A Growing, Sustainable Resource
Incense-cedar is a hearty, drought-tolerant species that grows in a variety of soils in abundance throughout it’s natural growing range of the inland forests of central and northern California (as Calocedrus decurrens) and in southern Oregon (as Libocedrus decurrens). Though widely distributed in elevation it flourishes within the 2,000 to 6,900 foot (610 to 2,100 meter) elevation range.
Unlike species that occur in groves, Incense-cedar can be found scattered among Douglas-fir, Jeffrey Pine, ponderosa pine and other species that dominate the mixed-conifer forest. Incense-cedar generally averages about 5% of the trees in a stand though in more concentrated stands may make up 20-30% of all the trees. Despite it’s popularity in a range of uses, Incense-cedar has never become a mono-cultural plantation species as with other commercial western softwoods. As a prolific seed-cone producer it readily regenerates and proliferates aggressively re-populating any available site on the forest floor. It’s germination and survival rate are excellent relative to other softwoods.
Given historical preference for more commercially desirable species on private timberlands, the greatest abundance of Incense-cedar is found on public timber lands in our National Forests; however, due to it’s aggressive natural regeneration and increasing trends towards selective harvest methods and multi-layered forest canopies, Incense-cedar has a growing importance on private timberlands in second and third growth forests. As a result, there is more Incense-cedar growing in California forests today than at any time during the past 50 to 70 years.
Managed reforestation of the species is also practiced by both governmental agencies and private interests. In California and Oregon there are numerous nurseries which grow Incense-cedar saplings for reforestation purposes. Significant research has also been carried out on such issues as genetic diversity, adaptability, insect resistance and survivability with respect to Incense-cedar. The application of the knowledge gained through years of research assures improved forest health and a continued sustained availability of Incense-cedar.
Why Incense-cedar for Pencils?
Incense-cedar originally began use as a substitute wood for Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) which was the favored wood for U.S. and many European made pencils dating from the mid 1800s until about 1920. Today, Eastern Red Cedar is still widely used for products that benefit from the natural cedar oil of this species. Products such as closet lining, shoe trees, coat hangers, storage chests and natural oil extracts used to produce perfumes and other cosmetics.
So what is the full story for the transition to Incense-cedar? First, California Incense-cedar was less expensive than Eastern Red Cedar which was experiencing increasing prices as tree diameter sizes declined and increasing proportions of harvest came from second cut vs. “old growth” timber. However, economics of timber costs alone do not fully explain this transition. There were certainly cheaper and more plentiful wood species than Incense-cedar. Even Incense-cedar pencil slats met initial resistance from pencil manufacturers. They needed to be stained to a more consistent deeper reddish-brown to match the accepted color of Eastern Red Cedar to break tradition.
The real story lies in the technical properties of Incense-cedar which make it uniquely exceptional for use in pencils and various other applications. It’s unique physical characteristics allow for close-tolerance, precision machining that provide a very smooth machined surface and exceptional ‘sharpenability’ in finished pencils. It’s thermal characteristics are also among the best for all softwoods. This provides dependable, predictable resistance to heat buildup which improves machining performance as well as gluing and drying.
Incense-cedar also stands up to wider variations in temperature and humidity without warping, cracking or shrinking (which is important for pencil factories in many regions of the world where there are varying climates and for pencils shipped around the world). Finally, the smooth surface and relative lack of resin canals and pitch pockets assure that cedar pencils can be easily painted or stained with lacquer or water based stains to a fine, smooth finish without bleeding or other problems.
So when you’re looking for a pencil produced from soundly managed wood species with superior performance, and get the added benefit of that great cedar smell, be sure to look for the Genuine Incense-cedar mark.