Kendall Bassett #543


A life with Wood

Kendall Bassett

It was 56 years ago that I joined the IWCS. It was inevitable both that I joined and that I am still a member. Wood has always played a big role in my life.

I grew up in Westchester, New York State where we always had a very nice woodworking shop in the basement. My father, who was a skilled amateur woodworker, took on many different kinds of projects over the years. That was the start of my acquaintance with both wood and woodworking. It should also be mentioned that our house was full of books, but more on that later.

After graduation from high school I went to the University of Maine and majored in forestry, a subject of developing interest all through school. I very much enjoyed my forestry education but decided upon graduation to do graduate work in wood technology at Penn State University. It was there that I was first bitten by the wood collecting bug. Dr. David Kribs who wrote the book “Commercial Foreign Woods on the American Market” offered a class in foreign wood identification. Dick Bunner, a fellow graduate student and I took the course and soon we both started collecting wood samples. We also both joined the IWCS. Dick, who is deceased, was a member for many years. By chance we both ended up working together for a few years and continuing our collecting.

For a job in the forest products industry I moved to Washington State where I have lived ever since. My work was in research and development on various reconstituted wood products such as hardboard, particleboard, strand board and medium-density fiberboard (MDF). For a few years, I digressed to work on improving the drying of commercial softwoods. My career lasted 36 years.

The wood collection continued for many years although I do not recall just how many. It was certainly encouraged by a very active Northwest IWCS Chapter. At some point my interest in collecting wood samples waned and I finally donated my collection of approximately 1000 samples to the University of Idaho. I learned from a visiting professor that Idaho had lost its collection in a fire which prompted the donation. Although no longer a sample collector, interest in wood did not abate and in fact it has only broadened over the years.

At this point, it is appropriate to talk about my other collecting interest, antique woodworking tools. Three things seem to have conspired to get me started. My dad had a few old wooden planes that were handed down in the family which developed a natural interest. About this time a book came out entitled “A History of Woodworking Tools” by W. L. Goodman. I purchased a copy for my father and found it so interesting I immediately got one for myself. Finally, one of my IWCS friends had a small collection of tools that I admired. I was hooked. Tool collecting and its supporting literature remain an ongoing interest. Ever since I started collecting I have been buying books related to these interests, a natural follow on to having grown up with books. The trees and timbers library includes many of the earlier works which would be hard to find today. Fortunately, I started early when they were still around and affordable in the used book market. Of course, as new books appeared, these too have been added. Many of the books are descriptions of the trees and/or timbers of a particular region. However, I have been particularly drawn to books that discuss how individual species of wood are or have been used from a historical perspective. This melds my interests in wood and history.

Wood played a huge role in the development of technology. Think about it, our first boats, implements, machines, wagons, packages, houses were mostly made of wood. Even the few metal parts depended on wood as a fuel for smelting. Certain tree species and their exploitation were large influencers of exploration and geopolitical development. Learning this history and the characteristics of various woods and how they were grown, harvested, and used is what most draws my interest.

Over the years, I have met many great IWCS members. Though I have been to only one meeting outside the northwest, I did travel on business and often called on members in other parts of the country. Some I knew through sample exchanges but many were “cold” calls. I was always received warmly and stimulated by the visit. Our active Northwest group led by Jim Langdon couldn’t have been friendlier. PHOTO RIGHT: Claude Mowry, former editor and secretary, at his exhibit at the Reno, NV, Hobby Show, circa 1954.

I do have one collecting experience to share. It concerns poison ivy. Near where my folks lived, poison ivy vines grew very large and I was able to get a full 3″ (~7.5 cm) sample. Since I a m not particularly sensitive and took great care, I had no problems in roughing out the samples. My wife, however, got poison ivy between her toes. Apparently, I tracked in some sawdust. Later when the blanks were dry I finished them, again without a problem. Sure enough, more poison ivy between her toes without being told.

Those of you who may have read some of the “Growth Rings” articles in World of Wood may recognize they have been selected because they cover a broad spectrum of the many aspects of wood. We are closing in on Growth Rings Number 50 which means that fifty good articles from the past will have been reprinted. It is these articles and the other IWCS associations that has kept me interested all these years. PHOTO LEFT: Claude Mowry standing by the trunk of Pinus washoensis, circa 1954.