SHAVINGS - News Items About Wood and Woodworking

SHAVINGS News items about Biblical woods and woodworking


June 18, 2008

One of our friends asked me to build her a nesting box for screech owls last fall.

She is thrilled to report that the box has occupants. Hereís a photograph of one. For size comparison, the entrance hole is 3 inches in diameter and the wood is 10 inch western red cedar (which is really a Juniper).

Nesting Box for Screech Owls

Iím looking forward to sharing more photos.

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Logan, William Bryant, 2005. Oak: The Frame of Civilization Scranton, PA: W.W. Norton & Co., 336 p.

The acorn that gave rise to Logan's book was a map of the worldwide distribution of oaks. Logan recognizes that the centers of civilization in Europe, Asia, and North America originated in places originally endowed with oaks. Acorns fed both people and their livestock at first, and oaks supplied fuel, tannin, and shelter well before the craft of woodworking reached the point of being able to work their wood. Logan traces how oak shaped emerging civilizations and how people have affected oaks.

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A SEWN BOAT? (See p. 32, All Kinds of Scented Wood)

Genesis 6:14-16 reveals no details of the Ark's construction, but Ralph K. Pederson demonstrates that builders of wooden boats in the Indian Ocean region still practice ancient techniques that could have been used to build such a vessel. Pederson addresses the question, "Was Noah's Ark a Sewn Boat?" in the May/June 2005 issue of Biblical Archeology Review (31-3, 18-23).

Pederson investigated the surviving methods of building a wooden boat by sewing its planking together edge-to-edge to make a shell that is strengthened by adding an internal framework. He finds that stone and bone tools suffice to cut and shape planks of soft wood and drill holes. Coconut fibre (coir) is the material of choice today for the cordage used to join the planks. Once caulked and coated with pitch or another anti-fouling material, sewn boats are perfectly seaworthy. The earliest-known Egyptian river craft were sewn boats, and sewn boats of as much as 200 tons burden plied the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean until the 20th century.

Pederson's curiosity also led him to the account of Utnapishtim's ship in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Though the epic omits precise details, Pederson finds that its sequence of construction corresponds closely to the shell-first method used in sewn boats. Details of plugging drill holes and sealing the outer hull are also authentic. Sewn boats, Pederson concludes, probably served as a conceptual prototype for the Ark.

Utnapishtim's craft, however, differs from Noah's in numerous respects. The epic describes it as a cube with sides 200 feet high. It had six decks, each divided into nine compartments. Its construction involved reeds in some way. Because reed workers brought their flattening stones, the reeds may have been used for roof thatching rather than being tied in bundles for flotation. Construction was a community project, and the builders hauled the ship on log rollers to the river to launch it.

Without experience in naval architecture, I can only agree that the sewn-boat model was probably more familiar to the author of Genesis than Mediterranean ships with planking joined edge-to-edge with tenons. I suspect, however, that a vessel built in the form of a cube or rectangular chest would be unstable and turn turtle.

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Archeological Diggings (Jan/Feb 2006) reports the discovery of Pharonic seagoing vessels preserved in two manmade caves on Egypt's Red Sea coast. A team led by Kathryn Bard says their timbers and rigging are well preserved. This unprecedented find should reveal further details about early shipbuilding as well as trading on the Red Sea.

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(See p. 239, All Kinds of Scented Wood) Since publication of All Kinds of Scented Wood, artemisinin extracted from wormwood Artemisia annua, has superseded quinine as an antimalarial drug. Artemisinin has also been found useful in treating breast cancer.

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Rose briers never were the source of the briar pipes beloved by tobacco smokers. As stated on p. 128 of All Kinds of Scented Wood, the bowls are carved from the roots of the white heath tree. Also known as the Tree Heath, Erica arborea of the heather family Ericaceae, the white heath is a small tree that grows in rocky soils of the circum-Mediterranean region. In this case, "briar" derives from the tree's French name, BruyŤre arborescente. By 50 to 100 years root burls of white heath have grown tough, dense and fire-resistant.

For photographs of the white heath tree, please check and

For information about the manufacture of briar pipes and their lore, refer to and