Tree Tidbits to Use in Telling Tales

Many woodworkers pride themselves on being able to readily identify lumber of various species. They impress the uninitiated by blowing the dust off a stack in the lumberyard and saying, “oh, that’s white oak/red oak/white pine/spruce, etc.” Then they might throw out an offhand tidbit about good uses for the wood.

I’ve learned a few things recently about wood “on the hoof,” as it were – or, perhaps more accurately, “on the root” – that, to me, definitely fall into that interesting tidbit category. Cones Pointing Up

The first one has to do with identifying certain kinds of lumber while it’s still growing – no need even to see the grain. You do need to be able to see the cones of these conifers, though. This came up when one of my friends mentioned that she had taken a picture of a tree with its “pinecones” pointing up instead of down. She found that unusual. Turns out, it would be very unusual – for a pine. Or a spruce. The cones on both of these conifers grow pointing down. Fir trees, on the other hand, grow cones that defy gravity and point skyward as they grow.

Huh, you may be saying (I know I did), that’s kind of cool.

I’ve learned a few other cool things about trees as I interview a variety of woodworkers for the Today’s Woodworker feature department of our Woodworker’s Journal eZine. One woodworker mentioned that he made one of his walking sticks out of acacia wood, as mentioned in the Bible. At least some woodworkers (who have sent us letters) are under the impression that acacia no longer exists. It does, but it’s not a tree that you’d just amble up to a street corner in Israel and chop down.

According to Stanley Saperstein, “The acacia in the Bible is umbrella acacia because it has an umbrella canopy. It’s a small tree, the size of an apple tree, which in Israel today is highly protected. The wood comes up for sale maybe once in a generation.” Stanley, of course, was in the right place at the right time – with the right client – to build a cane from this rare wood.

Perhaps not quite as rare, but still interesting, is the paulownia tree. The what tree, you ask? I had to have the woodworker who told me about it spell it a couple of times. It’s a tree with Asian heritage that’s now being plantation grown in the southeastern United States to produce a light, strong wood. Among the plantation growers? A former U.S. President who is more known for his agricultural interest in peanuts.

I’ve also learned about cascara buckthorn, a cousin to the rare pink ivory, which grows in the Pacific Northwest. Woodworker Lea Montaire makes turnings from cascara, and had so much to say about it that she wrote an article for the October 2010 issue of Woodworker’s Journal. One thing she mentioned was the natural laxative properties of the bark – everybody in our office thoroughly washed our hands after picking up the wood samples she sent us. In medicine bottles. We appreciated the sense of humor.

There’s a sense within it of a story to tell to interest and impress our friends – a handy use for some of the other information I’ve shared, too. Do you have any tree tidbits to add to the tale?

Joanna Takes

Senior Editor

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About Joanna Takes

Joanna Werch Takes has been at Woodworker's Journal since 1998. Her work includes writing and editing for many print magazine departments, among them the "Stumpers" mystery tool department. Joanna is also a frequent contributor to the Woodworker's Journal eZine. Joanna's previous experience includes work as a newspaper reporter. Her woodworking has consisted of small projects such as toys and a storage box. She is active in the Women of Today service organization.

4 thoughts on “Tree Tidbits to Use in Telling Tales

  1. Morris, as I mentioned in the post, some of this has been covered in the Today’s Woodworker write-ups of the Woodworker’s Journal eZine, and some in the Shop Talk section of our print Woodworker’s Journal magazine — but one of the “wood” books I enjoy is The Meaning of Trees: Botany, History, Healing, Lore by Fred Hageneder (Chronicle Books, ISBN 978-0811848237).

  2. Here in VA, Paulownia grows by the side of the road and is quite frequent, even in back yards. I had one at my former home. I don’t know of it being grown for production in this region, but it is quite available.

  3. I was told this Paulwownia was introduced in colonial times from China for merchants. The main use were the pods the trees produce. At that time,most products (hardware,fruit,or liquids) were transported in barrels because the ease of rolling the containers. The exception for crates was for breakable items like glassware.The pods were used like packing peanuts today. After the crates were unpacked,the merchant would dump the pods out back, maybe by a steam,and the seed found its way into our environment.

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