Take a Whiff


Yesterday, I was carving the flutes in a walnut bowl and I started thinking about what a big role smell plays among the pleasures of working with wood.  As I savored the rich aroma of the walnut, I thought of a photo I stumbled upon a few months ago while leafing through an old Time-Life book.  The photo was of a man taking simple delight in the odor of a truffle.  It struck me enough that I made a little sketch of it then.

I don’t know about truffles, but I can identify with that guy when I’m carving.   Most species have a distinct odor, and woodworkers come to recognize them and, often, associate them with memories.  Whether it’s the sweet almond extract scent of fresh cherry, the tangy vanilla of white oak, the spiciness of sassafras, or some other wonder, I hope you get to take a whiff this weekend.


This entry was posted in green woodworking, sketch, Uncategorized, walnut and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Take a Whiff

  1. Kalia Kliban says:

    I’ve just been getting acquainted with the distinctive smell of ginkgo wood, which is still quite new to me. Luckily it smells nothing like the fruit :>)
    My favorite wood smell is still, by far, walnut.


  2. Tim Shue says:

    Totally relate. Currently carving through a pile of very wet crabapple. Very different than anything else I’ve used. Sweet but vinegary. Walnut still is my favorite as it instantly puts me back in junior high making a banjo using a Foxfire book with my dad.


    • Dave Fisher says:

      Hi Tim. Interesting what you said about the crabapple. I’ve noticed, even with cherry how the smell can vary a bit, maybe between different individual trees, but I think more so depending on how fresh it is. Seems like it might smell sweeter and less tart/vinegary the longer it has been sitting around. Makes sense I guess.

      What a great memory to associate with walnut to make the smell even better. Love the Foxfire books.


  3. Erv Berglund says:

    Have you worked with horse chestnut? Stinks up the whole house.


  4. jbreiby says:

    Thanks for your lovely thought, Dave. I’m most familiar with White spruce and White birch, and when I burn Aspen in my stove, the smoke reminds me of Fairbanks at 50 and 60 below, in the early 1960s, when I was burning Aspen in my wood stove. Thanks for the memories. Beautiful sketch you did, too!


  5. pfollansbee says:

    Well, thanks for the ear-worm, Dave! You’d have to be of a certain age, and perhaps a certain recreational background to know what your subject heading is about – those days are long gone for me, thankfully. And I get the connections between olfactory & memory, great stuff. For me, it’s ash & hickory, they take me back to my first days working wood 42 years ago. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7OE1aP0RwpY


    • Dave Fisher says:

      Ha! Well, once again you have expanded my knowledge of the world, Peter. I guess my heading may draw some new folks to the blog! First time I’ve ever heard that song and it certainly is a good one for an ear-worm. As it runs through my head now, I think it would be perfect for Pret Woodburn and the Dinghys to perform. If not them, then Tim Shue, if he can hit those high notes.


  6. Gene Felder says:

    Twice while at my carving horse, I had to stop, grab and smell handfuls of shavings. One was with an apple bowl with quite a bit a rot. Smelled just like a cider press. The othe was while shaving a black birch piece. Just overwhelming. One of the many unexpected pleasures of Greenwood carving. Hope you’re well.


  7. restorersart says:

    Funny how much of trees’ personalities are in the parts people don’t usually experience: smell, root forms, bast patterns, winter silhouettes, sap character. Apple is definitely the one for me, as far as smell goes!

    Also, you probably ought to take out shares in a foundry somewhere. Don’t think I’ve ever even heard of three-dimensional holdfast layering before…


  8. sorornishi says:

    Absolutely agree with all the above. Oak and Birch are woods I use a lot and even the Ash I’m working at the moment has a subtle smell. My workshop smell is a great mix of woods and varnish and glues …. a welcome every time I enter.


  9. Russell West says:

    That’s so true.
    I hadn’t really considered it until reading your article, but you’re so right!

    Currently carving holly for the very first time this last week. A good friend of mine recently felled a hefty 100 year old one (he’s a tree surgeon and it was a clearing job). The ’newly cut grass’ aroma brings back memories of helping out at a farm and cutting hay. Delightful!

    Thank you for this thought. I shall be paying more attention to this sense now on.


    • Dave Fisher says:

      Thanks, Russ. I wonder what the diameter of that holly was at the base?


      • Russell West says:

        Hi Dave

        I have a stump which came from approximately 12” from the base and that’s approximately 18” diameter. I’m guessing about 20-21” at base, perhaps.

        I’ve never seen one quite as big myself and I know my tree surgeon friend wasn’t happy to take it down. I suppose that’s ’progress’.



  10. John Reed says:

    When my daughter comes to visit, she gives me a hug and almost always says “You smell like the woodshop Dad! Is that walnut?” Love that she still has that vivid memory of her youth and one of my favorite hobbies . Thanks for your post.


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