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Wood Anecdote



It fights moths and stuffy noses, and keeps your silver shiny

Centuries ago, the unsanctioned cutting of a camphor tree in China or Formosa (Taiwan) was punishable by death. That's because camphorwood (Cinnamomum camphora), native to those countries as well as to Japan, was reserved for sacred ceremonial items, such as the Chinese mu-yu drum used in temples. But chang-mu, as the wood is called in China, eventually flourished in foreign trade. Ship captains and other seafarers sought it for their sea chests to ward off moths.

Perhaps it was sawyers cutting camphorwood who discovered that its scent also opened up stuffy noses. Word of camphorwood's reputedly powerful medicinal properties spread to Europe and America, and soon even common folk considered it a cure-all. Indeed, the medicinal compound called camphor, refined from the tree bark, eventually found its way into ointments for the relief of muscle spasms and nasal congestion.

Today, chemical substitutes replace much natural camphor, but stiff competition still erupts between lumbar buyers and drug manufacturers when camphorwood comes up for sale. While you won't find camphorwood at lumberyards, it occasionally finds its way to dealers of exotic woods. If you happen upon some, you'd be wise to work it into a silverware chest -- camphorwood keeps silver from tarnishing.

The camphor tree, an evergreen, grows slowly. It takes 50 years or more before one becomes large enough to distill camphor from its bark. In that time, the tree can reach 100' tall, with the spread of its branches frequently double its height. A mature tree also develops many large burls, which, as veneer, become marquetry and facing for very expensive paneling.

Photograph: Bob Calmer Illustration: Jim Stevenson


Comments (12)
WorkerInWood wrote:

I just had milled a log of camphorwood into 8/4 slabs. I have 5 slabs about 18 in. wide and 60 in. long. They are green now. There is some nice contrasting heartwood in the center of three of the slabs. I will consider selling it at a fair price.

12/11/2013 07:19:13 PM Report Abuse
qzmack wrote:

I am new here. I would like to buy some camphor wood to line my closet. I wouyld appreciate anyone give me some information where to buy or any one of you will sell some to me? Thanks.

10/1/2013 09:09:24 PM Report Abuse
calsawmill wrote:

I am new to this site, but run a portable sawmill out of Glendora, Ca. which is near Pasadena are. I have some Camphor in my kiln right now, been there a few days only. Let me know if your still interested in milling up the Camphor tree.

1/10/2013 09:00:26 PM Report Abuse
freon_guy wrote:

I built my son and his Japanese wife a small Tansu for a wedding present. It is traditional to use camphorwood in the drawers. This was told to me by a master carpenter ( Nashida - san ) in the south island of Japan I visited . While in his shop , he gifted me a piece of camphor to use for the project. I resawed the chunk and jointed it into panels about a 1/4'' thick which I then beveled by hand to fit the grooves in the bottom of the drawers. It was a joy to work, quite soft and forgiving.

12/13/2012 11:36:41 PM Report Abuse
humboldt3319022 wrote:

This article would be more helpful if it gave some information about the workability of the woods. Do they dull blades and bits faster than other woods? Silica content? Are they prone to warping? What about knots, splits, etc.? Grain characteristics? Relative hardness and resistance to denting? How easy are they to stain and finish?

12/13/2012 12:55:43 PM Report Abuse
reffi wrote:

I have had no responses / requests for my camphor wood. I will be, in January, commencing a blanket chest project for storage of woolen clothing. Following that I will be building a Campaign Desk / Chest as Camphor was the traditional wood for that article. I'm still willing to sell my lumber for my cost which is, roughly, $13.50 a board foot.

12/13/2012 11:20:40 AM Report Abuse
Have-shade wrote:

I am planning to have my 40 ft Camphor tree cut down. Is the wood suitable to a woodworker ? Worth anything ? Advice to make use of wood ? Don't want to add to landfill if could be put to better use. Am in So. Calif.. Can this be used for firewood or too fragrant/toxic ? Please advise.

1/26/2012 01:10:13 PM Report Abuse
reffi wrote:

I expect to pick up my Camphorwood from the mill on President's Day weekend. After that, I should be able to fill any requests. I note that roeder1 was able to obtain Camphorwood for $5 a BF. Can you tell me where that wood source is located and how I may make contact with them?

1/19/2012 02:45:01 AM Report Abuse
darum1 wrote:

I am interested in purchasing some Camphorwood to line a chest. When you are ready to sell, please let me know.

10/24/2011 02:39:21 PM Report Abuse
roedel1 wrote:

Just bought a bunch at $5 per BF. Not burl.

6/20/2011 02:06:08 PM Report Abuse
reffi wrote:

I will soon have over 400 board feet of air dried Camphorwood. I would like to sell off part of it to local woodworkers. My problem is that I have no idea what a fair market price would be. I've seen the burls advertised at $15.00 per pound. If there is anyone with any knowledge of Camphor sales, I'd like to hear from them.

3/19/2011 02:07:28 PM Report Abuse

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