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Shepherds Hill Homestead » Paul's Workshop, Woodworking » The Sacred Cedars

The Sacred Cedars

     They were always given special place whenever we’d walk in the woods. I remember clearly, my father bending over and uncovering a small cedar as it struggled to emerge through the forest floor. I didn’t see the big deal in it at all, as they seemed like such useless trees to me. But somehow the smell of the cedar always made me think of home, family and sometimes even Christmas.

Only when I bought my own place which had an abundance of cedar trees would I come to understand their importance to my father. As Angie and I walked through our new woods, I bent over to help a small tree up. I told her the story of my father helping a little tree out. I jokingly called them the “sacred cedars” and all of a sudden, it hit me. I knew why the tree was given such place in our family. It was because of its association with our patriarch.

You see, the earliest memory of my grandfather was of him turning cedar on his wood lathe. He whittled or cut cedar constantly after he retired from his job. I can still see him sitting on the porch with his “Uncle Henry” knife carving out a chain made of wood. Link by link he’d carve out an unbroken testimony of his patience, skill and wisdom. And always out of cedar.

The shavings around his feet were always there for me to play in as a boy. Around his lathe, the shavings were knee deep! And that smell! The smell that only a cedar tree has is one that connects me with the past. Papaw would turn out spindle like objects for the house and it was amazing to me. I never remember him using any other wood.

And the whittling that he did was even more amazing to a small boy. To this day, my most cherished object of his is a small cedar chain. The links are perfectly symmetrical, as if done by a machine. When I tried to repeat his work, years later, I broke every piece that I attempted. Even the ball in a box that is so common with woodworkers has not been something that I can do.

So finally the connection was made with the cedar. With the lathe that I recently built I’ve started turning cedar, too. The wood is somewhat brittle and unpredictable as the grain runs wild. There are many knots, but in the final product they only add to the beauty. And the smell is unmistakable!  I turned a lot of cedar at the last heritage show that we demonstrated in and it drew a lot of attention. The fragrance stopped people as they went by. Many of them asked me what it was. One thing that surprised me was that the wood turners that saw it said they never used cedar as it was so difficult.

I’ve really thought a lot about cedar wood. It seems that working cedar is a lot like life. The tree is an evergreen. It always shows promise but never really produces fruit until the end. The only fruit it has are the small berries that birds like. But nothing that man can eat. They are slow growing and when mature, don’t make good shade trees. When you observe the outside of one you’ll notice some problems that indicate irregular growth. The trunk is random shaped instead of round like most trees. The limbs are close and in abundance. These two characteristics show that the inside will be uneven and full of knots. It doesn’t split straight like most other trees. This means it must be sawn.   

  But once it’s cut open it reveals it’s lifetime of labor. The uneven growth is responsible for the beautiful swirls of growth bands. And the many limbs are the cause of the plethora of knots. Using hand tools like the lathe chisels are extremely difficult. The grain runs every direction and thus the cause for its lack of use.  But the beauty is there for the work. Here lies the analogy of life.

     The beauty of some people’s lives are not valued until they are gone. We often look at a person and never really get to know what’s inside. By only judging the outside we overlook their purpose. Like the cedar, we must look at the depths of many to see the beauty. To get there, we must be patient, just as in working wood that has such a random grain. It’s difficult, yes.  The knots are many. But in the end, the final product will be well worth the trouble. Patience is the key.

     One last observance; cedar has two colors inside. The heart wood is red while the outside layer is pure white. I realized that we must have the Blood of Christ in our heart. Only then will even our outside be made pure. So now you know of the Sacred Cedar. Maybe someone in your family left you a legacy that you haven’t seen yet. Mine has just arrived.

  Thanks for it all, Papaw…


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Philippians 3:13-14 Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

Filed under: Paul's Workshop, Woodworking

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