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

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

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

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I don't think I'm the first person to react about halfway through the book with the thought that this book should have been named 'The Men who made things out of A Tree'. The author is a good writer and talks to lots of interesting people and does cover a lot about woodworking. But the only thing he actually makes is firewood, so....

More importantly as this tree was coppiced properly when he returned to the stump it was growing again and will produce again.If ash’s past significance is undeniable, its future is less certain. Though Penn’s new items bring him a lot of pleasure, it is hard to argue that they are essential in the way they once were. His ash – as exemplified by his bespoke writing desk – is a luxury. Wood’s essential mystery – even today, scientists are only just starting to explain why different varieties have different characteristics – can also make it expensive and unreliable for mass production. An ash bowl is doubtless a lovely thing to have, but they will not be flying out of Ikea for a pound.

Over the next two years he travelled across Britain, to Europe and the USA, to the workshops and barns of a generation of craftsmen committed to working in wood. He watched them make over 45 artefacts and tools that have been in continual use for centuries, if not millennia. There is no greater debt than that which mankind owes to trees, and Robert Penn proves this brilliantly - a highly readable account of the multitude of uses one single ash tree can provide (Lars Mytting, author of 'Norwegian Wood') This book is very informative but also has very little to do with the title. The author makes nothing out of trees, and instead has a tree felled with the intent to make as much as possible from that one tree.. then often doesn't, because the different master crafters he takes stuff to have very specific or very high standards that his particular tree don't meet. Penn is a fine writer, and the mix of research, reportage and personal reflection is persuasive . . . A lovely book (Ed Cumming Observer)When people think of making things from wood, the one that springs to mind is oak. But as magnificent as that tree is for buildings, ships and furniture, through the ages people have relied on another tree for tools, household objects, paddles and bats. That tree is ash. What a fascinating read, just like Robert Penn and his Ash tree I got so much from this book. Penn one day decides to find the perfect ash tree, chop it down and see how many things he can make from it. Each chapter is based around an item being made, from Axe handles, to bowls, and even a deadly arrow. In the chapter you find out the history of how ash wood has been used to make that product, a history of it's use, how it is made and the person who Penn has located to make it. So many interesting little things to learn about. I was annoyed at the first bit of the book as Penn discusses woodland management and tree surgery. Topics which I know a lot about and he just seemed like a standard 'tourist' wanted to play around on the edges of something cool, manly and dangerous. You come across these types when working as a tree surgeon. People who think they know shit about tree work because they own a shit chainsaw. As the book progressed however I did warm to it more as I learned bits about crafts I didn't know about. Penn has managed to talk to some cool, knowledgeable people. Incidentally I think I know someone who knows one of the wheelwrights from West Lancashire who the author goes to see. The chapter on hurley making was interesting too as well as the one where he gets the fletcher to make him a bodkin arrow.



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