A TREE GROWS IN NEW YORK WRITTEN BY JOHN COX
t’s late fall and as I step away from the saw and go out onto our loading dock, I see the rust colored Catskill Mountains before me. The walnuts and maples have lost their yellow and red leaves, and the burnt sienna of the American White Oak (Quercus alba) dominates the view. We’re surrounded by oak, just as many of you are surrounded by it in the form of barrels that line your distillery walls. Artisan Spirit has explored why we use oak and also what it brings to the table, but how did those staves get to the table to begin with, and where did they grow?
When we started last year and converted our 27-year-old cabinet shop into a cooperage the first thing we had to do was find an oak supplier for our own stave logs. The American Oak grows heartily here in the Northeast, and we are fortunate to be down the road from a large logging supplier. In my past career as a cabinetmaker, our shop bought rough milled wood, such as cherry and oak, that had been kiln dried, but buying logs (green wood) is different in many ways. Wood that is used by cabinetmakers and furniture manufacturers has been kiln dried to a moisture content of 8-10%, making it stable to use indoors.
While this adds stability to furniture and millwork it poses a problem to the cooper. Wood is comprised of two properties, cellulose and lignin. Lignin is a complex organic substance and contributes to the wood's elasticity. When wood is heated in a conventional kiln the lignin is hardened or “set,” rendering it rigid and unbendable. This is what gives the wood stability in your home. At the cooperage we need to be able to bend wood, so we use oak that has been air dried, or in some cases dried in low temp stave kilns, so that we are able to bend the staves without risk of them splitting. WWW.ARTISANSPIRITMAG.COM