10 November 2013

Serendipity -- Seeing the Silver Lining

Have you ever had one of those days when things just seemed to be going rather wrong? And then you stood back and really looked, and realized that, in truth, the Force had been with you the whole time?

Today was one of those days for me.

Yesterday we spent two hours unloading the freezer into ice chests, so that we could move it away from the wall to attach screening in the back. I turned the freezer dial to "Off", we turned off the power, and we wiggled the freezer two feet foward. I duct-taped aluminum gutter guards to the bottom opening to keep rodents from nesting in the space.

We wiggled it back into position, turned the power back on, and loaded eveything back into it, including three half-gallons of ice water and the cold packs we keep frozen for emergencies. Everything looked good! Later, I bagged a couple of small steaks and put them on the top shelf to freeze.

This afternoon I drove over to my favorite gas station to fill up. When I went in to pick up the change, the cashier and I got to chatting a bit about cars. It was a slow day and I wasn't in any particular hurry. I even gave the gentleman the name of my mechanic, as he was new to the area.

When I finally went back to my car a few minutes later, I smelled gas very strongly. This was definitely NOT RIGHT. I walked around to the back and looked under the car. There near the left rear wheel was a large dark puddle and liquid dripping slowly into it. (And, no, I had not "topped off" the tank.)

Did I mention I have a really good mechanic? I called him, explained the problem, and he was there in less than ten minutes. We got the car over to his garage, and he drove me home. Tomorrow he will call me with his findings - hopefully something not too exorbitantly expensive to correct.

Meanwhile, my son drove me to my original destination, the local Trader Joe's, and I picked up a bag of flour and a few other items. When we got home, I bagged the flour and took it out to the freezer.

it was when I went to move the steaks down to their basket that I realized my error of the night before. I HAD NEVER TURNED THE FREEZER DIAL BACK UP! Fortunately, everything seemed to be still quite firm and icy, except the cold steaks, of course. I pulled the flour back out, turned the dial up to almost max, and closed the door quickly. With luck, nothing will spoil and tomorrow I can turn the dial back down to its usual setting.

Two potential disasters, yes? But then I realized just how lucky I had been. If I hadn't stopped to chat with the cashier at the gas station, there would not have been enough gas dripping down for me to smell it and realize I had a major problem. I might have just driven off and who knows what might have happened?

And if I hadn't followed thru on my original shopping trip, bought the flour, and gone to put it in the freezer, it might have been 12-24 hours more before I caught my error, and we could have lost a couple hundred dollars of frozen food.

It was dusk when I stepped out the back door to check on something. I looked over the far wall to the southeast sky, and saw a beautiful, brief, brilliant shooting star that sparkled brightly and was gone. Pure serendipity.

09 November 2013

I have a new website!

I am very pleased to announce that after considerable work, my original woodturning shop, Teak Tocks, has been completely remodeled, and is now open under a new name. 

Please check out my new wood shop, at       noskewturns.com!

22 March 2009

A New Backyard

Six months after my last post I moved, lock, stock, and barrels of wood, to Scottsdale, Arizona.

I soon discovered that I had merely traded one grounds crew for another. In the space of two weeks, this young desert cottontail nibbled the few scrawny patches of grass in the graveled backyard down to divots where he had dug out the roots.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the great number and variety of birds in the neighborhood. Once I started scattering bird seed several times a week, it wasn't long before many of the local doves (three kinds!), and sparrows were making regular stops to dine, along with great-tailed grackles, curved-bill thrashers, and others.

My yard, like all the others in the neighborhood, is bordered by a six-foot block wall on three sides. One corner has overhanging vegetation from the yard behind us. The ubiquitous Gambel's quail use the walls as parade routes and they can run quickly into the protection of the shrubbery if a threat is sighted.

The quail can be rather noisy and they have a wide variety of calls. They also tend to stay in pairs, and both males and females will fend off perceived competitors, chasing them vigorously around the yard!

The regular feeding and the reassuring presence of three large mounds of yellow-flowering lantana in the yard paid off. One morning, just a few weeks after moving in, I was totally delighted by this sight!

It was great fun watching the chicks grow during the next few months. Only a few days after this picture was taken, their wing feathers had grown long enough for them to flutter frenetically up to the top of the wall, with much encouragement from their parents.

