To try and find the right wood that is 4-6′ long in pencil to pinky-finger thin in almost branchless shoots that will weather the sun and rain for more than a year or two for outdoor building and sculpture does my head in!
Growing here there are dogwoods, of the striking reds and pale yellow greens, though they have usually been planted stem by stem in the few trca plantings that the city can afford and are anything but branchless. They will outlast willow birch and poplar, especially if the bark is intact, though I have the feeling that their color will bleed to a mordor black.
There are, cultivated in a few hundred ultra manicured front gardens in toronto, multi-stemmed hazel trees. They shine almost golden, and I am enamored by the beaked-hazel, which I have seen but twice in and around the don in the last five years. Most of the hazels you see are horribly pruned out of season and above the ground, since it is somewhat counter-intuitive knowledge that this short beauty will not last twenty years without being cut back down to the ground.
Here grows the principle problem with finding stems of the length I need to produce useful garden fencing and furniture; that without pruning to make the stumps more competitive and multi stemmed, they tend to divide oddly. If I could run around at night, in the right season mind, and bring these beautiful trees back ‘into cycle’ it would solve the problem of the right wood.
Another more capable and equally as water/sun resistant as hazel is the locust. There certainly is an incredible amount of work involved in removing the paired thorns of the black locust. Many days I have set out with grand schemes of processing this tree, and have switched to more useful tasks within the hour. This tree, the black locust, is unfortunately brittle, and does not take to twisting into rope to secure corners of fencing or whathaveyou. The bark is amazing, though mildly toxic, and has similar qualities to cherry or elm barks (used for chair backings, leatherlike).
Though I love the willows, unless they are planted as live structures (putting 8″ of the stem in the ground in late fall early spring, and caring for them well over the first year) I think they will rot out in 5, depending on how much sun they get to degrade the bark.
This problem evolved out of trying to make animal enclosures, and you would not invest in a massive amount of willow hurdles unless they were going to last. Hazel can buy you another 5-10 years, and I would assume locust is about the same. This is of course without treating the wood, which could be done with a turpentine produced as a byproduct of traditional charcoal production.
The list grows short, though maples, ash and others like chestnut or even yew would do beautifully, though I would prefer, in most cases to leave these tall competitive saplings intact for the most part (except for some singling or light thinning).
When I built the fence at belong, I harvested roughly 200 8-12′ thumb sized sugar maple stems per acre. This provided the uprights, numbering around 160, for the 1000 pussy willows that were then woven to make a 155′ fence. I would not have harvested more, since there was 3′ of snow and it looked like the deer and rabbits were doing enough thinning of the stems, and had their own version of forest stewardship well in hand (so to speak). Also it pays to be selective in material, since I was almost selecting to the mm to create something that was thin enough for willows to bend around but thick enough to withstand being upright. Regardless this abundance of young trees does not exist in the g.t.a. Obviously.
It seems to be a long road, enculturing the use and stewardship of branchwood to create an alternate economy in outdoor fencing, charcoal, living structures in todays urban cityscape.
One stump at a time.
One thought on “the right wood”
Great Article. Love the way you write. Your knowledge and experience of the materials that you work with and the use and timelines of useful life is amazing. Let me know when the book is due out 🙂