Wednesday, April 13, 2005


After finishing with that beech log on Saturday, I hauled a log of mountain-ash into the workshop and began cutting that up.

Mountain-ash is a really nice wood for turning, being similar to apple wood in as much as the texture is very fine and it cuts easily. It has cream coloured sap wood and light brown heartwood with small dark flecks which add interest. Like the beech, this log had also been outside for a year or two and had developed some spalting which will add to the character of the finished artefacts.

I have cut it up into small pieces ready to make weedpots, inlays, bottle stoppers and bits'n' bobs bowls. The endgrain of each piece has been treated with endseal, a wax emulsion that slows down the drying of the endgrain to minimize cracking as the wood dries. It will be several months before any of this wood is ready to work with, but for anyone who appreciates things made from unique pieces of wood, the wait will be worth it.

There are two native species of mountain-ash in Nova Scotia; American mountain-ash (Sorbus americana) and Showy mountain-ash (Sorbus decora), a.k.a. northern mountain-ash or dog-berry. They are not easy to differentiate without the leaves and berries, so I cannot be sure which I have.

Local weather lore holds that an abundance of berries indicates a mild winter ahead.

The European mountain-ash, Sorbus aucuparia, has been introduced to North America and escaped into the wild, probably by birds feasting on the berries. This species is known as rowan, probably from the Gaelic ruadhan, the red one, because of it's scarlet berries. It was often planted on Highland crofts since superstition has it that rowan will ward off witches. It was also used in the Highlands, where timber is scarce, for making tool handles, household implements and small pieces of furniture. If it weren't for its unpleasant smell I would probably use it to make spurtles.

Mountain-ash is not a true ash, the only similarity being the compound leaves. The Sorbus genus is a member of the Rosaceae family which includes crab apple, cherry and strawberry among its 1,500 species. Its wood is generally considered to have no commercial importance, but I am only too happy to give it a good home. I look forward to being able to start turning some of this beautiful looking material.

(I am sorry, but I do not have any mountain ash for sale)

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