Mariton: Paulownia Lumber

September 26, 2011

Dan Barringer posted a thread in June about his chicken tractor built in part from Paulownia lumber (Paulownia tomentosa).  As Dan mentioned in his post, some of the NLT preserves established Paulownia plantations as a way to augment endowments.  Mariton doesn’t have a Paulownia plantation, but there are a few large trees that were planted for aesthetic value.  For the past few years I have been looking for new markets for the Paulownia that is growing on NLT preserves. 

We removed a large hollow Paulownia that was hanging over the garage at Mariton.  When I got ready to mill it, I called Bill Mitchell who builds custom guitars in Riegelsville, PA.  He came up to supervise the milling.  I gave him some pieces of wood, so that he could experiment.  He recently finished a parlor guitar using that paulownia wood.  The back, sides and neck are Paulownia.


The top piece is spruce, reclaimed from a piano that was ruined, and the bridge and fret board are from Osage Orange.  The headstock is walnut.  So the guitar was built from a hazard tree and a recycled piano.  Talk about sustainable.  Bill’s craftsmanship is exquisite.


Because Paulownia has a high strength to weight ratio, I thought canoe paddles might be another great market.  Because paddles are laminated, we could use smaller pieces, and the quality of the board is less critical.  So, I gave Marc Ornstein of Dogpaddle Canoe Works some boards to test.  Marc builds beautiful paddles and cedar strip canoes.  (He is also my mentor for freestyle canoeing.  Marc has been the reigning gold medalist for several years.)  Marc uses a lot of red cedar in his paddles, which is also light, strong and beautiful.  Marc called back shortly after I gave him some samples and bought more boards. 


Of course, I had to have a paddle built from Paulownia that came from Mariton.  So,I in turn ordered a custom paddle from Marc.  I picked it up  at the Midwest Freestyle Symposium and it is a beauty.  The Paulownia has an interesting grain reminiscent of ash or oak.  Weighing in at only 20 ounces it is as light as the proverbial feather. 

So, I found two new markets for Paulownia.  Both the guitar and paddle are museum quality pieces of work.  But they shine best when used as intended.