Port Orford Cedar

Wood Profile

Port Orford Cedar

The ship-shape wood that went underground

Sir Thomas Lipton, a wealthy British tea merchant turned yachtsman, had a fondness for Port Orford cedar (Chamaecyparis lawsonia). For the 30 years following the turn of the century, his racing sailboats, which challenged five times for the America's Cup, were built from it. Although Sir Thomas never captured the cup, he made Port Orford cedar a mainstay among boatbuilders (and his tea a household word).

Known also as Lawson's cypress, Port Orford cedar grows only in a 30-mile wide band from Coos Bay, Oregon, to Eureka, California. From pioneer times, the tree was harvested for its durable wood.

Uses for the stock ranged from venetian-blind slats to mine timbers and railroad ties. It also saw limited application as plywood in the construction of light aircraft.

Because Port Orford cedar resists acid, it became prime stock for storage-battery separators.

In addition to supplying all of the above needs, Port Orford cedar has long been the favorite wood of archers. Not for their bows, though, but for arrows. Besides straight grain, the wood has strength combined with lightness.

Perhaps Port Orford cedar's strangest destiny was the graveyard. Donald Culross Peattie, in his A Natural History of Western Trees, cites a great demand for the wood as caskets in China and Japan. Its lightness, durability, and satiny, finished texture, plus gingerlike odor, made it perfect. So much was used that Peattie writes: "Sometimes one wonders if there is not almost as much of it [Port Orford cedar] underground in Asia as there is above ground here.

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