Blood, Sweat, and Sawdust

Going against the grain

Category: Tree Journal

The Tree Journal – Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera)

Liriodendron tulipifera: that funky wood with the green streaks.  You might know it as poplar, tulip poplar, or the fiddle tree.  Poplar grows throughout the eastern United States, and reaches heights over 150 feet.  In fact, it is the tallest eastern hardwood.

General Description

Poplar grows quickly and prefers deep-rich soils.  However, it does not have many of the weakness issues seen in other fast growing species.  The largest examples reach over 190-feet tall and 10-feet in diameter.  Additionally, the trunk often climbs as high as 100 feet before the first branches appear.

The simple leaves alternate, and grow to 6-inches long and wide.  To my eye, the leaves resemble the profile of the tulip flower, which makes them easy to spot.  Like true poplar’s, Liriodendron tulipifera’s leaves flutter independently in the wind giving its canopy a bright appearance.  In the spring, the tree produces independent flowers which resemble that of the tulip flower and, small brown cones form late fall.

Uses for Woodworkers

Despite being a hardwood, poplar is quite soft.  As a result, it is easy to work with both hand tools and power tools.  It produces a cream colored heartwood with streaks of grey and green.  Sapwood is yellow or white and not always easily distinguished from heartwood.  The grain is uniform and straight with diffuse porous end-grain.

Tulip poplar’s wide availability means that lumber is quite affordable.  It is sustainable and doesn’t seem to produce severe allergic reactions.  It makes an excellent choice for those starting with hand tools.  It can produce nice furniture if you enjoy its non-traditional appearance.  However, furniture makers generally use poplar as a utility hardwood.  It is an excellent choice for hidden parts such as drawer sides.

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The Tree Journal – Chestnut Oak (Quercus montana)

Description

The chestnut oak grows in the eastern United states, and belongs to the white oak group.  It reaches from Maine, down to Georgia, and as far west as Mississippi.  It prefers well drained soil and inhabits ridge lines and rocky habitats.  As a result, it usually doesn’t grow more than about 70 ft tall.

The chestnut oak distinguishes itself from other oaks with its deeply ridged bark.  It produces large, broad leaves between 5 and 9 inches long.  The leaves are oval with 10-15 shallow lobes.  Additionally, quercus montana produces some of the largest acorns among the oak family.

Uses for Woodworkers

Chestnut oak produces hard, dense lumber with a medium to light, brown color.  The grain is coarse with medium to large pores on the end-grain.  Due to its propensity for low branches, the grain can be wild and knotty.  It has excellent resistance to decay and good work-ability.  Though, slightly more expensive than red-oak, chestnut oak is generally affordable.  However, lumber yards will likely lump it under general white oak.  Finally, chestnut oak is not know to produce any severe allergic reactions.

In general, lumber from quercus montana should produce excellent furniture.  Its low branches could increase difficulty in regards to work-ability.  However, it should also increase interest in flatsawn boards.

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The Tree Journal – American Beech (Fagus grandifolia)

Fagus grandifolia is more commonly know as American Beech.  It grows quite large, and produces excellent lumber.  You will find fagus grandifolia as far north as southern Canada and as far south as northern Florida.  However, you will rarely find it west of the Mississippi river.

Description

American Beech typically reaches heights between 60 and 120 feet.  It produces dark-green leaves with an oval shape.  The leaves are sparsely toothed and 2.5 to 5 inches in length.  In the fall, the leaves turn apricot and are reluctant to fall.  In fact, the leaves often remain throughout the winter.  American Beech is monoecious, which means that it produces flowers of both sex.  In the fall, it produces small nuts in pairs.  These nuts have a distinctive, spiny husk.  One interesting thing about Beech is that it reproduces via root sprouts as well as seedlings.

Beech prefers shaded areas.  You will usually find it in forests and along trails.  Additionally, it sets itself apart from other trees by its distinctive bark.  The bark is silver-gray and very smooth.  In fact, hikers often target the tree as a canvas for carving initials.

 

Use for Woodworkers

American Beech is straight grained with a pale-cream color.  It is diffuse porous with a fine to medium texture.  Though hard, Beech is perishable and susceptible to infestation.  Beech responds well to steam bending.  However, it moves quite a bit with fluctuations in humidity.  Additionally, Beech is quite affordable due to its wide availability at lumber yards.

Although it makes great lumber, Beech is a go to wood for tool makers.  In fact, its cousin, the European Beech, has been the preferred wood for mallets and workbenches for centuries.

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The Tree Journal – American Persimmon (Diospyros Virginiana)

Diospyros Virginiana

Diospyros Virginiana is more commonly known as American Persimmon.  It is found throughout the eastern United States and as far west as Texas.  Additionally, humans have cultivated its fruit and wood since prehistoric times.  I often find these trees at the edges of fields in small groups.  The trees in my area usually reach no more than 30 feet in height.

Description

American Persimmon is a small tree, usually reaching no more than 20 meters in height.  It has a slender trunk with dark brown or grey bark which is usually divided into thick plates.  Oval leaves alternate and are generally four to six inches long.  In the spring they are dark green, but tend to develop splotches in late summer or early fall.  During the fall, the leaves turn orange or scarlet.  In fact, persimmon leaves are often the first to drop during the fall months.

Diospyros Virginiana is dioecious.  This means that each plant is either male or female.  At least one plant of each sex must be present to produce fruit.  The tree usually produces small white flowers in May or June.  If pollination occurs, the tree produces berry-like fruit containing one to eight seeds.  The fruit starts pale orange and often migrates towards a brown color after freezing.  When green, the fruit is extremely astringent.  However, ripe fruit is very sweet and quite delicious.   When ripe, the fruit is soft with a thin skin.  Inexperienced foragers might mistaken ripe fruit for having gone bad.  I find that if the fruit falls from the tree with a gentle shake, it is usually ready to be eaten.

Use for Woodworkers

American Persimmon is semi-ring porous with straight grain.  The sapwood ranges from white to pale yellow-brown.  Since the tree is mostly sapwood, consider it to be perishable and susceptible to infestation.  Despite this, the wood is hard and dense.  Consequently, it is often used in golf-club handles, tool handles, and other turned objects.  Unfortunately, it is not widely available at lumber yards, so prices are usually high.  However, small blanks can often be found at retailers for turning.

Stay tuned.  I will detail another species in a week or so.  In the meantime, don’t hesitate to let me know if you have a tree you would like me to detail.

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