The carver's favorite—but there's more to it than chips

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Native Americans stripped therninner bark of basswood in earlyrnspring for use as cords, rope,rnand thread.

Although you'll find five native species of basswood trees in North America, the most widespread is the American basswood (Tilia Americana). It grows from New Brunswick to North Dakota and south to Missouri and West Virginia.

Today, basswood stock has become the carver's wood of choice. That's because the featureless, fine-grained, whitish wood won't split or chip ahead of the blade.

Even among some Native Americans of centuries ago it had its place as a carving wood. The Iroquois Indians of New York's Adirondack Mountains, for instance, carved masks from basswood, although with a quite-different approach. They shaped them in the sapwood of standing trees, then split them off the trunk to complete the hollowing.

In those long-ago days, Indians of many tribes also made good use of the basswood's inner bark. This material ranks among the toughest of nature's fibers. Stripped from trees in early spring, the bark was soaked in water for weeks to let the softest tissue ret (decay). The remaining strands then were twisted into cord and rope. Thinner bark fibers became sewing thread.

While technology has replaced these fibers with nylon and other materials, basswood stock still retains a place in commerce. It becomes boxes, crates, toys, substrate for veneers, and hidden furniture parts. And if you happen to have a yardstick given away long ago by a local hardware store or lumberyard, you can bet it's made of basswood because the wood takes ink so well.

Illustration: Jim Stevenson