When a handle is a thing of beauty

Behold a simple thing of great beauty. At least that is what I thought when I saw it leaning against the side of the porch. This is Mark’s designated spade for the digging out of trees and large shrubs. It is not that he is seven feet tall, but that he likes a long handle to avoid having to bend his back. He is a man who has learned the hard way to be seriously protective of his back.

The handle is yew, harvested from a dead tree in the park, hand whittled to size and required smoothness, oiled with linseed applied in repeated thin coats. You can’t feel it in the photograph, but I can assure you it is wondrously smooth and tactile, for nobody wants to get splinters from a spade handle.

Mark has always been a fan of yew as a timber. Back in the days when he was a woodturner, the favourite timber of most was, and probably still is, NZ kauri. That is because it is so easy to work with – in Mark’s words, it cuts like butter. It doesn’t have a particularly interesting grain like other woods, including heart rimu. Yew is not native but it also cuts like butter, so to speak, and has a beautiful grain. It was the traditional timber for longbows, presumably because it is both long lasting and stable. It does not warp and bend out of shape as readily as many other timbers. Just perfect for a long handled spade. I see another long handle being prepared for the drainage fork we use to clear out water weeds.

These examples of yew treen date back a few decades to when Mark was a craftsman woodturner, before his nurseryman, plant breeder days but post his university days.

Yew – commonly Taxus baccata, although there are other yew species.
NZ kauri – Agathis australis
NZ rimu – Dacrydium cupressinum

4 thoughts on “When a handle is a thing of beauty

  1. tonytomeo

    Yew wood is quite a commodity! There are not many yews here that are big enough to provide any wood. Many that are here were imported by people from England and Ireland for some reason. There are several at Filoli. Supposedly, there were some at the old Murphy House in Sunnyvale, but those who remember them believe that they were podocarpus of some sort.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Mark’s parents planted them here, in keeping with the very English theme of house and garden. But yews are not happy in our climate with high humidity and high rainfall and basically, all the first generation have died. But that is why we have some yew wood!

      1. tonytomeo

        There is actually a native yew here. It is not very pretty, and can actually be downright ugly, but it is popular among those who like natives. It gives them certain bragging rights.

  2. Julie Milligan

    So much of what we work with is machine made, so nice to see something handmade and beautiful!!!

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