Of course, I also stayed on the lookout for interesting wood to turn. This little bowl (~5" diameter) came from a small log of Chilean mesquite that was originally destined to be just a chunk of firewood for a barbecue. I rescued that piece and two others and diverted them to a more noble fate!

My workspace here is much smaller than in Washington, but turning doesn't require much room. I did bring almost three tons of seasoned wood with me, so I won't run out of cascara or maple anytime soon! And locally there is mesquite, and acacia, and honey locust, and olive, and . . .

Last, but not least, I have upgraded my website, Teak Tocks, and it is now an online store for my woodturnings. I invite you to stop in and browse!

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31 August 2006


I had an unexpected visit from the local groundskeeping crew this morning. I managed to grab my camera and take a few snapshots through the window.

"Smile! You're on Candid Camera!"

"Quit licking your nose! It's gross!"

"Did you hear what I just heard?"

"Hmmmm - I wonder what this stuff tastes like?"

Pssst! Mom! Sis! Here comes the boss!"

"No more slacking off now! You hear me?"

About then the battery warning light on the camera started blinking, and I'd used up all the space left on the flash memory anyway. But I have three new items for my ToDo list. Erase the flash memory. Buy a new battery. And wash the windows!

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16 July 2006

A New Candy Store! and Other Happenings

Pink Candy Bowl - GS Wood

Welcome! It's been quite a long time since I last posted - my apologies. I have had an interesting year so far. In January, I applied for a business license. Now I can spend my time doing paperwork when it is too cold to turn! I also delivered a long-overdue bowl, but that's for another post.

During a three-week period in February, I hauled home a ton of fresh-cut, "green" wood. Literally. By conservative estimate, I sawed up and carried home more than 2000 pounds of bowl blanks and smaller log sections. I swear, each time I loaded up the trunk of my car, the poor thing groaned and splayed out its back wheels like in the cartoons. Fortunately, the bulk of the booty was within twenty miles of home. It was quite a selection of woods, too, including bigleaf maple, two kinds of cherry, apple wood, sweetgum, beech, plum, and chestnut. Plus assorted blocks of sycamore, and a few small branches of rhododendron and Western dogwood.

Katalox Box
Beginning in March, the Pacific Northwest Woodturning Guild has been participating in the First Thursday Gallery walks, a long-standing tradition in Portland's Pearl District. Our meeting place is at an architectural firm, and they had some open space which we are using for a gallery display each month. Although sales have been slow, an encouraging number of people stop in and browse each month. We are constantly working to improve our display and presentation.

One of the unique things about our "825 Gallery" is that it is "staffed" almost entirely by Guild members, who of course are extremely knowledgeable about woodturning and most happy to answer any questions and explain how certain pieces were done. We are hoping that our expertise, and our encouragement of browsers to actually *touch* the pieces and ask questions about them, will result in more knowledgeable attendees and future customers.

Christian Burchard, an internationally-known woodturner whose studio is near Ashland, Oregon, was the presenter at the April meeting of Northwest Woodturners. He also held a one-day seminar on Friday, which I attended, and a hands-on class on Saturday. Christian is a dynamic speaker and demonstrator, and his work is continually evolving and changing. One of his favorite materials is green madrone, especially the roots and burls. (Pacific madrone, Arbutus menziesii, grows primarily along the coastal areas of Washington, Oregon and California, and is particularly abundant west of the Cascades.) His baskets are amazing - they are turned to a wall thickness of less than 1/8", and then allowed to air dry. From past experience, I can say that a hands-on class with Christian really encourages you to push your limits both in skill and in nerve!

May brought flowers, showers, and WoodFest 2006 at the World Forestry Center in Portland's Washington Park. The Guild had a table set up as part of the outside exhibits, but unfortunately, it was rather cold and windy despite the sun, and that seemed to keep attendance at the event somewhat low. Still, it was fun, and I *did* sell this little weedpot. At the time, I did not have any idea what kind of wood it was, but now I suspect it is tambootie, Spirostachys africana, also known as African Sandalwood.

