Turning buckthorn into something beautiful

Jerry Vitalis
Jerry Vitalis

I came across an article by Cliff Johnson, who is a Scott County Master Gardener and Woodworker.
He carves kitchen spoons, salad tongs, and cribbage boards. When he was asked what his favorite wood is for these types of projects, Cliff stated without question it’s buckthorn.
You may think of buckthorn as that fast-growing sapling with the vigorous root system that sprouts from the berry seed and can take over and consume non-cultivated areas. If the saplings are not removed, they can easily grow to become a 20-25 ft tree with a trunk 10 inches or more in diameter. Cliff has worked with buckthorn that’s measured nearly a foot in diameter, as has fellow woodworker, Wayne Keifer, of Shakopee. Wayne has carved bowls from large buckthorn trunks that are on display at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum gift shop.
Mature buckthorn trees have a beautiful grain with color hues of red, brown, orange and yellow. A straight grain runs in a single direction along the cut wood, a result of a straight growing tree. A cross grain is when some of the cells grow out from the major growth axis of the tree. A spiral grain develops as the trunk of the tree twists during development, and an interlocked grain occurs when spiral-grained trees change directions, and spiral back and forth throughout the trunk, alternating between right-hand and left-hand spirals.

Donna Tatting
Donna Tatting

Buckthorn is not only attractive in color and grain, but is an extremely hard wood which is good for woodworking crafts. Cliff has used ironwood, American Elm, butternut, black walnut, white ash, bur oak, red oak, honeysuckle, lilac, plum, pagoda dogwood, and Russian olive. But he likes using buckthorn the best. I suggest you do a Google image search on “Carving Buckthorn” to see for yourself the beautiful grain in the products that are caved from buckthorn.

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