#38: Sassafras

Bird number: 61
Date: April 15, 2012
Wood: Sassafras (Sassafras albidum)
Source: Southern Indiana

My friend in Indiana sent me a box with several hunks of wood–cutoffs from his chainsaw carving work. Some of the woods (butternut and redbud, especially) split so badly while drying that I wasn’t able to use them. But this sassafras, a piece of beech, the Black Locust, and perhaps one or two more survived relatively unscathed.

Sassafras is grown as an ornamental tree. In the past, the wood was used for fence posts and rails, small boats, ox yokes, and miscellaneous purposes. Apparently its use is somewhat limited by scarcity and small size; the trees rarely exceed two feet in diameter.

Dried and ground Sassafras leaves called filé powder, an ingredient in filé gumbo. The oil extracted from the root bark is used in fragrances and food, and in aromatherapy. The oil also was used in root beer, and sassafras tea is made from steeping the bark. However, commercial use of safrole (the primary ingredient in sassafras oil) is banned because it’s considered a potential carcinogen. The oil is also used in making some illicit drugs, so its sale is monitored by the DEA.

I’m just carving the stuff. As far as I can determine, there’s no restriction on that.

I carved this piece with a knife while at my woodcarving club meeting earlier this month. The wood is reasonably soft and well behaved. For some reason, it reminded me of carving sycamore. The rotten spot there on the left side of the head adds character.

I know several people who carve sassafras regularly. It’s commonly used for canes or walking sticks, and others carve wood spirits. Those who carve sassafras are quite fond of it for some reason. Apparently, the wood has a tendency to split while drying (all woods do, but I hear that sassafras is especially bad). The piece I got seems to have been dried already. I had no trouble at all.

I have a few chunks left over. None is large enough to carve another bird, but I’m sure I’ll think of something to do with it.