Weedpot Maybe Tambootie
Did I mention that there is a new "candy store" in town? In May I made my first visit to Green Star Wood Product's retail location in downtown Portland. The owners, two enterprising young men, import container-loads of recycled post-consumer tropical timbers from Indonesia and South America, sort out the salvageable pieces, clean them up, and set them out for people like me to pick through. Most of what they get resembles overgrown 2x4's, and is really scruffy looking stuff, but after running the two wide faces through a planer it is amazing what a variety of pretty woods are revealed.

Of course, only rarely can one make even an educated guess as to exactly what species or even genus a given piece is. A few common construction timbers, such as ringas, are very distinctive (grayish sapwood, brilliant orange-red heartwood), but for most of their stock it is simply a choice of what color and figure appeals to you. The photos at top and below are small bowls I made from two boards I purchased on that first visit. I've since been back several times, and for the most part I've been really pleased with the sticks I've selected. And the prices are certainly reasonable!

Yellow-green Bowl - GS Wood

Green Star Wood Products offers woodworkers an opportunity to work with many dense and colorful tropical hardwood timbers that would otherwise be dumped in landfills or burned. I wish for them a long and prosperous sojourn in Portland!

In June I attended a two-day seminar given by Mike Darlow, and one of two days of demonstrations by Soren Berger. [[Note: Soren's website appears to be having problems. I will update the link later.]] Both of them hail from New Zealand, and were in the States to participate in the AAW annual woodturning Symposium, held this year in Louisville, KY. Mike's visit to Portland was hosted by NWWT, and he was the presenter at our June meeting. Soren's seminar was hosted by local woodturner Dale Larsen, a prolific bowlturner with a growing national reputation for turning emminently wearable wooden hats.

The Pacific Northwest Woodturning Guild hosted dinners at local restaurants with each of these gentlemen. Our purpose was to discuss woodturning in general, and to solicit the opinions of these professional woodturners on the future of woodturning and ideas of how we in the Guild can improve and expand our marketing and sales of turned objects. Not surprisingly, given their disparate backgrounds, their perspectives on the latter were somewhat diverse. But the attending Guild members feel that we received valuable information, and from Soren, good suggestions and much encouragement. The food was excellent, too!

That has pretty much caught you up to July. I've been turning, of course, in preparation for two upcoming shows. On July 22 members of the Guild will have a booth at the Division/Clinton Street Fair in SE Portland. And on the first weekend of August, we will be participating in Art in the Orchard out in Beaverton, OR. The latter is a three-day event intended to raise money for St. Mary's School for Boys and two other local schools. You can find more information on these shows on the PNWG website under "News and Events". If you are in the area, please stop by and visit our booth!

Damifino Box Left     Damifino Box Right

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12 December 2005

Cat and Mole

My little black cat Snork is nearly fourteen years old, and she would almost rather be petted than be fed! Snork is convinced that humans were created primarily to fuss over cats – she loves people and every stranger is a potential new admirer!

At our old house, she would follow us whenever we went hiking in the woods. Inevitably, as the underbrush got heavier and the greenery got taller, she would fall farther and farther behind, until she would stop altogether and meow piteously for us to rescue her. Just as inevitably, one of us would go back, pick her up, and carry her until we were again within sight of the house.

Snork is now my shop cat. Even on the coldest days, as soon as I open the shop door, she leaves her heated cat bed and comes straight over to me, demanding to be picked up and rubbed. Then, while I am turning, she sits quietly just out of the way, occasionally pouncing on a stray shaving that drops enticingly near.

Snork, 2004

The property that I am renting has about an acre of flat lawn around the house and shop and, in defiance of the landlord's traps, the resident mole population continues their heroic efforts to terraform it into a rodent-scale motocross venue.

A few weeks ago I transferred another of my outdoor stacks of drying wood into the shop. All that remained was the base platform, a three-foot by eight-foot panel of plywood laid on short pieces of two-by-fours. It was a full inch thick, wet with rain and almost too heavy for me to lift. I figured that if I could get it up on one edge, I could maneuver it onto the wheelbarrow and get it in the shop without having to drag it.

As I stood at the short end and lifted one side, I startled a mole that had taken shelter underneath. I managed to get the long edge balanced up on the two-by-fours and was catching my breath for the next part, when I realized that the mole was now "hiding" under the edge of the board. That is, its head was hidden, but its entire fat furry gray body and tail were in plain view!

