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Value of a Large Norfolk Pine

An interesting species to woodturners, this tree has an unusual history. August 29, 2006

I have a chance to score a Norfolk pine about 60 ft tall and 30 inches in diameter at the base in San Francisco. Is this tree worth going after?

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From contributor K:
These trees are so rare that you will have no market. That said, I have seen the wood processed and it is attractive. It is very soft lumber. If you are getting it for free and have the need/skill, it is an opportunity. Otherwise it sounds like a lot of work for not a lot of reward. Do some further looking around. I have seen some very nice bowls turned from this species. At this size tree, you could get some superb bowl blanks. My dad has had one of the trees in his office or home for decades.

From contributor G:
I have been looking for someone with one of these trees for three years. I turn bowls and urns, and this is one of the rare softwoods that are worth turning because of the color contrast made by the symmetrical knots. However, most people who don't use a lathe have no idea how to cut blanks from this tree, or any tree. I would imagine that you could sell blanks cut correctly for a hundred dollars apiece.

The idea that they're "so rare, they have no market" is an uninformed thought. There are turners in the SF area who will pay you more than you'd expect if the wood isn't butchered when it's cut into rounds. Remember, the worth of what you have is closely related to how much you know about how to cut it.

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Just a bit more about this wood. Norfolk Island (3 miles by 5 miles) was "discovered" by Captain Cook in 1774 and was called a paradise, although native Polynesian people used it prior to his "discovery." Do you recall "Mutiny of the Bounty" and that the mutineers settled on Pitcairn Island? After some years, the population of Pitcairn Island became fairly large, so in 1856 a group moved to Norfolk Island. Presently the island belongs to Australia. It was used as a penal settlement prior to settlement by the mutineers. It does not have a natural harbor, so it was not a desirable place for early people. However, it did have these wonderful trees. In fact, the island was the source of seeds for these trees for quite some time.

I mention all this because with this history (or ambiance), the wood could take on a special meaning and be worth more than most wood. The key is to be able to tell the purchaser this story and then for the purchaser to be able to relay this special character to his/her neighbors and prospective customers of his/her wood products. In other words, it might look like just another wooden bowl, unless the producer of such wood can create labels, laser engraving, or other means of notifying everyone of the specialness of this wood.

The office version of this tree is indeed beautiful, but when outside, this tree, with its spreading branches, seems like a sentinel of beauty.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor A:
I'm a New England wood turner residing in Hawaii. I have recently discovered the joy of turning Norfolk pine. That said: let it sit for a couple months and it will start to spalt. Wood turners will value that tree as bowl blanks. Most Norfolk pine bowls are turned as end grain. So we turners are looking for sections of log that can be turned between centers on our lathes. Don't "split" the log segments as is commonly done for bowl blanks - turners will pay money for them.