What was once a delicate cell now becomes a hollow wood fibre, thin walled, but becoming thickened as it gets older. For a few years the superannuated cell is a part of the sap wood and is used as a tube in the system through which the crude sap mounts to the leaves. Later it may be stored full of starch, and the sap will flow up through newer tubes. At last the walls of the old cell harden and darken with mineral deposits. Many annual rings lie be-. tween it and the cambium. It has become a part of the heart wood of the tree.
The cells of its own generation that were crowded in the other direction made part of an annual layer of bark. As new layers formed beneath them, and the bark stretched and cracked, they lost their moisture by contact with the outer air. Finally they became thin, loose fibres, and scaled off.
The years of a tree's life are recorded with fair accuracy in the rings of its wood. The bark tells the same story, but the record is lost by its habit of sloughing off the outer layers. Occasionally a tree makes two layers of wood in a single season, but this is exceptional. Sometimes, as in a year of drought, the wood ring is so small as to be hardly distinguishable.
Each annual ring in the chestnut stump is distinct from its neighboring ring. The wood gradually merges from a dark band full of large pores to one paler in color and of denser texture. It is very distinct in oak and ash. The coarser belt was formed first. The spring wood, being so open, discolors by the accumulation of dust when exposed to the air. The closer summer wood is paler in color and harder, the pores almost invisible to the unaided eye. The best timber has the highest percentage of summer wood.
If a tree had no limbs, and merely laid on each year a layer of wood made of parallel fibres fitted on each other like pencils in a box, wood splitting would be child's play and carpenters would have less care to look after their tools. But woods differ in structure, and all fall short of the woodworker's ideal. The fibres of oak vary in shape and size. They taper and overlap their ends, making the wood less easily split than soft pine, for instance, whose fibres are regular cylinders, which lie parallel, and meet end to end without "breaking joints." Fibres of oak are also bound together by flattened bundles of horizontal fibres that extend from pith to cam bium, insinuated between the vertical fibres. These are seen on a cross-section of a log as narrow, radiating lines starting from the pith and cutting straight through heart wood and sap wood to the bark. A tangential section of a log (the surface exposed by the removal of a slab on any side) shows these "pith rays," or "medullary rays" as long, tapering streaks. A longitudinal section made from
bark to centre, as when a log is "quarter-sawed," shows a full side view of the "medullary rays." They are often an inch wide or more in oak; these wavy, irregular, gleam ing fibre bands are known in the furniture trade as the "mirrors" of oak. They take a beautiful polish, and are highly esteemed in cabinet work. The best white oak has 20 per cent. to 25 per cent. of its substance made up of these pith rays. The horny texture of its wood, together with its strength and durability, give white oak an enviable place among timber trees, while the beauty of its pith rays ranks it high among ornamental woods.
The grain of wood is its texture. Wide annual rings with large pores mark coarse-grained woods. They need "filling" with varnish or other substance before they can be satisfactorily polished. Fine-grained woods, if hard, polish best. Trees of slow growth usually have fine grained wood, though the rule is not universal.
Ordinarily wood fibres are parallel with their pith. They are straight grained. Exceptions to this rule are con stantly encountered. The chief cause of variation is the fact that tree trunks branch. Limbs have their origin in the pith of the stems that bear them. Any stem is nor mally one year older than the branch it bears. So the base of any branch is a cone quite buried in the parent stem. A cross-section of this cone in a board sawed from the trunk is a knot. Its size and number of rings indicate its age. If the knot is diseased and loose, it will fall out, leaving a knot hole. The fibres of the wood of a branch are extensions of those just below it on the main stem. They spread out so as to meet around the twig and continue in parallel lines to its extremity. The fibres contiguous to those which were diverted from the main stem to clothe the branch must spread so as to meet above the branch, else the parent stem would be bare in this quarter. The union of stem and branch is weak above, as is shown by the clean break made above a twig when it is torn off, and the stub born tearing of the fibres below down into the older stem. A half hour spent at the woodpile or among the trees with a jack-knife will demonstrate the laws by which the straight grain of wood is diverted by the insertion of limbs. The careful picking up and tearing back of the fibres of bark and wood will answer all our questions. Basswood whose fibres are tough is excellent for illustration.