Let me clarify one thing right at the beginning: six-year-old George Washington did not use his new axe to chop down his father’s black cherry tree (Prunus serotina) nor any other kind of tree. The entire episode was pure fantasy from the imagination of Parson Weems in his 1800 biography of Washington, published the year after the first president’s death. But that fable, as well as Washington’s prayer at Valley Forge—another Weems invention—morphed into one of the most-believed stories of United States presidential history. Now that we’ve dispensed with the fiction, let’s get down to facts.
Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) is the only true member of the ebony family that grows in North America. But unlike its tropical counterpart and many other trees, the vast majority of persimmon lumber consists of cream-colored sapwood, with only a tiny portion of dark heartwood. Surprisingly, though, its sapwood is more highly prized and utilized.
Your project’s joinery may be absolutely airtight. Every surface may be sanded to perfection, and every angle may be spot-on accurate. But after applying a finish, you’re disappointed with the result. For example, you make a small wall cabinet of white ash and lay down a coat of gloss finish. It initially looks great, but then the sunlight playing across its surface seems to magnify hundreds of tiny craters and dozens of shallow furrows. What’s going on?
Osage orange (Maclura pomifera) was on a huge winning streak in prehistoric North America, spanning from Florida to Ontario. It had evolved huge fruit to appeal to mastodons and giant ground sloths that expanded the tree’s range by providing transport and fertilization.