Monday 5 February 2018

The Man Who Made Things out of Trees by Robert Penn

 The Man Who Made Things Out of Trees: The Ash in Human Culture and History

Rob Penn felled a single ash tree and set out to make as many things as possible from the wood. He travelled widely to visit master crafters  who took parts of his tree and made it into over 40 items including: a desk, kitchen worktops, spoons, a tobbogan and axe handles.

In the process, Penn investigates many of the dying woodworking skills, such as wood-turning and arrow-making, spending time with the crafters and understanding their close relationship with the wood. He investigates the qualities of ash and how it is in many ways superior to other woods for making items such as baseball bats, though not often used for making desks. He looks at the history of ash in the British landscape, the history of ash as a material for specific items including toboggans, axe handles and chairs, the cultural significance of hurling (the national sport in Ireland, played with an ash stick) and the value of wood as a natural material superior in most ways to man-made materials. He makes a very good case for wood being a reliable, long lasting sustainable resource. Sustainable that is as long as it is sustainably grown and managed, which is an aspect that this book could have delved into in more detail.

This is a beautifully crafted book, full of fascinating insights and imbued with appreciation for a unique and very special material. There's a sad epilogue to the book though, as ash is threatened by diseases - ash die-back disease has spread throughout Europe, killing many trees while the emerald borer beetle has devastated ash forests in the USA. What is the future for this most valuable and beautiful of trees?

The Man Who Made Things out of Trees by Robert Penn published by Penguin on Forest Stewardship Council certified paper


Gwil W said...

That's a lovely book cover. I particularly like the catapult. Denis the Menace the UK Denis with his dog Gnasher, not the watered down US wimp, were my childhood heroes. They, like me, knew the usefulness of such a device.

sage said...

As one who have used ash to replace canoe gunnels and to make canoe paddles, this book will have to go on my tbr pile! Thanks for the review.