Juniper Wood Sculpture F.A.Q.


What kind of wood is this?

My sculptures are made from Rocky Mountain Juniper wood collected personally in Montana. Rocky Mountain Junipers are some of the worlds’ oldest trees. The ones that live their lives in the harshest conditions grow gnarled and twisted as they age. By the time I get to them, they are gray, weathered, and dead, but usually still standing. Juniper wood contains natural rot and insect resistant resins, enabling the dead wood to last for centuries. 


How old is the wood?

The oldest known living Rocky Mountain Juniper tree is around 1,500 years old and counting. The specimens I use are long dead and likely lived for well over 500 years before succumbing to the elements. The most rings I have ever counted in one of my sculptures is 940, and it was an incomplete count (some of the slab was missing).

A tree is aged by counting the annual growth rings. The rings are formed by the different rates of growth during the seasons, with the lightest part of the ring representing the peak growing season. Wet years produce thicker rings than dry ones, making each slab of wood a record of climate history.

Within a grove of junipers, the annual ring thickness will be the same in all of the trees. The rings on a dead juniper can be cross referenced with nearby live trees to get a year attached to each growth ring. Scientists called dendrochronologists have used this technique to age juniper deadwood back almost 3,000 years.

Why is the wood twisted?

The exact reason old juniper trees twist as they grow is not entirely known. It is likely a combination of factors causing the tree to adapt in this way. The oldest junipers live in dry, rocky, microclimates where the gritty soil does not support other plant life. This has allowed them to avoid routine wildfires during their enormous life span. In order to survive in such an environment, junipers have adapted to be very efficient with what little moisture they have. Their root systems are immense and sprawling. Growing with such extreme twists and turns vastly increases the trees surface area, making the most out of any precipitation. Consistent high winds are common in old juniper habitats. Wind patterns can also have a strong influence on the growth of a tree.


What makes the wood insect and rot resistant?

The very slow growth of Rocky Mountain juniper trees creates an extremely dense wood. The growth rings are often tighter than fingerprint lines and only countable under magnification. The tree produces resins, oils, and phytochemicals that are highly concentrated by the dense wood. When cut, the resins and oils in juniper wood are very aromatic, with a smell similar to red cedar. Such a dense, dry, and resin-rich wood is not very desirable to rot causing fungi and most wood eating insects. That being said, when a juniper tree dies, there are juniper specific insects that go to work breaking down the bark and outermost layer of wood. They don’t bore very deep or stay very long after the bark breaks down. Many of the insect patterns on the deadwood I use are hundreds of years old.

Where/ how do you collect the wood?

On a handful of properties throughout Montana, I search the steep, rocky ravines and mountainsides in search of the perfect wood pieces. Only dead, dry wood is suitable for harvesting. For larger specimens, an extraction plan usually includes the use of winches, pulleys, and wheeled carts to safely and non-invasively remove the piece.


Are the trees alive when harvested?

No, I only harvest dead wood for my work. Some of the trees I collect have been dead for hundreds of years. The textures and weathering of the wood is a key feature of my pieces. Additionally, I have no interest in ending the life of an old growth tree for the sake of my artwork. The living trees are already perfect works of natural art.


What do you do to the wood? What is your process?

From the field, the wood is cleaned and processed using a power washer and various bark removal tools. This removes the dirt and debris coating the wood and reveals the grain pattern beneath. To create my sculptures, I remove much of the original exterior wood, exposing the tree's inner core. Guided by the natural shape of the piece, I exaggerate many of the tree's existing features. The contrasting black coloration is added using a torch. Over time, the sculpture will weather to a light grey coloration while the torched areas will remain black.


While viewing these trees turned into sculptures, it is humbling to ponder the changing world they endured. Their resilience to natural forces working against them gave them their beauty.