A Tree Full of Trouble For Saws

In Australia's Blue Mountains and the coastal districts of New South Wales, there grows a tree so difficult to cut that lumbermen practically limit its processing to sawing it down (and that takes considerable effort). With a hardness said to be 100 times greater than red oak, the tree's wood unmercifully dulls saw blades and other cutting edges that encounter it.

Luckily for those with the job of sawing this timber, the wood of turpentine (Syncarpia glomlifera) lasts nearly indefinitely. It defies attack by beetles, termites, and the fungi that causes decay. Under water, turpentine fights off marine borers, too. In fact, if the timbers are used with the bark left on—as in dock pilings, for example—the wood enjoys an even longer life.

Oddly enough, only a drying kiln can extract a toll from turpentine wood. For some strange reason, turpentine's cellular structure reacts horribly to kiln heat. Without a prolonged session of air-drying, turpentine wood actually collapses in the kiln. And even air-drying it doesn't guarantee success because flat-sawn turpentine wood badly checks during the process.

It's no wonder then that Australian wood processers throw up their hands in disgust when it comes to the turpentine tree. They declare, "Less is better," and leave the recalcitrant wood alone for use in heavy construction.

Illustration: Jim Stevenson