August 14, 2011 | 4:34 pm CDT

Three Wood

Persimmon, known for its durability and high impact resistance, was once the wood of choice for golf clubs.

By Jo-Ann Kaiser

Persimmon is the only American ebony and also one of the few woods with a sapwood that is used commercially along with its heartwood. The persimmon tree is generally small to medium in size, which limits its uses. And while it is one of the strongest hardwoods available, suitable for use as a supporting beam, for example, it doesn't grow in dimensions suitable for that use.

So instead, persimmon has had a number of different callings. For years, it was known as one of the best choices for wooden golf club heads. Gale Nash, owner of CMC Golf Co. in Gunnison, CO makes and sells golf clubs made of persimmon.

"We do sell clubs made from persimmon, but it is more of a novelty and nostalgia item now," Nash said, referring to the growth in golf club technology. CMC sells two different clubs made from persimmon. "We feature a putter and a club called the ginty, basically a trouble fairway club designed to get a player out of the rough. Wood clubs are not that popular anymore, and I would starve to death if I depended on those two items."

Nash said the clubs, known as woods, are mostly made with metals now. Materials like titanium have eaten away at the market persimmon once dominated because titanium makes for a lighter, yet larger club head.

Family Name
Diospyros virginiana of the Family Ebenaceae

Common Names
Persimmon, white ebony, bara bara, boa wood, butter wood, possumwood, date plum.

Average height is 50 to 70 feet but some trees grow to 100 feet with diameters of 2.5 feet or less. Average weight is 52 pounds per cubic foot.

Wood dries fairly quickly, with some tendency to check, and also finishes well. Also suitable for steam bending.

Wood is very dense and very hard with a high bending and crushing strength; medium stiffness and shock resistance.

Works well with hand tools and machines although wood has a moderate blunting effect. Experts recommend using sharp cutting surfaces. Pre-bore for nails and screws.

Persimmon's heartwood is dark brown to black in color and develops as the tree ages. The sapwood is very thick and ranges from a pale brown to pale straw color.

"With wood, you are limited to the size of the club head because of weight. With titanium being very lightweight, one can make a larger club. It is easier to hit because there is a bigger area on the face, plus it gives what we call a trampoline or springboard effect, which you can't get from wood. You get more distance with the titanium clubs."

Nash said it was a different story 25 years ago, when persimmon and other woods like walnut and hickory were used. "That's where the term G�ÿwood' came from. Persimmon had always been the favored wood for clubs," Nash said.

What distinguishes persimmon for use in club heads is its high impact resistance. That property makes it a good choice for mallets and other striking tool handles as well. Persimmon is a good turnery wood and is a favorite for pool cues. It also has been used to make parquet flooring.

Likely, its most famous use is in the production of textile shuttles. The wood is ideal because it is hard and durable, but also can be machined into exacting designs while giving an extremely smooth finish. Donald Culross Peattie writes in the book A Natural History of Trees of Eastern and Central North America, that persimmon has the right mix of hardness, smoothness and non-warping qualities, making it ideal for shuttles for textile looms.

"Some woods, valuable in many other ways, cannot endure an hour under the terrific wear of the looms without cracking, splitting or wearing rough," the text reads. Culross Peattie cited persimmon, apple and dogwood as woods very well suited to this demanding, specialized work.

Persimmon is also used to make shoe lasts, and some material is cut into veneer for furniture, cabinetry and paneling. The wood has an interesting grain figure which sometimes includes stripes and roe figures.
Persimmon also has a list of colorful names. It is called the white ebony because of the sapwood's lighter color. The name possumwood is believed to be a reference to the fact that possums and other wild animals, as well as birds, are big fans of the persimmon fruit. Songs and stories abound about possums' great love of "simmons," as the tree was called.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture information reports that persimmons were also popular in numerous Native American legends. A Caddo story "tells of how the Great Spirit turned a man into a raccoon for having eaten from the persimmon tree." Persimmon seeds were said to be capable of foretelling the weather based on their configuration.

The fruit, twigs and leaves from Persimmon trees were used by Native Americans and early settlers for medicines. Persimmon was also used to make bread, syrups, liquor, other beverages and puddings that are still popular today. During the Civil War, Confederate soldiers boiled persimmon seeds to create a coffee substitute. Persimmon fruit can be eaten fresh or dried. Persimmon's family name Diospyros, in fact, translates to "fruit of Zeus."


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