Snork was daydreaming on the stoop about twenty feet away, and when I called her, she came trotting over to be petted. Balancing the board with my right hand, I reached down with my left, scratched her head briefly, then reached under her belly and lofted her gently towards the mole. She landed a foot short. The mole didn't twitch. Oblivious to her intended prey, Snork came right back for another scratch.

I tossed her closer the second time. The mole, sensing trouble, backed deeper into its "hole", only to look up and realize it was in danger of becoming dinner! The motion caught Snork's attention, and I'm not sure who was more startled.

The mole recovered first and ran towards me, with Snork right behind, batting at it. She missed, the mole doubled back past her, then ran under the middle of the board and headed for the next tarp-covered stack of wood.

I will give Snork full credit for brains - she immediately ran around the far end of the board, heading for where the mole ought to be. But the mole had a head-start and was already scrambling up the green slope of the tarp. It scrabbled for footing, then slid into a fold that dumped it off onto the gravel at the end of the stack. Before Snork could get to it, the mole had bolted under the tarp into the maze of wood where she couldn't follow.

True to form, Snork sat for a moment debating her next move, then came back over to get her head scratched again.


UPDATE: Dec 18 - If you enjoyed this story, check out the other cat bloggings at the Carnival of the Cats #91, hosted this week by "Music and Cats".

And if you enjoy wood, woodturning, and occasional musings on nature, please take a few minutes to read some of my other posts! Thanks!

03 November 2005

I've Been Certified!

Certification Entries

At the October meeting of the Pacific Northwest Woodturning Guild, I brought in these five pieces to be juried. Twenty-four suspenseful hours later (I always get nervous about things like this!) I got the call that said, basically, "Congratulations! You are now a Certified Member!"

So what exactly does this mean? In our guild jurying process, a guild member submits three to five pieces which are examined and rated in areas such as profile, proportion, originality, technical difficulty, workmanship, etc. The scale is designed so that relatively simple items which are well-executed can hold their own against more complex and innovative pieces. The idea is to determine if the turner consistently works to a reasonably high level of quality, independent of individual style or area of interest.

As you can see from these pieces, my current work is not wildly original nor technically challenging (unless you count getting just the right tightness of lid to please everyone!). But they were rated well in other categories, and the ratings were apparently very consistent from piece to piece, which is even better!

About the Pieces

The two classically-shaped weedpots in the front row were turned from the same block of myrtlewood.
Larger Myrtlewood Weedpot
I recently read Mike Darlow's book on Woodturning Design, and so I was paying particular attention to the curves and angles on these two pieces. They were turned specifically for the jurying. The finish is walnut oil. I deliberately did not wax or otherwise buff these to a shine, because the shapes and the coloration of the wood reminded me of those big stone vases one finds in old formal gardens. Of course, at 2.5" tall, even the larger weedpot shown here would be lost in the weeds!

The oldest piece is the maple burl box in the back row. I turned this about four years ago, and it is in my own collection. The lid is loose enough to be taken off one-handed, ideal for a desktop container. The interior space gently follows the outside contour near the base, and the finish is shellac and beeswax. Bigleaf maple burl is tight-grained, and the wood gives a satisfying "snick" when the top is replaced.

The tulip-bud walnut weedpot in the back is simply sensuous to hold, which is one reason I haven't actually put any dried arrangements in it yet. It is a marvelous piece of figured walnut, about four inches tall, and no two sides look anything alike. As I recall, the finish is Watco Natural Danish Oil, followed by beeswax. I made this about a year ago, and I was so pleased with the shape and the beauty of the wood that even before the piece came off the lathe, I had decided "This one's mine!"

This little shellac-finished pill-box is made from some older big-leaf maple that I acquired in the fall of 2003. The tree had been about 250-300 years old when it was taken down due to age and decay.
Maple Pillbox
The colors are darker than one usually associates with maple, but the wood works beautifully. The interior of the box is straight-sided and flat-bottomed, while on the outside, the lid and base have matching "thumbprint" hollows. Although the smallest piece, at less than 1.5" tall, this was the most challenging, because I originally sanded the opening in the base just a touch too loose, and I had to do some creative reworking of the lid. It worked out very well in the end, because the figure lines match up even better than they did at first. The lid now is a very snug "pop" fit, which it seems was not to the taste of some of the jurors, but I think it is quite appropriate to a pill-box!


