Stop-Motion Wood

Just found this lovely film today. Not sure about the choice of soundtrack, but I love being able to "travel" through a piece of wood and watch the features ripple and flicker like a flame.

Special Delivery

The College of the Redwoods Fine Furniture Program is known for its focus on traditional techniques. Among the many items on our shopping list is a chisel set. Based on the helpful recommendation of a former student, I purchased a set by Ashley Iles, made in Sheffield, England. Unlike models from certain better-known brands, their edges are very thin and well-suited for dovetailing. When they finally arrived today, I was surprised by how beautiful they are.


The handles are plump and pleasing to hold, the brass ferrules bright and neat, and the bevels so deep that the tops of the 1/8" and 1/4" chisels are barely there.


While I have used chisels over the years, I lack the control that comes with hours of practice. I grew up studying the violin, so I know it takes repetition to connect theory with execution. A boatbuilding friend once explained, "A chisel is just a handle for a very sharp edge." It is a beautiful idea that I ruefully keep in mind while gripping the tool with tense concentration. I'm excited to have these beautiful tools to practice with this fall.

Justice Served for Ancient Redwood Trees

I was surprised and pleased to read today that state officials have nabbed two of the men whose burl-poaching activities made headlines last year.

Wildlife biologist Terry Hines standing next to a massive scar on an old growth redwood tree in the Redwood National and State Parks near Klamath, CA. Photo: Laura Denny, Associated Press

Wildlife biologist Terry Hines standing next to a massive scar on an old growth redwood tree in the Redwood National and State Parks near Klamath, CA. Photo: Laura Denny, Associated Press

They took chainsaws to old-growth redwoods in a State Park, carving away large burls which are prized for their unusual curly figure and command a high price with furnituremakers and turners. The slabs of burl were found for sale and helped investigators trace their way back to the criminals. Although the men are just two of many poachers operating in the area, it is encouraging that state officials successfully found and prosecuted the pair after a year-long search. Since trees are living organisms, an open wound leaves them vulnerable to infection. So it is really a shame to harm these ancient trees to make a quick buck.

Small Woodworkers of the World

Over the weekend, I had the chance to visit an enchanted farm nestled in the foothills of the Coast Range. The proprietor spends her days outdoors under the sun, protected by a wide-brimmed hat and light cotton clothing. Besides tending to crops and livestock, my friend takes the time to notice activity at the smallest scale, and was eager to share her observations with this city slicker.

I learned about the Acorn Woodpecker, which drills holes in trees and stores its precious acorns inside, one acorn per hole. Interestingly enough, the acorns are not stored in the tree they come from, but a different type of tree with a thicker bark better suited for this purpose. The bird will use manmade wooden structures, too -- no telephone pole is immune to its head-banging determination. The storage tree (or telephone pole) is called a granary. She led us through the dry river bed to show us one. 

Here is a granary tree that died and fell in the field. The acorn holes have long since been picked clean:


Here is a live tree, stuffed full of acorns:


A view of the same tree, with acorn cubbies as far as the eye can see:


My farmer friend also introduced me to the ants living inside these trees. Over time, she has discovered intricate lattices inside hollowed trunks, evidently constructed by the ants from masticated wood pulp. She calls it "ant lace." Reaching into the open trunk of a tree, her hand groped the ground briefly and returned a handful of the stuff. She snapped off a tiny piece and put it in her mouth. She chewed a few times, then announced, "It tastes how it looks."