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Woodland skills/ green woodworking for the West?

 
pollinator
Posts: 1731
Location: Denver, CO
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I've recently been reading a lot about woodland crafts, particularly various green woodworking techniques; the type of books that show one how to cut down a tree and turn it into handles, chairs, fences, lumber, baskets, etc.

All the books I've found, however, are based on traditional practice in places with moist temperate hardwood forests. "Find a straight hickory/ash/oak/maple . . ."

Here in the semi-arid Front Range, the trees consist of three types: conifers in the mountains, riparian strips consisting largely of cottonwood/poplar and willow, and various imported yard trees, most of which develop branchy, multi-forked shapes quite different from forest grown specimens of the same species.

Are there any resources that would be helpful here? In particular, a focus on conifers instead of hardwood would be great. How do cultures in areas dominated by conifers make tool handles and other wooden items requiring strength and durability?
 
gardener
Posts: 1253
Location: Western Kentucky
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I think the short answer is that they adapted their techniques to the materials at hand. I don't have any specific resources, sorry. It could vary widely from region to region. I've noticed that people today often look at old stuff and say, "well that's just stupid, why did they ever do  it that way?" Oftentimes it was because that was the best way to do it with the tools and materials they had at the time. There are many valuable lessons to be learned simply by looking at things made in different regions many years ago.

Consider the modern axe. It is the culmination of thousands of years of development. A person may look at a modern axe and then look at one from 200 years ago and look down upon the older one. "Why in the world does it have such a fat eye? Didn't they know it would chop better if they made it slimmer?" The history of the matter is that the introduction of American hickory changed the evolution of the axe drastically.  It allowed a much slimmer eye without weakening the handle too much. Here are two examples: a modern American design double-bit and single bit axe and a traditional Finnish axe. The Finns used birch for axe handles. The socketing method shows how they adapted to their materials.
20200904_145218.jpg
Kelly perfect 3lb double bit axe
Kelly perfect 3lb double bit axe
20200208_141902.jpg
American axe and tool aa&t dayton pattern single bit axe
American axe and tool aa&t dayton pattern single bit axe
20201019_122208.jpg
Finnish 12.2 kemi pattern axe
Finnish 12.2 kemi pattern axe
 
Jordan Holland
gardener
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Location: Western Kentucky
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Another thing I just remembered is that for handles, the Finns would traditionally designate trees for handles by removing the bark from one side of the trunk. As the tree grew and weathered, that side would become tougher and stronger than would be typical for that species. They would keep several trees cultivated this way to be handed down to future generations in their family, so they would ways have wood ready for making handles.
 
pollinator
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Location: Victoria BC
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I haven't done much of this yet, but it is on the list... so I have been thinking about suitable wood.

In my part of BC, my list so far includes:

Blackcherry
Cascara
Pacific crabapple
Dogwood (protected/endangered! Gotta wait for windfall.)
Douglas fir; large branches on an old tree can be dense, or old-growth heartwood

Not a lot of info on how these will perform, but all seem worth trying. Planting some hardwoods could also yield handle sized wood in not too many years...
 
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