21 September 2005

Grapefruit Eggs

Bowl of Grapefruit

This bowl is, appropriately, made from grapefruit wood. Here is the story of how I acquired the wood and why the bowl has cracks in it.

In 1978, my parents retired and moved from New England to Phoenix, and two or three years later, they planted two grapefruit trees in their backyard. For many years those two trees flourished, bearing bounteous crops of delicious grapefruit. In the desert heat, they grew into low, multi-branched forms, with dense wood and intense green foliage.

But as time passed it became extremely difficult for my parents to keep the plants sufficiently watered, and eventually the trees succumbed to a prolonged drought. When I visited in the summer of 2004, they had been dead for two or three years, defiant skeletons of dry cracked branches, weathered silvery grey. They were carefully cut down and sawn into chunks, which I shipped home.

In May of 2005 I sent my parents a pair of eggs made from this wood. The branches that I used were rather heavily cracked, but the dense wood had beautiful figure. I felt the flaws gave it more character, so I filled them with cyanoacrylate glue and, well, flaunted them.

My mother, (obviously an astute judge of such character!) was delighted with the eggs, and, as mothers are wont to do, she showed them around. Next thing I knew, she had called and requested five more pairs for various friends and neighbors!

Eggs Go Marching

While making the additional eggs, I discovered that not all the wood was shades of sand - some of the branches were a pale yellow, and a few displayed both colors. All of the eggs in this photo were turned using wood from these two grapefruit trees -- as was the bowl at the top of this post, and the grapefruits in it. When I saw the yellow wood, I simply couldn't resist making some grapefruit wood grapefruit!

By the way, here's a for-scale shot of that bowl of grapefruit, right next to a new, genuine, Oregon Crater Lake quarter.

Bowl and a Quarter



31 August 2005

Flood-Aid recommendation - CERF

This post is in response to Glenn Reynold's (Instapundit) call for bloggers to list a charity or other organization that can provide aid to the survivors of Katrina's wrath.

Some percentage of those displaced by the storm and the flooding are professional craftspeople in many media. They undoubtably have lost tools, raw materials, finished inventory, and in many cases even their studios or workshops. Whether they can eventually return to their homes, or must relocate permanently, they will need assistance to restart their businesses.

CERF, the Craft Emergency Relief Fund, exists to help craftspeople in this type of situation. Through their Emergency Relief program, they can provide for booth fee waivers at participating craft shows, discounts on or direct donations of craft-related supplies and equipment, low-interest loans, and in some cases, limited direct financial support. They also provide many other services and information to craftspeople.

In response to the hurricane, the CERF website has created a "Katrina Message Board" where you can either ask for help if you were affected by Katrina, or offer help, supplies, equipment, etc.

If you are a crafts person yourself, or simply want to contribute to an organization that directly helps creative people to get back to working, consider CERF.

Thanks to Glenn for coordinating the blogburst!


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21 August 2005

Desert Wood and Book Memes

It has been a while since I posted, but as with many enjoyable pastimes, life intervened. Shortly after my last post, my father took ill, and he passed away earlier this month. I drove with a friend down to Phoenix to give my mother some additional support and help with the funeral arrangements. They had been married more than sixty-three years. I will miss him.

The trip was not all depressing, however. We stayed with a very good friend, who owns a condo in an older complex with many trees. One of the monsoon storms that have done so much damage to the area this summer blew down several trees the week before I arrived, and a cleanup crew had neatly chunked them up and piled them by size in an open area.

My Phoenix friend had stashed several pieces in her storage area for me, expecting the remainder to be hauled away any day. However, the piles were still there when I arrived, so I got to pick thru and select a few more small logs, as much as I could fit into the car. Unfortunately, I couldn't afford to rent a trailer or truck to get the rest home, so I left behind many 18-20" diameter logs and lovely crotch pieces, as well as some large diameter palo verde, red gum and other eucalypts, and several other species. I did contact the local woodturners association and alerted them to the cache, but as of today when I called my friend, most of the wood was still there. *sigh* I will post a picture of my meager haul later.


