Give Me Sass

There are a few other clever titles for this post, but I’ll let you come up with them. (Leave your thoughts in the comments below)

“The odoriferous sassafras, with its delicate green stem, its three-lobed leaf, tempting the travelers to bruise it, it sheds so rare a perfume on him, equal to all the spices of the East. Then its rare-tasting root bark, like nothing else, which I used to dig. The first navigators freighted their ships with it and deemed it worth its weight in gold.” Henry David Thoreau – journal entry, August 31, 1850.

Four weeks ago I was working on a kitchen remodel in Abington MA, we were just finishing up the cabinet install.

On Tuesday I heard a neighbor, a couple homes down, struggling tremendously all day with a chain saw. I decided to head over after work to see if I could be of any help since I know a thing or two about felling.

Knowing that there is Sassafras albidum in that neighborhood. I wanted to see if there was some being taken down. I saw a guy carving a sassafras spoon on an old Woodwright’s Shop and thought I might try carving a spoon, bowl, coat hook or some useful thing-ma-bob.

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Imagine my surprise to find five 12″ to 18″ diameter 40’to 50′ tall trees! Along with white oak, red oak, black birch, red maple and a fir. I haven’t seen any sassafras more than 6″ in diameter in these parts as of yet, though I know it can grow upwards of 65′ tall and 2′ to 3′ diameter.

After talking with my new best friend Mo and teaching him a bit on lumbering he said I could take anything I wanted. Wait… What?

OH BOY! AAAWWWW!(angels singing)

What do I do with this newfound richness? I certainly don’t have time to gather all that I want let alone time to put it all to use. And I have far to many  wood piles  strewn about the yard. I’ll have to give some away of course. Share the wealth, right?

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I emailed a handful of my friends that work wood the olden ways to ask if they’d want any of it. Sure enough.

Sassafras is a ring porous wood that cleaves quite well (when straight), it resists rot and insects as well.  “The durable and beautiful wood of sassafras plants has been used in shipbuilding and furniture-making in North America, in Asia, and in Europe (once Europeans were introduced to the plant).[29] Sassafras wood was also used by Native Americans in the southeastern United States as a fire-starter because of the flammability of its natural oils found within the wood and the leaves.” Wikipedia  It’s light weights, 31lbs/ft3 dry compared with red oak at 44lbs/ft3 dry, makes it easy to handle. It’s like “red-oak lite” to quote Rick McKee.

Rick said they (Plymouth CRAFT) could use it for the then upcoming hurdle making class he and Peter Follansbee  were teaching. So I said “Rad! If someone will come help me gather it into my truck I’ll drive it on down.”

So a week later Peter met me in Abington and we loaded up my GMC as high as would stay without tying. Then on Wednesday  I met Rick down at pinewoods camp and off loaded.

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A fraction of the sassafras plus a piece of white oak.

I wasn’t able to attend the class but was able to make it down for a couple hours on Sunday. The sassafras was splitting up beautifully! And quite a bit of it turned out to be very tightly curled, like fiddle back quality. Amazing stuff to work. If you haven’t worked fresh sassafras you need to just for the smell of it! The aroma is sweet and spicy, I had a strange craving for root beer and birch beer at the same time!image

So anyway the class was a great success and there was plenty of material to work, more than enough. I was able to get some back to add to the pile of sassafras logs I had brought home.

My plan, aside from the few spoons I’ve carved up this far, is to rive it all up into boards for some lawn furniture. We’ll see how long it will take for me to get around to that!

Trades

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John Everett Millais – Christ in the House of His Parents (`The Carpenter’s Shop’)

Trades

I want to be a carpenter, 

I want to work all day long in clean wood,

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Shaving it into little slivers

Which screw up into curls behind my plane;

Pounding square, black nails into white boards,

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With the claws of my hammer glistening 

Like the toungue of a snake.

I want to shingle a house, 

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sitting on the ridge-pole in a bright breeze.

I want to put the shingles on neatly,

Taking great care that each is directly between two others.

I want my hands to have the tang of wood: 

Spruce, Cedar, Cypress.

[I might add sassafras to the list]

I want to draw a line on a board with a flat pencil, 

And then saw along that line,

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With the sweet-smelling sawdust piling up in a yellow heap at my feet.

That is the life!

heigh-ho!

it is much easier than to write this poem.

 

-Amy Lowell

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A distant relative to me.