I find myself in many conversations involving the use of exotic woods. At times it seems as though I'm in a "Who can Stump the Wood Guy" competition. Having worked with wood for my entire career and holding a degree involving wood technology I guess I should be aware of more exotic woods than most. However there are in fact many, many more wood species that I am not familiar with nor ever will be. And that's OK with me. Exotic woods by definition are "...of foreign origin or character; not native; introduced from abroad..." The truth be told I have never been the least bit interested in using materials that are not native to where I live and work. Having said that, I must remind you that all the beautiful woods I gather locally are indeed considered "Exotic" everywhere else in the world, so I suppose when viewed from a global perspective I do indeed work with exotics. I'd like to introduce you to three of my favorite Otter Tail County Exotics:
This is one of the few woods I use that also has value as a furniture wood or for commercial lumber. I like the strength of the grain pattern. It's strong but not overpowering. Of particular interest is the fine wavy pattern in the summer growth (space between the rings). This herringbone pattern makes this specie shimmer.
The broad, uniform canopy has made the American Elm a favorite urban tree valued for its shade in yards and parks.
The American Elm has been a favorite for lining boulevards. These Elm tree-lined streets are fast becoming a thing of the past as Dutch Elm Disease (named for where the disease was first located not the specie) continues to decimate the Elm population.
Cottonwood has very little commercial value due to its low strength, density, and tensile attributes. It's often used for low value items such as pallets and lath. It is one of my favorites. The flame grain that I find in the cottonwood takes my breath away.
An incredibly graceful tree, I have measured local specimens with 6' diameters. The slightest breeze will produce a beautiful rustling sound as the thin, flat-stemmed leaves flutter.
Boxelder is a real show stopper. The vibrant dashes of red overlaid on the satiny grain of the Maple is striking indeed. In the rare cases where I carve a piece with no red present the result is almost as though it was made of ivory.
The red in the boxelder is present as the tree grows. This is a picture of a freshly cut boxelder log. What causes the red will be the topic of a future blog. Hint: Boxelder beetles are non-boring beetles.
I have to say that I prefer knowing where my material comes from. Best wishes - Jay
from the very Exotic Otter Tail County
I've been wanting to carve another "Cottonwood Movements" triptych since I joyfully parted with my last set in Memphis last October. Cottonwood is one of my favorite woods to carve for several reasons: it is native to my region, it grows quite large, and it has terrific color and grain characteristics. I usually have easy access to cottonwood but this year it's been pretty tough for me to come by. So, it was great news when I heard from my friend Doc Bob that he had the remnants of a cottonwood that fell last summer for me to inspect. On a cold and breezy day a couple of weeks ago I loaded my saw and headed for rural Battle Lake. After a meandering tour of his farm we eventually arrived at the object of my interest. It really wasn't much to look at but there was enough to hold my attention.
With some help from Doc Bob I managed to get a couple of sections crosscut and readied for ripping. Take note of the choppers and stocking cap Bob's wearing....they are mine. The temp was in the single digits fahrenheit so not too cold there however the wind was blowing out of the NW at about 25mph so it was a bit nippy.
I was moving pretty quickly to stay warm. Not long before I had my blanks field dressed and ready to go.
I've already carved the set and they are in my drying chamber. I was fortunate to get three sound blanks out of this trip as there was already a lot of dry rot and fungal activity taking its toll. Stay tuned, it shouldn't be much longer before I have a finished "Cottonwood Movements" to share with you.
I'm a contemporary wood sculptor living and working in rural Minnesota. I gather my logs locally and travel the country selling what I make from them.