From the woods: Deciding which trees to use for buckets, hinges, brooms


Whenever the need arose or if there was extra time away from the dozens of daily chores, colonists would go into a nearby grove and select trees suitable for their wood-making needs.

Many times the type of tree he or she was looking for could not be found. In these cases, a nice tall tree, no matter the species, would suffice.

The colonists knew not to use Hemlock with bark on it for a cabin because it would rot after a few seasons.

On the other hand, oak was the choice kind of wood for quite a number of things, including tools, handles, hinges, furniture and many other needs.

Sugar days. One of the first chores in the early months of the year was sugar making. This brought about the need for buckets, the old oak type.

These older varieties were large at the top and small at the bottom. When assembling the bucket, a large top allowed more ease to secure the bottom.

The staves were square-cut and planed to bevel and fit tight to form a circle. This was then fastened together with hoops (splines) of hickory. The ends were cut into hooks and fastened together, thereby holding the staves in place.

Before these procedures were attempted, all parts were soaked in water for a few days. When possible, the water temperature was warm to hot. During sugar making, my folks used to make new buckets while tending the fire, therefore, hot water always was available.

Wood for buckets. Water buckets were made the same way, however, the sides were straight and a bail of bent wire was then attached. Older types had two longer staves with a hole in each. This was where a short pole was placed.

One note about any wooden bucket, tub or container is that when they aren’t in use, they must be soaked in water.

When selecting maples for sap gathering, only the rock or sugar maple is chosen. Silver, white and red maple have a dark sap that is not sweet. These trees are instead used for firewood.

Making brooms. Birch supplied the Indians with bark for canoes, but the wood was of little use for utilitarian items. Brooms were formed by leaving a section untouched at one end. Sometimes brooms were formed on both ends, but each was a different size.

The ends of the wood were split to form a broom effect, and the handle was trimmed to suit a person’s grip.

When not in use, brooms either set on the handle end or hung on wooden pegs in the wall. Soaking the brooms in water lengthened their lives.

A strong handle was formed by using ash. Swamp ash was used to form baskets. Small baskets were for gathering vegetables, fruit and eggs. Large baskets carried grain and kindling.

Ash also was used for durable wagon axles. Beech was chosen for planes or anywhere there was friction.

More trees. Elm and basswood also had their uses. Elm was used for harrow teeth and yokes. Basswood was used to make paint brushes. By soaking them in hot water and then pounding it, fibrous ends were formed.

Pine logs made good pump logs. These piped water to the cabins. A hole was augured out in a weight-foot log, bored from both ends by two men while turning a 2-inch auger with a big T handle. If they remained moist, these white pine pump logs would last many decades. Records have revealed some logs 100 years old haven’t rotted.

Fruit trees. Fruit woods, except cherry, were mostly firewood. The only problem my folks discovered, and myself in later years with my own family, was that fruit wood could send sparks, sometimes a barrage, into the room from a fireplace.

Cherry is undoubtedly a favorite choice along with mahogany. Cherry has good qualities in humid or dry conditions, and it remains constant and will not expand in moist atmosphere. Therefore, cherry gears in a tall clock are better than maple.

Tick tock. A word concerning clocks with wooden parts. Some think if a clock is made of wood it is older than the metal-geared types. This is not always the case.

Brass works were probably first, but often brass was hard to find, plus manufacturing brass cog wheels took a long time to make.

A carver in New England discovered a method of making them out of cherry, which made the cost considerably less.

Similarly, today’s manufacturers do the same thing. Lower production costs and profit at the original cost expands and quality then decreases.

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