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Exotic Woods for Carpenters

Exotic Woods for Carpenters

Have you ever wondered why the Eucalyptus tree is so plentiful in California?

The Eucalyptus trees in California.

Living in Northern California is a nice thing most of the time. It seems to be a very different state when compared to Southern California and the Sacramento area. People here live a laid-back life and are more liberal. One thing that used to upset me when I first lived here in 1967 was the plethora of Eucalyptus trees. They smell nice and are tall, but the sap, leaves and bark are a nuisance. In the spring when the birds are mating they create another nuisance, that of sound from so many birds. In 1967, I served in the Navy at a small base outside of Sonoma, California called Skaggs Island. A small Eucalyptus grove there was home to several hundred red-winged blackbirds. In the morning, the cacophony of the birds woke us up and kept us awake. We tried everything to discourage the birds from nesting in these trees, to no avail.

I sat in the base library (a very small one) one afternoon reading about California. I had this innate curiosity about learning something about where I was or going to be. I knew that the Eucalyptus tree was not native to California. It came here during the gold rush days when wood became scarce. The miners needed wood for sluices, furniture, heating and cooking. Most of the forests disappeared in the early years. Getting trees and wood from the Eastern U.S. took a long time either by wagon train or by ship. Bringing it from Australia proved much easier. The trees also grew at a very fast rate. They became valuable because they grew fast, were very tall and very straight.

The Black Eucalyptus was the tree everyone wanted. It was a hard wood, ideal for furniture, building houses and mining. The White Eucalyptus was a softer wood used for its sap, and firewood. Merchants from California traveled to Australia to negotiate contracts for the planting of forests in California to grow Eucalyptus trees. The merchants spent a lot of time learning about the trees and their care. Once educated they negotiated deals to bring seedlings and seeds back to California. The merchants satisfied that they struck some good deals happily left Australia to travel home. They brought with them several seedlings and bags of seed to start the forests.

Similar to Johnny Appleseed, these merchants planted groves of Eucalyptus up and down the coast and inland California. Once the work stopped with all the seeds planted, the merchants sat back and waited to reap the profits. As the trees grew very fast, the merchants realized a cruel joke befell them. Instead of the coveted Black Eucalyptus trees, all the forests contained White Eucalyptus trees. The Australian foresters swindled the green horn Americans. The forests were useless and created a mess of the countryside. The flaking bark littered the ground and the smell permeated the air, houses and clothes of anyone nearby. The birds on the other hand seemed very happy about the affair. The smell attracted bugs, which the birds happily ate.

The merchants tried to sell the trees for use in the building trade, but because the wood was soft, it did not last and became very brittle. Some enterprising men used it to make tables for saloons but discovered that it absorbed the alcohol and became very soggy and mushy. The wood was useless. The wood from several groves became fuel for the early steamships plying their trade up and down the west coast. The sap of the trees made a good deodorant in doctor’s offices and hospitals. Over the years, the flavor and smell of the tree became more useful across society.

The trees still survive in California as a constant reminder of the foolhardy merchants who wanted a quick buck and lost because of greed.

A new use for wood from an unusual source.

When I was a lot younger, I talked in my sleep. My father was a practical joker as was I. When he and I got together and spewed puns around, the rest of the family would groan and moan. We tested each other’s mental ability to create the most absurd puns that everyone laughed at.

One night as I slept, my dad came in to check on me as he did every night. I lay mumbling in my sleep, talking about nothing in particular. He decided to plant some suggestions to create a conversation between us. I, being asleep, knew nothing about his plan. During the day, I spoke with my dad about the possibility of using the wood working equipment in the cellar to build furniture. I wanted a new chair for my desk because I had to use a kitchen chair and it was very inconvenient to move them around. He reluctantly agreed to teach me how to use his lathe, drill press, radial arm saw, planer and joiner to construct a chair and a new desk. My only problem now was the choice of wood.

Normally the choice for furniture was oak, birch or maple. These were hard woods and ideal for furniture because they were durable and withstood long-term use. Pine was in use for some things but it was soft and was not going to last. The cost of this hardwood stock was extremely high because the housing market used them exclusively on the interiors of new homes. The purchase of the wood was prohibitive on my very limited budget. I searched for some alternative sources and came up with nothing.

As I slept, I talked about different woods that I could try for my project. I talked about pine, cherry, hickory and cedar. These woods were relatively inexpensive and readily available in Massachusetts. My dad and I debated about each of them and using the equipment to fabricate the pieces. As we talked, I became more coherent I my speech and prone to suggestion. My dad seized this moment to start playing with my mind and creating a funny story for later. He asked about using an aromatic wood for the desk to make the room smell nice. My room was over the coal bin where we stored coal for use in the boiler for heat in the winter. The smells associated with coal seeped up into my room and made it unpleasant at times. I grew used to the smell and did not notice it as much as others did.

Earlier in the day, I read an article about exotic woods in use in other parts of the world for building furniture. Palm trees and Eucalyptus trees were prominent in the article. One little known tree hidden in the article caught my eye. I Hawaii some enterprising farmers cultivated pineapple trees for harvesting pineapples. These trees lasted for a long time, but as they grew older bore less and less fruit. These farmers came up with an idea to cut down the trees and use it to make furniture. The wood had very similar properties to cedar in that it was easy to work with stained well and gave off a nice odor for keeping moths and other pests away.

I mentioned this wood in my sleep. My dad seized on the idea and asked me about it. I explained the story I read earlier and asked him about getting some wood to use. He took the idea, twisted it a bit and put it back in my head. We talked some more and I concluded it was time to try something radical and different. He got up and left my room as I rolled over and slept.

I awoke early the next morning refreshed and ready to search for pineapple wood. I sat at the breakfast meal thinking of where to look for this exotic wood. My dad asked what I what wood I wanted to use for my desk. I told him I had one in mind, but I wanted it to be a surprise for him. He had this little smile on his face as we talked during the meal. The city I grew up in had several large lumberyards, which catered to the building trades. They claimed the ability to get any wood for any project. Getting the pineapple wood became a simple matter of calling one of them and ordering it. Rather than calling them, I decided to drive to a couple of the yards to get an idea of the cost and timeframe for delivery.

My dad was home from work that day and let me use the big car for my errand. I drove to the first yard, went into the office and asked to see the yard manager. He came out and I told him what I wanted. He scratched his head for a bit and told me that he did not have any pineapple wood and his distributor supplier had none either. It would take a year to get any in stock. I thanked him and left. As I closed the door, I heard the roar of laughter coming from within. I thought nothing of it and went to the next yard. That morning I visited four lumberyards with the same results. No one had any in stock and it took a year to get any from Hawaii. The strange thing I remembered was that all the offices echoed loud laughter as I left.

I began to think that I picked a bad choice for use in my project. I went to the library to find the article I read the previous day. It took a while but I found it. As I read it, I realized that the whole article was a prank played by the author for the issue that month. The month of the magazine was April and the date was April 1.

I had fallen into an elaborate prank set up by my father while I slept and talked to him. He got me good and I never forgot how good he was at practical jokes. I loved that man and he left us too early in my life. I missed him dearly and his jokes still sit in my memory waiting to be unleashed on my children and grandchildren.

This story is protected by International Copyright Law, by the author, all rights reserved. If found posted anywhere other than storiesspace.com with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.

Copyright © Copyright 2012, 2013 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 by Cal Erickson, aka frogprince

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