Saturday, February 27, 2010

Old Growth Forests

In 2003, a writer by the name of Kara Gebhart Uhl wrote an informative article about old growth forests. See In the article she talks about America’s historical usage of wood and the deforestation that occurred, especially at the end of the 19th century. She talks about old growth wood and ancient forests within the United States. She also talks about the value of using reclaimed wood, from old buildings and barns, and where to purchase it. A very informative article.

Kara Gebhart Uhl is no novice when it comes to knowledge of wood and wood working. She has done many articles for Woodworking Magazine and Popular Woodworking. She obviously knows the difference between a spokeshave and a skew chisel. She also knows the importance of preserving our natural forest heritage. Read the article and tell me what you think. a Google image search for “old growth forest”. You’ll discover some amazing pictures.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Box Elders Aren't Even Elders

About 2 miles from my house, they were cutting down a small grove of old hardwood trees to make way for a new assisted living facility. Most of the trees were 18 inches to 24 inches in diameter. Some were over 3 feet. They were carting them off for firewood. It was sad to see this thicket of trees destroyed. My boys used to play in it when they were younger.

There were piles of large cut chunks. My car is conditioned to stop upon approaching such tree cutting sites. I started roaming the piles. A workman shouted “Hey, what are you doing?” I explained that I was a wood carver looking for some wood. The foreman intervened. He allowed me to take two pieces. I grabbed a nice cherry stump that was 18 inches in diameter. He pointed out a box elder chunk that was about the same size. It was just cut and the red color streaks were very bright. It looked like it was bleeding.

I carted my trophies home in the trunk of my car. From my exuberance, you would have thought I just won a gold medal in the Olympics. I began to picture the boxes I could make out of the wood after it dries. As usual, my wife though I was crazy.
I did some research and found out that box elder isn’t really elder at all. It’s a type of soft maple. Scientifically, it is acer negundo, and also known as Ash-leaf Maple. The wood tends to be brittle with many internal splits and it has no real commercial use except for cheap wooden pallets and crates. However, most of the time, the wood has red or purple streaks which are created by a fungus that results from insects or other forms of distress. These “blemishes” make it very valuable to box makers or bowl turners. Distress and imperfections result in unique beauty. There is a life lesson in there somewhere.
I am in the process of making some boxes out of my chunk of box elder. I’ll tell you more about my progress in future posts. What has your experience been working with box elder?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Aunt Millie's Cane

My Aunt Millie would always ask me when I was going to make her a carved cane. I was always willing to make one, although I wasn’t exactly sure how I was going to do it. And what would I carve? Flowers would be appropriate, probably roses. I’m not good at flowers, especially roses. I put off attacking this project for over a year. I started collected pictures of real roses and carved roses. I practiced carving roses in scrap wood, but nothing looked very good. They all looked like cinnamon buns.

I had a piece of cedar from a big old ornamental shrub I took down in my yard. It had a natural right angle bend in it. Perfect for a cane handle, but I was hesitant to start carving because I had no confidence in my ability to carve a rose that wasn't laughable. If I messed up, this nice piece of wood was useless for anything else. Finally, I took a deep breath and jumped in. A lot a times major projects are like that. Ya hafta just jump in and hope for the best. Like most of my first time woodworking adventures, I learned as I went forward; sort of like feeling my way in the dark.

I used the straight section of an old curved top cane I got at a yard sale. I sanded off the thick dark varnish. I think its ash. I bought a nice brass joining collar on the Internet. A little bit of epoxy, and a little bit of luck, and "Presto!" it looks like a cane. I must admit, the finished product came out pretty good…for an amateur. I have to learn not to be so hesitant before jumping in to challenging situations.

Have you ever had situations where you were afraid to start cutting beautiful wood for fear of screwing up? Tell me about it.