A couple of months ago, I had the opportunity to meet a new bunch of Woodites...and these folks take it seriously. They call themselves The International Wood Collectors Society, and they were holding their Annual Convention outside of Eustis, FL, in a beautiful setting at Lake Yale.
There, nestled next to the lake, among the moss-covered live oaks and pines, were dozens of folks browsing through piles of wood samples of various shapes and sizes. All the samples had been brought to the conference by members as donations to the highlight of the meeting - the wood auction on the last day. The auction items were labeled by species and represented species from all over the world. The most numerous, though, were the various rare species that grow in the diverse and unusual ecosystems of Florida and the other southeastern states.
Duane Keck, who describes himself as a "Tropical and Temperate Zone Wood Collector" on his business card, told me they hold their annual meeting at Lake Yale every year because of the unique collecting opportunities the area provides for collectors who come from all over North America. I met collectors from Indiana, Oregon, and New York at the meeting, and I'm sure their were dozens of other states and probably some provinces of Canada represented.
Never before have I met so many true "wood experts" in one place. These folks know their stuff, and when a species identification is questioned, the discussion gets lively. Within minutes of arriving, I was pulled into a debate on whether a certain block of wood was holly or not. The piece in question was that long upright piece at the right of the adjacent picture. This put me in an interesting predicament...I've never worked with a piece of holly before, and if I ever cut one down in the woods I don't recall it. Nor have I ever studied the physical and anatomical properties of holly. In fact, I never knew anyone who had. We just don't run too much holly through Texas or Pennsylvania sawmills. But I had to uphold the honor of Pennsylvania and its fine state university.
Several of the debaters questioned its authenticity on the look of the bark. And they expected me to weigh in. So I just gave them my best concerned scientist nod and a non-committal, "It could be holly, but it does look a little fishy." After which I was summarily dismissed as a neophyte, and the debate continued without me.
It was soon time for the main event, the wood auction. If you're a wood turner or other fine wood craftsman, you would have wanted to have been there. I saw some pretty nice exotic specimens go from anywhere from $2 to $20 dollars. I had to leave before the best stuff went up, but am willing to bet that everyone who bought anything at the auction left happy with their haul. I sat there thinking I knew a few Philly-area woodworkers who could inflate those prices in a hurry.
I only got to spend a couple of hours at the four-day event, but left wishing I could have spent a lot more time out there. It looked like a great way to unwind and talk about the deeper meaning of wood with a bunch of fine folks. But my traveling buddy was a little itchy to move on...apparently, a wood auction is not quite as exciting as killing zombies in the latest version of "Black Ops 3." So I left, but am resolved to join the IWCS and attend next year's show.
If you're looking to increase your knowledge of wood and perhaps even beginning your own wood collection, I would encourage you to check out the International Wood Collectors Society. After all, wood is more durable than stamps, and cheaper than gold coins.
Wood collection...it's not just for firewood, anymore.
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