The University of Tennessee
College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources
Campus Photos
A-Z Index  /  WebMail  /  Dept. Directory

Forest Products Extension

Baseball Bats and Other Changing Traditions in Wood.

Baseball is a game of traditions and traditionally baseball bats have been made from ash. But, as with all traditions, new trends can arise that will eventually turns into new traditions. Historically, bats were much heavier that they are now - bats even used to be made of oak and hickory. But, in the modern era, ash has been preferred because it provides a nice balance of strength and lighter weight. Barry Bonds recently started a new trend when he set the single-season record for home runs, using maple bats instead of ash. Maple is slightly harder than ash, making for a slightly heavier bat. But Barry Bonds is strong enough to swing it and, as a result of his success, maple has become the most popular species used by the pros.

Many products are traditionally made from one wood species that has properties that make it well suited to the purpose. For example, model airplanes are made from the exceptionally light balsa wood. Tool handles are made from hickory, which is very tough. And walnut has long been a favorite cabinet wood, due to its good woodworking properties and beautiful appearance.

However, some traditional woods are getting more difficult to obtain. A example from history is the destruction of the chestnut trees that supplied a versatile and durable wood. More recent examples include the straight and strong wood from large Douglas-fir or the durable, defect-wood of old cedars. As the wood world becomes more global, and some wood products are more difficult to obtain, exotic and lesser-used wood species will substitute for traditional woods and become more common in everyday use. Yellow poplar, alder and aspen previously were low-value trees but they are becoming more important, and high value, wood species. Modern manufacturing techniques, combined with dark finishes, means that these light-color woods can be substituted for expensive traditional cabinet woods such as cherry and walnut. Foreign woods, with names such as Asian Maple, Brazilian Cherry and Chinese Oak, are showing up in American stores, substituting for domestic species in a number of products.

Tennessee is home to a diverse array of hardwood tree species. New trends in the wood products world mean that all these species might eventually be useful for traditional products. Some species have a long tradition of use in certain products and this has resulted in consistently strong demand and high value for logs: for example walnut, cherry and red and white oak. But, more recently, the trend in favor of light-colored wood for cabinets is increasing the value of the maples. The large foreign market for versatile, affordable wood is increasing demand for yellow poplar. In the future, as the market becomes accustomed to a wider variety of woods, other species such as gum, hackberry and sycamore may become more sought after. Fortunately, Tennessee has an abundant and diverse forest resource. Forest management that favors high-quality sawlogs will produce valuable products, whatever the future trends and traditions in the wood world.

Pencils were traditionally made from cedars but that is changing. Click to learn more about wood pencils.

For more information, contact:

Adam M. Taylor
Tennessee Forest Products Center
2506 Jacob Drive
Knoxville, Tennessee 37996

Phone: 865-946-1125
Fax: 865-946-1109

Adam Taylor's email