Woodcarvers worldwide prefer to use Aspen wood out of all the wood species for its fine-grained texture and soft quality. It offers the least interference to carvers when working from a solid block of wood to a reduced artistic form or shape. No sculptor or wood woodworker would want to deal with wood that is too hard or with too many knots, especially for beginners. Master carvers in the 1700s, such as Grinling Gibbons, who is best known for his stunning work in London’s St. Paul Cathedral, prefer to use this wood.
Aspen Wood Origin
Each individual tree is part of a larger group because it shares the same root system. This group of trees is called a clone or stand. There is one clone of aspens in Utah’s Fishlake National Forest in the United States, which is considered to be 80,000 years old. These aspen trees have been classified as the world’s oldest living and most massive plant species.
The Aspen wood came from the most abundantly grown trees found in Asia, Europe, Canada, and North America. They are easily identified in the fall season due to the vibrant yellow-gold color of its leaves in contrast with its white bark. Often, they are commonly referred to as Quaking Aspens due to the sound its leaves make when it flutters even with the slightest breeze. The average Aspen tree height is between the ranges of 60 and 80 feet. However, when planted on the best site and ideal soil conditions, it can grow to a sawlog size and a maximum of 120 feet.
Characteristics of Aspen Wood
Texture of Aspen Wood
This type of wood is used by those who are looking for something light to medium-light in weight and straight-grained. While Aspen wood can easily be described as fairly weak if compared to other hardwood species, it is considered relatively strong for wood carving and furniture making. One of its unique characteristics is that it is 100% splinterless. The straight grain found in Aspen wood is very fine with pores that are thinly spread and can only be clearly seen with a magnifying lens. These knots are comparatively tiny, although it may look bigger than it actually is when it is on the discolored part of the wood.
Generally, Aspen fresh wood has a white to a light brown color. The difference of color in Aspen wood between its sapwood and heartwood is so minimal. It is only when it is further exposed to the natural elements that the color changes from light brown to pale grey.
The Odor or Scent of Aspen Wood
As most wood types in general, Aspen wood when wet has a disagreeable or unpleasant odor. However, when it is dry, there is no noticeable scent at all. It is quite odorless that makes it more conducive for wood carving, particularly for those woodworkers with sensitive noses.
Advantages of Using Aspen for Wood Carving
The texture quality is already a given, but the main advantage of using aspen wood for carving is its availability. When there is a huge supply of raw materials, expect the cost to be way down low. The price difference between furniture made out of Oak and Aspen is quite huge. It is cost-effective when chosen as your medium for wood carving.
Another benefit of using Aspen is its paint-holding ability. It would take about four years for a repainting job using regular paint, but when applied with high-quality paint, expect it to last for about seven years. It is the reason why you will often find Aspen wood used as an interior finish in most houses. Most people prefer to brush it with varnish it to retain the wood’s natural color.
Some craft-making artists creating Intarsia projects would prefer to use this for its natural white color. Aspen is suitable to the wooden art of creating projects through cutting or shaping the wood as puzzles of images or pictures.
Varieties of Aspen Wood
There is a wide variety of Aspen trees found in different parts of the world. With the best environmental condition, an individual aspen tree can live for about 150 years. However, due to varied reasons such as pest, pollution, weather, and human interference, the life span today of each tree is generally between 5 and 15 years.
Here are the common types of Aspen Trees:
Quaking Aspen or Trembling Aspen (Populus tremuloides)
These aspens are mostly found in the colder climate areas of northern and western regions of North America. They are sometimes called white poplar or trembling poplar and reach up to 65 feet to 80 feet tall with diameters of about 8 inches up to around 3 feet.
Big Tooth Aspen (Populus grandidentata)
These Aspens are also known as Canadian poplar or American Aspen, which are widespread in the eastern region of North America. These medium-sized trees also tremble when it’s windy like the Quaking aspens but with larger leaves that fall off at maturity. When the tree is still young, it has a thinly smooth olive green bark, but when it matured to 30 years, it turns to color grey with thick rough grooves.
European Aspen/Common Aspen (Populus tremula)
These aspens are also called Eurasian aspen or Quaking aspen, which are native to the colder regions of Asia, particularly in North Korea and Japan, as well as the northern part of Russia and Europe, most notably in Iceland, British Isles, and Scandinavia. The way to tell its difference from other Quaking aspen trees is by looking at its leaves, which are roughly toothed than its North American counterpart.
Other Aspen Wood
Other Aspen trees such as Korean Aspen (Populus Davidians), Japanese Aspen (Populus sieboldil), and Chinese Aspen (Populus adenopada) share common characteristics with their western counterparts. Still, they would slightly differ in size, color, and life span due to its soil and other environmental conditions.
Uses of Aspen Wood
The unique characteristics of the Aspen wood make it an excellent medium for carving toys, moldings, and furniture, particularly for those who are beginning to enjoy woodcarving as a hobby or for commercial use.
Due to its availability, Aspen wood is an inexpensive substitute to Basswood, which woodcarving beginners would generally choose for its softness. It shares the same beneficial qualities, such as its soft and fine texture, but is fairly stronger than Basswood. It is also the reason why most wood companies prefer using it for different purposes.
These Aspens are broadly used but not limited to, paint-grade furniture, cabinets, moldings, light-duty furniture, matchsticks, and millwork. Its odorless quality makes it the perfect choice for toothpicks, baskets, and food containers. Children toymakers have chosen this wood over the years for its splinterless characteristic. After undergoing heating treatment, they are used for sauna interiors and seats. It is also popularly used as roofing in Russia’s rural areas by slicing in thin slats.
Even the slivers or shaved aspen wood are used as wood wool or excelsior. These are essential to packing or stuffing items inside a box and also to cooling systems that need evaporators. Taxidermists would also sometimes use it for their reconstruction purposes.