The proximate incentive for this post, however, came from reading the latest posts on Red Georgia Clay, and following the volunteer link on the Book Meme. Since I had a couple of items in common with the Appalachian Intellectual, I volunteered to continue the meme. Here goes:

1. How many books have I owned? Probably several hundred. Most of the ones I have on display since I moved are on woodworking/woodturning (an entire bookcase full), plus about fifteen shelf feet of books on gardening, geology, nature reference, and many many "coffee-table" books on nature subjects of all sorts, and my small bookcase of cookbooks. Most of the fiction is still packed in boxes. My spouse owns several thousand volumes, including an enviably large collection of science fiction and fantasy.

2. What was the last book I bought? It has been a while since I actually bought a book, (limited budget) but I would be safe in saying it was on woodturning!

3. The last book I finished was: (don't laugh!) Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling. My son lent it to me to reread before I tackled Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which is setting on the shelf. He warned me not to read the last 150 pages of so of the latter at night, and then the trip to Phoenix has postponed my even starting it.

Two other books that I finished in the past few weeks were: Woodturning Design by Mike Darlow, a very thoroughly researched book on the origins and rationale of good design, with an emphasis on the architectural influences on woodturning; and At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig: Travels Through Paraguay by John Gimlette. I thoroughly enjoyed the author's style, but by the end of this book I was entirely convinced that Paraguay must be the most schizoid place on earth. Almost nobody there seems to be "Paraguayan" - they all identify themselves as "British" or "French" or "German" or whatever country it was that their predecessors had emmigrated from, even if it was five or six or eight generations back!

I'm currently part-way through Joseph Campbell's The Masks of God: Primitive Mythology which I bought about five years ago but never opened. Interesting concepts, convoluted writing.

4. What books have made an impression on me? As with most avid readers, many books have left their marks. Probably the one that most influenced my thinking has been Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. I have read that cover to cover (yes, even the fifty-plus-page speech by John Galt!) at least fourteen times over the years.

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card was impressive, but I found its sequel, Speaker for the Dead, even more thought-provoking. In another connection with this meme, I have read most of The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, (T.E. Lawrence) but IIRC, I was unable to finish it because I had to take it back to the library.

Most of my fiction reading over the last 20 years or so has been science fiction and fantasy, and two authors and series stand out. Their characters and their worlds are captivating enough that I have reread all of the books in each several times. They are David Weber's Honor Harrington books, and the Vorkosigan Saga by Louis McMaster Bujold.

A fantasy author whose works I very much enjoy is Diane Duane, particulary her Wizardry series. Deep Wizardy, the second book, I think is extremely well-written and emotionally powerful. Her Tale of the Five series is also very good, and handles sensitive issues with skill, compassion, and believability. Not to mention that her dragons are wonderful!

So many books, so many impressions. Will someone volunteer to carry this on?


15 July 2005

On Cascara

Cascara Log and Box

The Cascara Buckthorn tree has long been known for the laxative properties of its bark. Stripped in the spring, dried, bottled, and marketed as Cascara Sagrada, the bark was in such high demand in the early-to-mid 20th century that the small trees were severely overharvested. Harvesting cascara bark entails killing the tree, and so throughout much of its native range, primarily the western side of the Cascades in the Pacific Northwest, cascara, never very abundant, became quite scarce. (In my woodturning club, some members whose fathers or grandfathers had once made a living as "chittam bark" peelers, had never themselves seen the tree or the wood.)

Cascara buckthorn, Rhamnus purshiana, grows at lower elevations in moist areas like those suitable to red alder. In such conditions a mature tree may grow to 35 feet tall, and no more than 12 inches in diameter, usually smaller. It has rather large, somewhat glossy leaves with prominent veins, and bears a modest crop of 1/4" berries that ripen from red to glossy purple-black in late August. These berries are eaten by many birds, as well as bears, raccoons, and other animals.

Fortunately, the seeds benefit from passage thru the guts of animals and birds, and the latter have no doubt been highly instrumental in redispersing the species through much of its former range. When I identified my first cascara tree, about 1990, I knew of only two on my property. By the time I sold the place in 2004, I had discovered several dozen additional trees on the forty acres, almost all less than 20 years old. One cluster of several vertical tree-sized branches had sprouted from an older trunk which apparently had fallen or been pushed over, but remained rooted.

