Discovering Wood #1: An Introduction

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Blog entry by DocT posted 03-14-2011 11:23 PM 1938 reads 2 times favorited 7 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Discovering Wood series Part 2: A Little About Me »

For what it is worth, I am beginning a new blog called Discovering Wood. I plan to post here on LJs also. I am an avid blog reader (I subscribe to more than 100 woodworking blogs through Google Reader), and I am starting a blog not because I know so much that I have to tell the world, but because I realize how much that I don’t know!!! The blog is not necessarily for the edification of anyone but me. I hope it will bring discipline to my quest to learn about various species of trees/wood. I hope that it will force me to absorb some of the passages and descriptions that I have read so many times.

The following is my first post:

An Introduction
It is a bit intimidating to start with this blank slate.

I’m not much of a writer. My wife is the English major with a masters in Speech-Communication who taught composition and grammar. Whoa…now maybe that is why this is a bit intimidating! I believe I’ll have to forego her critiques and corrections, or I believe I would freeze at the possibility of making a grammatical mistake. Nevertheless, as I was saying, I’m not much of a writer, and I’m not really looking for a new hobby (blogging). I am an avid woodworker of nearly 25 years (and I’m only 40).

A recent bucket-list foray into building a set of five Windsor chairs for my family awakened a curiosity of wood species. I think that prior to this I realized that different species have different properties, but I had been approaching wood mainly for its color palette (maple = blonde and walnut = brunette). The Windsor is the poster child for wood technology. Traditional Windsors are usually constructed from at least three, and as many as five, different types of wood, each selected because it excelled in a particular area: oak bends beautifully; maple turns crisply; pine carves easily… (I built my Windsors from white oak, hackberry, ash and poplar). This opened a whole new train of thought for me and left me with a number of questions about a subject that I thought I knew something about…wood.

I emerged from the Windsor wormhole with two new passions: a passion for woodturning and a passion for experiencing new species. There are so many tree species that I know very little about. I want to know more about the woods readily available to me. I want to better learn how to accurately identify trees and lumber. I want to learn everything I can about how I should expect these woods to behave. What are their positive and negative attributes?

This is where the blog arises. I have read several of the “right” books; I have read Hoadley’s Identifying Wood . I have been to several of the “right” web sites; I have often perused Purdue thorough website. I have talked to several of the “right” people; My Grandpa is a treasure-trove of tree knowledge. But, for some reason, the in-depth knowledge I seek doesn’t seem to stick, and many of the sources that I reference don’t contain information directed at woodworkers. That fact was driven home after I retrieved several sections of mystery log from a nice lady’s yard.

Planera aquatica (Water Elm)?

She had no idea what kind of tree it had been, and the tree service had removed all of the secondary information necessary to make a diagnosis using a forestry service handbook. As I looked through the handbook, I became frustrated. Even after Grandpa identified the wood as Water Elm, the handbook had almost no useful information for me, the woodworker! “Light brown with thick whitish sapwood, fine textured, lightweight, soft. Scarce and not used locally”….DOES NOT HELP!!!

I want to right this wrong in my life. I don’t really care to work with exotic woods from the rainforest, but I do want intimate working knowledge of exotic woods from the local urban forest! I want to learn to ID the trees around me. I want to obtain sample logs from a whole host of native and ornamental species. I want to turn these samples. I want to mill these samples. I hope to chronicle the discoveries of my journey. Hopefully, it will be informative to you as well.


7 comments so far

View whitedog's profile


652 posts in 3604 days

#1 posted 03-14-2011 11:39 PM

I think you are on a good path young grasshopper… I will be watching with great interest because this is also an area that I wish I knew more about.

-- Paul , Calfornia

View DocT's profile


109 posts in 3585 days

#2 posted 03-15-2011 12:59 AM

I’m glad to have you along! Please comment or question freely. We’ll hopefully learn even more that way!


View woodman1962's profile


150 posts in 2835 days

#3 posted 03-15-2011 02:33 AM

I am also interested in finding out more about different kinds of wood.So far i have not been able to afford to purchase a lot of different kind of wood.Have mainly used pine and cedar and a few odd pieces of scrap that i have picked up.So like always ready to learn more


View DocSavage45's profile


8699 posts in 2989 days

#4 posted 03-16-2011 04:00 PM

Saw your blog listed in the emag. Hank Gilipin who is a pretty well known Sudio furniture builder builds with local woods. Reading about his journey found that he went to the source to find out. Don’t know where you live but people who manage natural resources in your state might be interested in working with you?

-- Cau Haus Designs, Thomas J. Tieffenbacher

View DocT's profile


109 posts in 3585 days

#5 posted 03-16-2011 05:25 PM

DocSavage45- I am vaguely familiar with Gilpin through Fine Woodworking. I do plan to incorporate as many sources as I can. My quest will hopefully involve a combination of practical knowledge after handling a new species, and extensive cross-referencing form both books and forestry agencies.


View tyka's profile


142 posts in 2840 days

#6 posted 03-20-2011 03:13 PM

Sounds like your appetite for learning will take you where you want to go with this. I will be reading with anticipation. I understand you frustration about the current information available to woodworkers. I hope you will provide information that can serve non-woodturners as well :-)

-- Paul, Plantagenet, Ontario

View therookie's profile


887 posts in 2974 days

#7 posted 03-20-2011 03:20 PM

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