Tonewood Profile: The Mysterious Ocean Sinker Redwood
Just west of Portland, Oregon, there’s a sleepy, beach city called Manzanita—the perfect place for a stroll with a friend along sandy, driftwood covered beaches. This is exactly what two area locals were doing one day roughly five years ago, when they discovered a large chunk of jet-black, glimmering wood washed up on the sand.
Eying it for firewood, the locals hauled it home to be cut up, only to find it didn’t burn well. Remarkably, these locals happened to know Bedell’s go-to guy for salvaged tonewoods, Cyril Jacobs, and took their “firewood” to his shop in Tillamook for a second opinion.
“They were thinking that [this was] old-growth fir and they had some great firewood,” said Jacob. “[It was] really fine grain, high silica, you know, saturated material. And they’re saying, ‘yeah, what is this wood? It won’t burn worth a hoot. It’s soaking wet. And we thought it was fir.’ It took me a few seconds to figure out that it was redwood.”
Recreating a tree’s history takes tremendous knowledge of the regional forests and a degree of detective work, but Jacob could see this wasn’t just any redwood. While a measure of imagination and speculation is needed to put together the pieces of a tree’s history and travels through the natural world, the wood was determined to be ancient ocean sinker redwood—likely at least a thousand years old and exceptionally mineral-rich from having been buried first in a river or lakebed at some point in its life then spending an unknown amount of time in the Pacific Ocean. Slow growth contributed to the exceedingly tight-grains while the almost black color, with some lighter marbling and a dramatic shimmer, is attributed to the silica content absorbed while the tonewood rested on the bottom of various bodies of water.