Because cascara is such a small tree, the wood itself is considered to have no commercial value. Therefore, the stripped trees were most likely left to decay, or possibly cut for firewood. But I have discovered that it is a very nice turning wood, with subtle character and often, surprising color.

When freshly cut, cascara sapwood is a pale yellow, and the heartwood, which makes up about a third of the diameter of the trunk and larger branches, is almost a pumpkin orange. As the wood dries, the sapwood seems to get paler, and the heartwood color becomes more muted. Drying also seems to induce unexpected color zones in the sapwood, which I am still studying to try to determine their cause. In the picture at the top, you can see darker areas in the sapwood of the log section, which appear as purplish streaks on the box. The wood here was perfectly sound, so it doesn't seem to be related to decay, the way spalting is.

Just outside the heartwood in the log is a barely perceptible ring, which unfortunately did not appear on the box made from the adjacent section. A few years ago I found a long, dead branch hanging from one of the trees. It was sound and perfectly dry, and just inside the outermost edge of the sapwood, was a ring of color that I have not seen in any fresh-cut branches.

Cascara Picture Frame weedpots

I made these little weedpots by centering the branch so that the belly curve would pass thru the color ring. Note the subtleties of color. The rings often have pale pastel shades of blue and purple, plus hints of sage green and gray. They look like they are painted on!

[Update 20100301: I swapped out the original picture for a better one showing the "picture frame" effects, and edited the text accordingly. Lea]

I also made a small, straight-sided cup from this branch, but unfortunately, while the colors were even more visible, the photos I took were out of focus, and I no longer have the piece.

After the 2004 ice storm, several of the larger, more exposed trees on my property were severely damaged, with their branched tops bent ninety degrees and the wood splitting at the bend. I cut these trees into long sections, sealed them, and put them aside to dry. Based on the faint ring that has appeared in the one log section, after only a year of drying, I am hoping that some of the other pieces may develop color rings as vivid as this branch.

Even without the color band, cascara can be very beautiful. The fine-grained sapwood displays a subtle chatoyance, almost like the moire patterns in fine curtains. On one of the larger trees I took down, the cross-section revealed that every growth ring was finely rippled, like the edges of paper cup-cake pan liners. Now that will be some spectacular wood in four or five years!

I am most careful not to put my hands near my mouth when working this species. Otherwise, I take only normal precautions against dust and chips when turning cascara, and have experienced no side-effects from the bark, even when turning it green.

Dry cascara turns easily. The wood is fairly hard, about like big-leaf maple, and shows no tendency to chip. It polishes up beautifully, as you can see, and I have used only clear shellac or, on the weedpot, just beeswax, to avoid darkening the colors. My first attempt to turn green cascara, however, was rather a disaster. There was a very noticeable difference in density between the heartwood and the wetter sapwood - the latter seemed almost to shred and I ended up with something akin to firewood rather than a turning. In hindsight, much might have been due to poor technique or less -than-sharp tools, but at least some of it was due to the wood itself.

A fascinating and unexpected fact about cascara, which I only learned recently, is that it is closely related to Pink Ivory, Rhamnus zeyheri. Pink ivory, which grows in southern Africa, is considered one of the most rare, expensive, and beautiful woods in the world. In my opinion, cascara, its humble North American relative, is also deserving of some respect.

Update 20100301: The broken picture links have been fixed.

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07 July 2005

PNWG Updates and Activities

Back in April, I wrote at length about the new Pacific Northwest Woodturning Guild. The guild website is now up and running, and has photos of members' work, links to local galleries that sell woodturnings, and other information. The How-to-join page allows prospective members to download the application form as a PDF file for printing.

To give you an idea of the caliber of work done by our guild members, several of our members had pieces accepted for display in "Art Beneath the Bark: A Celebration of Woodturning", the featured exhibit at this year's Lake Oswego Festival of the Arts, held June 24-26 in Lake Oswego, OR. The exhibit comprised approximately 150 pieces of turned wood art, from nationally and internationally known turners who were invited to participate, and from Pacific Northwest turners whose works were juried in.

More than twenty-five woodturners from the two local woodturning clubs and the guild volunteered as docents for this exhibit. I worked a three-hour shift on both Friday and Saturday, and had an absolute blast! Not only did I get to admire many exquisitely beautiful turnings, but I got to talk to lots of people about woodturning and trees and how did they DO that?? and just radiate my passion for wood and turning and why it is so much fun!

