Q. Dear Twig: What kind of wood do they make wood pencils out of?
A. My feathered friend Weezerbird told me something at lunch last week. (He had grubs. I had leaves.) He said, "That place you work at [the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, part of Ohio State University] has the biggest incense cedar tree in Ohio."
I said, "What's an incense cedar tree?"
He said, "The tree they make pencils out of."
And he was right. I checked. (He actually usually is.) (Don't tell him I said that.) American pencil companies make their pencils out of wood from California incense cedar trees. Reasons: The wood is soft. Soft for a wood, that is. So pencil-makers can shape it into pencil shapes easily. It sharpens easily, too. It doesn't make splinters. And also it smells good.
Incense cedars are coniferous evergreens. As, for example, pines are. Incense cedars grow in the wild out West. But people plant them in other places, too.
P.S. Find Ohio's No. 1 incense cedar in Ohio State's Secrest Arboretum: http://secrest.osu.edu/.
See what a California incense cedar looks like at http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=CADE27.
The California incense cedar is a specific species: Calocedrus decurrens. There also are species that have the common names Taiwan incense cedar and China incense cedar.
One hundred or so years ago, U.S. pencil-makers made pencils out of eastern red cedar trees. But those got used up and scarce. So the switch was made to California incense cedar trees, which were and are easy to come by out West, including now in managed plantings. In other parts of the world, people make pencils out of eastern red cedar relatives.
Secrest Arboretum is part of Ohio State's Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in Wooster.
Ohio's biggest trees: http://www.dnr.state.oh.us/tabid/5361/Default.aspx.
Pencil-making details: http://www.pencils.com/.
"Smart Stuff with Twig Walkingstick," published by The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences — specifically, by the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) and Ohio State University Extension, the research and outreach arms, respectively, of the College — is a weekly feature for children about science, nature, farming and the environment. It's written at, to and for a 4th-grade reading level.
For details, to ask Twig a question, and/or to receive the column free by mail or e-mail, contact Kurt Knebusch, CommTech, OSU/OARDC,1680 Madison Ave., Wooster, OH 44691, firstname.lastname@example.org, (330) 263-3776.