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?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Check out some boxes that i have made with Boxelder. You will have to browse a bit but there are a number of them.