Hickory trees are slow growing, yet they make one of the heaviest and strongest woods in America. Tough yet flexible it is in high demand for axe handles and every sort of striking tool. American covered wagons rolled westward on Hickory hubs and Hickory fellows. Skies, too, must stand violent strains, so that American Hickory is the most prized wood for skiers. I use Hickory for dowels and axles, where the need for strength is paramount.
This is probably my favorite wood. Sweet smelling, easy to work, beautiful in color, stable in use, are a few of its attractions. I like its propensity to change color with time. Starting out a light red it grows deep red with time. This process is accelerated with exposure to light. Sometimes, at outdoor art fairs, I notice a lighter patch where a tag or a string blocks sunlight, contrasting with the surrounding suntanned surface. Cherry also wears smoother and smoother with use; a property making it a good choice for weaving shuttles and wooden toys.
Oak nearly equals Cherry as my top choice for toys. Oak's hardness makes it nearly indestructible, whether in Old Ironsides or in wooden toys. I choose it for my ride-on toys and my wooden blocks. Its prominent grain gives it a texture immediately familiar to many people. A couple dozen trees are divided into general White Oak and Red Oak groups. I usually choose Red Oak for my toys.
A close look at Beech woodgrain betrays its relationship to Oak. The wood ray structure so prominent in Oak shows in Beech as well. Creamy tan in color its texture is smoother than Oak though it shares Oak's hardness. Beech trees are recognizable in the forest by the many initials carved into their smooth gray bark. Young men with jackknives can't seem to resist. You can find Beech wood in my train and clacker.
The aristocrat of cabinet woods, Walnut has been in high demand for centuries. Its beautiful dark brown color is coupled with a long list of desirable working properties. Slow growing and hard to find in large size it is the most expensive wood I use. Characteristics ideal for handles and gun stocks make it a great choice for toys as well.
Known by its alias, Hard Rock Maple, this wood varies from pale white to medium brown in color and is very heavy and hard. Sometimes iridescent flecks appear in the grain giving a glittering appearance. I sometimes find old tap holes in the boards made during some long ago sugaring. These wounds often introduce fungal infections which leave dark, multicolored streaks above and below the tap holes. Eventually these infections do more serious damage and weaken the wood. Maple's strength and hardness make it very durable in school furniture, nail kegs and wooden toys.
I have a hard time distinguishing the wood of White Birch from that of Sugar Maple and their working properties are as similar. But, I never mistake the trees, just the wood. Birch grows throughout the world and its characteristic white bark makes identification in the woods easy. I use White Birch in my train for dowels and wheels.
This tree of the Walnut family is sometimes called White Walnut because its wood is a lighter brown color than Black Walnut. It is difficult to work with tools and somewhat soft. I use it sparing in parts of a toy that are protected by a harder stronger species, where its beauty can be seen yet not make a weak toy.
The American Tuliptree is the tallest hardwood tree in North America, reaching 200 feet in the Southern Appalachians. Extending in range west to the Mississippi its height is only surpassed by the tallest pines, and its growth rate is fastest of all passing 5 feet per year on good sites. Its wood is creamy in color with streaks of light green and sometimes purple.
Only hickory is tougher than White Ash (just barely) and consequently it is the choice for hockey sticks and baseball bats. Its wood color varies from creamy white to light brown. One of my favorites you will find it in my train and on tough block wagon wheels.
This wood shows its dark yellowish brown color when you apply an oil finish. Very hard and very contrary, often warping in the drying process Elm's interlocking grain gives it great strength, but don't choose this for your fireplace, it is nearly impossible to split. Once past these frustrations it is a beautiful addition to my train.
John Michael Linck - Toymaker
2618 Van Hise Avenue - Madison, Wisconsin 53705
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