When people think of making things from wood, the one that springs to mind is oak. But as magnificent as that tree is for buildings, ships and furniture, through the ages people have relied on another tree for tools, household objects, paddles and bats. That tree is ash.
This tree is under threat now from a microscopic fungus that has come from the far east. Penn sets about a challenge of making, or having made, as many objects made from a single ash tree. Partly to raise awareness of the trees plight, but also for the satisfaction of seeing a tree made into elegant and beautiful things for him to use. But first he had to find his tree. The genus Fraxinus is common in the northern hemisphere so it shouldn’t be too difficult. He is lucky enough to lease a small woodland, but there was no tree there suitable; fortunately he was to locate a tree with a strong straight trunk and a decent canopy from another local wood. Having felled it, it was taken to the saw mill to be cut into a number of planks of different dimensions, prior to a period of seasoning. This natural drying process is essential to turn a tree into useful timber.
One of the most common uses for ash is tool handles. The experts are a little hazy about putting an absolute date on when ash was first used, but it is safe to say that it has been used for several thousand years. The properties of ash make it the perfect material, it is tough, strong and flexible, not too heavy and the very act of handling the wood adds a patina to it making it nicer to handle. One of the last tool manufacturers in the UK offer to turn some of his planks into axe handles, and he pays them a visit. In no time at all they are cut to shape, and sanded to the ideal shape. His first objects from that tree.
Ash has numerous uses, and has been used in all forms of transport for years, including cars, buses, aircraft and of course carts. More wood is taken to a wheelwright where he sees flat wood turned into a perfect wheel, that if looked after will long outlive the original tree. Another hunk was taken to be made into bowls, that are now used daily for his breakfast. He visits Austria to have a toboggan made, America to see ash turned into a baseball bat and Ireland to have a hurley created. He commissions a desk to be made, and ends up with chopping boards, tent pegs, spoons, bookmarks, paddles, arrow, dominoes and even a catapult. In total he had seen 45 different objects created and had a total of 126 items. All from one tree. The sawdust and shaving kept him warm too, as nothing was wasted.
More importantly as this tree was coppiced properly when he returned to the stump it was growing again and will produce again.
This is a lovely book to read. Not only does his boundless enthusiasm come across on every page, but he is reminding us of the timeless quality of wood as a material. We learn that these crafts are not completely gone, but there are still a few talented individuals out there with the necessary skills to create practical and beautiful things. It is also a call to everyone to see what the benefits of having properly managed woods can bring. He has not only got a collection of items that he will use for many years to come, but each time he uses them he has a direct link to the landscape around him.
The Man Who Made Things Out Of Trees
1846148421|Particular Books hbk Oct 2015
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