’s a truly beautiful wood, but the dust and oil from it is also quite problematic, and if you’re sensitive to it to begin with, the dust can be fatal.

SO not worth a pen!

In any event, having purchased and worked with so many different species of exotic wood, my mind started to wander and scrutinize the definition of “exotic”. I’ve done this many times over the years, and the conclusion that I reached recently is no different from the conclusion that I’ve reached so often over time.

That is, what is exotic to me is mundane to someone else, and what is mundane to me is exotic to others.

Merriam-Webster tells me that “exotic” has a few different definitions: I’m going to ignore the one that talks about striptease, and focus on the other three, all of which say pretty much the same thing for my purposes: 1) not native to the place where found, 2) foreign, 3) strikingly, excitingly, or mysteriously unusual.

Essentially: not from here.

Consider snakewood, for instance, which is a wood species that has what I think are unbelievable grain patterns that can create some very stunning objects. Snakewood is from South America.

Do you think that the average Brazilian looks at snakewood and thinks, ‘Golly! That’s a lovely piece of wood! How exotic!’?

I wonder what the Portuguese word for “golly” is?

Or is that Brazilian more likely to say ‘Crap, another piece of snakewood. Why can’t I ever get any white birch???’?

White birch, of course, grows pretty abundantly right next to my house here in New England. Nothing exotic about it.

To me.

So this leads me to wonder: let’s say that I was living in South America, and I ordered a box of exotic wood “blanks”, how pissed off would I be if I got snakewood in that box?

What if I went out for “exotic” food and was given a baked potato?

“Exotic”, at the end of the day, is just something that’s not from where you are. It’s what made trade routes so damn long back in the day. The longer, the more profitable. The more exoticer.

That should be a word, right?


  1. Exotic could also mean an unusual use for a usual thing...ie...pens made of wood lol.

  2. But... I LIKE strip teases.

    I used to work for a workshop what produced old classical wooden flutes and recorders. I was actually in charge of probably a few hundred of these from blocks of wood, right up through the attaching of thumb-rests and burnishing of brass parts, etc. Only thing I didn't do was tune them.

    ...can't say I was a master of it by any stretch, but yeah, I took them from rectangular blocks, put them on the biggest god damned bandsaw that I'd ever, and still have ever seen... Was easily two stories tall, with a blade four inches wide... Took about ten minutes to get up to speed, and probably about as long to stop after you cut the power... turned them into hexagons, bored them out, reamed them, turned them down into cylinders, stained them, you name it.

    The most interesting wood I worked with was Grenedilla. Very Very hard wood. When it was turned, it did not create flakes or strips of wood. It created dark powder, like nestle quick. Very toxic. I always wore a respirator.

    I did NOT wear it once when I was gun-drilling some English Boxwood and boy did I pay. I paid for WEEKS with what was akin to a serious chest cold. My voice changed to sound like Barry White, I couldn't breath deeply without coughing, and my phlegm was sometimes blue and smelled like Elmer's Glue.

    Probably should have seen a doctor...

    1. Darnit. I have several links in that word-bomb up above, but due to the settings in your theme, your "links" are the same color as your words.

      "A workshop What Produced..." in paragraph 1

      "Grenedilla" in paragraph 3.

      "Gun-Drilling" and "English Boxwood" in paragraph 4.

      ...I did not link "Phlegm" or "Elmer's glue".

  3. I have awarded you an award. Check out thefeatherednest to collect it.

  4. Sandalwood is really exotic!

  5. It has been a long long time since you posted here.....hoping all is well with you and yours.