Posts Tagged ‘cedar’

O is for Old Growth

April 18, 2015

Old growth is an advanced state of forest. Really the bulk of it is dead. In any tree only the outer inch or so of the tree is ferrying the nutrients around, the remaining inner portion is….still and old, contributing strength but not much vitality. Importantly, a ton (or more literally) of nutrients are locked up in this old growth tree. Crashing to the ground in a storm delivers all those organics back to the soil. Cutting it down and hauling it away deprives the soils of sorely needed organics, but it gives us lumber right?

Old growth is dark and gloomy and quiet. Overstory blocks out the sun so the young trees have little of the sunlight they need to grow. It’s quiet because there’s not much there. The youngish forage that tends to be in reach of browsers and other eaters of vegetation needs sunlight. When there’s little light hitting the forest floor, there’s little forage in reach and therefore few eaters. They all go where there is food. Edges, meadows, and places with enough sunlight to grow.

So, like clearcutting, old growth isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Old growth is mostly dead and quiet. Nothing lives there hardly, except maybe a few species of birds like the spotted owl that need the old growth for nesting. Most of life moves on to other parts of the ecosystem where there is more food.

That said, old growth is a stunning place. You are small. The trees are big. You have the quiet to contemplate your spot in this primeval nature. It is an experience well worth seeking out.


C is for cedar

April 3, 2015

I’m talkin’ Thuja plicata here, not that country mouse cousin Thuja occidentalis. Plicata is for building, occidentalis is for ornamentation. The version of wrc I most appreciate for paddle making is clear and vertical grain. Vertical grain refers to a way of cutting the wood such that the grain rings basically go up and down (vertical) as you look at the cut end of a board. “Normally” cut cedar is quarter sawn. The grain looks more like a bowl or an upside down bowl when you view the end of a quarter sawn board.

It’s been my experience that quarter sawn wood will much more readily warp, especially in wider cuts, whereas vertical grain boards tend not to bow or cup. Looking at the ends of boards will readily show you why this is so.

Cedar possesses the most heavenly smell on the planet, if you were to ask me. The smell is one of my favorite, albeit fleeting, aspects of working with cedar. It is also rot resistant and very very light, ideal attributes for boats and paddles. It’s not particularly strong, although laminating a few strips together will more than solve that problem.

This is my preferred wood for paddle making. As I evolve further in my craft increasingly I conserve the vertical grain wood for use in blades and quite often as the shaft strip to which the blades attach. The remaining strips of the shaft I use “normal” or quarter sawn strips of cedar. This is a less expensive cut and frankly for the one-inch width of a shaft strip you are not going to see much cupping or bowing. The strip may warp, but that is easily corrected in using the form to make the shaft.

It is a beautiful wood, one that I enjoy working with every time I touch it.

Slow Wood is kind of like Slow Food

September 5, 2009
Hand Tools and Slow Wood make nice things together

Hand Tools and Slow Wood make nice things together

Each paddle is different, whether from the wood, the tools, or the mood.  Patience is part of this game too.  If you go too fast “tear out” or chatter marks happen and either one can be a show stopper.  A little bit at a time followed by a rub of the hand to check progress is the order of the day.  Reality TV is full of food shows now, many of which show and tell about the wonders of enjoying the journey rather than the destination.  In other words, enjoy making the meal as much as you enjoy eating it. Here in our shop, the order of the day is to enjoy the feel of the tools, enjoy the sound of the wood as it curls off the shaft under the spokeshave. There’s a balance between churning out one more paddle to meet the deadline and allowing the time to feel the paddle take its final shape under the drawknife or spokeshave.