As I was leaving Saturday evening, Corinna Campbell, who has designed the Special Exhibit for several years, told me that as a group, we woodturners were the most knowledgeable and enthusiastic docents she had ever worked with at the Festival!

Although the website preceded it by a week or so, the Lake Oswego Festival was basically our public debut. In addition to the pieces in the Special Exhibit itself, we had a very nice poster on the "handouts" table by the door, along with our just-off-the-printer brochure and flyers. It will be interesting to see in the next few weeks or months what the response will be, both in new members and prospective customers.

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04 July 2005

Flying the Flag

I bought an American flag kit yesterday, and set it up to be displayed from the steps on the east side of the house. It's a full-size "house" flag, 3' by 5', that is visible from anyone driving along the gravel road. Although I'm not an early riser, I got up at 6:30 a.m., and with the morning sun just above the hills and full in my eyes, I carefully unfurled the flag, settled the pole in the bracket, and tied the halyard to the brace.

In past years I never gave much thought to flying the flag on the Fourth of July, or any other day. Our old house was hidden in the middle of 40 acres of woods, at the end of a pot-holed lane. No one drove by except solicitors and evangelistic types, and we discouraged even those by letting the blackberries grow tall and thick along the road. The nearest neighbors were half-a-mile away and out of sight. There would have been no one to notice a flag, or to misinterpret the lack of a flag as indifference.

Things have changed a great deal for me this past year. Not only have I moved, but I've become ever more aware of the growing threats to the ideals and principles upon which this nation was founded. The concepts of liberty, justice, personal freedom, independence, the rights of property, self-defense, and free speech, are being dismantled and gutted by our own government officials, both elected and appointed, because as a nation we have allowed each new generation in the last 60 years or so to grow up more ignorant of our history, and the world's, than the last.

I don't normally discuss politics, and I'm not about to do that here. But I find it distressing that, as a nation, we are fighting to bring freedom to other countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan, while as a people, we are allowing those same freedoms to be stolen from us bit by bit, with only a small but vocal cadre of defenders crying into the wind to be heard.

Several times during the day, I checked on the flag. A couple of times I noticed the light breeze had wrapped the flag around the pole, or flipped it up over the end, so I went out and carefully loosened it to fly freely again.

In the late afternoon, I drove down to Portland, and on the way back, I decided to pay attention to how many flags I saw. It was not a totally bleak picture, but the turnout was much less than I expected. Of the businesses that were open on the holiday, I saw (multiple) flags on many car dealerships, and on every fireworks stand, but very very few others. In the urban residential areas I passed thru, perhaps only one in twenty or thirty houses had a flag flying.

I got off the freeway in Vancouver, and took surface streets the remaining thirty miles home. Newer developments with $250,000-and-up houses had almost no flags visible. Only when I got into the more rural sections of the county did I start to see a few more flags. One here, two or three in a row there, most often on older or smaller houses. I even spotted one or two houses that were set back behind trees, where no one not specifically looking would even notice, that had a flag flying proudly from a real flagpole. I found myself saying "Thank you!" out loud to each such household that I passed.

On the whole drive, sadly, there was not enough display of color to even remotely suggest to a foreign visitor that today we were celebrating our nation's independence. Only the closed businesses and the fireworks displays would hint that it was a national holiday.

I got home, untangled my own flag once more, and fixed dinner. At 8:55, just before official sunset, I went out, removed the pole from the bracket, carefully furled the flag around the pole, and brought it inside.

Why did I fly the flag today? For many reasons. To honor my father, my late uncle, my brother, my brother-in-law, my husband, all of whom are veterans. To celebrate our history and our continued independence. Because this is a country where one can freely choose to fly, or to not fly, the flag, without fear. To show that I believe in the ideals upon which our constitutional republic is based. To support our troops around the world who are fighting to bring freedom to countries and peoples threatened with enslavement by fanatical leaders. Because I understand that World War IV, the war against terrorism, must be fought unrelentingly, and that we must win, if our grandchildren are to have a hope of growing up to proudly, and freely, salute that flag.

After I brought in the flag, I called my father, who was stationed in the South Pacific during World War II, and simply told him, "Thank you for serving."