Working with Cedar is, for me, a real joy. I like the tree, and the wood. I like finding dead and dry branches, 1-2 inches in diameter that which are mostly red (mature) wood. That branch will come from a fully mature big Cedar tree. Off the lower portion of the trunk will be a tangle of branches meeting that description. These branches are dead and have minimal bark to deal with. I find it to be a very easily carved wood. It is soft enough to let a sharp knife slide through it with ease.
There are a lot of natural features associated with Cedar wood. These are irregularities that form, mostly from where very small branches used to be. Sometimes I split larger cedar rounds into billets (pieces of wood ready to be made into a rattle). Even these often have some irregularity to exploit. I am very interested in these small natural features, cracks, bumps, nubs and all the other irregularities. They are there for me to take advantage of. When proper attention has been paid to them, these features look and feel beautiful in the finished handle. I will blog a post about making Cedar handles soon.
Eastern Red Cedar is common in parts of Georgia. As I understand it, a lot of Red Cedar tree stands were cut down anywhere there were apple orchards. “Cedar Apple Rust” can be devastating to apple orchards. It requires both apple trees and Red Cedar trees to complete its life cycle. Removing the Cedar trees removed the Rust problem for apple growers. So, there I rarely see mature Red Cedar trees where I live in the north Georgia mountains. I head south for my favorite source.
For the last decade I have harvest armfuls of branches from one particular Grandmother Cedar tree (seen above, she is pretty well trimmed). It grows on the beautiful quarry property of my dear friend, Joyce. Every few years I will harvest it for some branches. Many beautiful branching and straight, short and long, simple and complex rattles from that tree. It is now time to find one of her sisters to develop a relationship with.
Trying to estimate how many Rattle handles I have made is tricky. I might guess 400-500. And as many Rattle handles that I have made, there were even more TINY CEDAR DOWELS carved. More dowels because every rattle uses at least one, and some branching rattles may use 2 or 3 or 4. These tiny dowels are a RattleHead unique design feature that help bind the top end of the rattle. I place the dowel through a hole drilled in the rattle handle post. I tie around the post and around the dowel. I think they work and look great! I also like tiny Black Walnut dowels and I’ve tried other woods as well. Cedar is my favorite for this purpose. So, I have spent a lot of time making tiny Cedar dowels.
The TINY CEDAR DOWELS are the one feature consistent through all the rattles I make. They all have at least one! Everything else changes (the gourds, the handles) but this one feature stays consistent.
So when you see a gourd Rattle with a tiny Cedar dowel at the end of it, you know it is a RattleHead Rattle!
I use a different knife now, though I like this older picture. I like to cut out 2-3 inch diameter rounds, about 3 inches in length of very red Red Cedar. Then I use a solid knife as a froe to split that round into 1/4 inch square/triangular/whatever 3 inch pieces. These pieces can have a post cut at either end. Then cut off the dowel with strong garden clipper getting two from each piece. Trim and sand the end a bit. Repeat many times if your making a lot of rattles!