Tag Archives: Crane

Black Walnut: A National Defense Asset

While the Navy’s long term cultivation of oak groves and other vital woods were a strategic no-brainer in the 18th and 19th century (and they still have Navy foresters today!) it may be a little surprising to think that the Army also had an important interest in keeping stockpiles of fine lumber on hand during much of the same period.

Via the Springfield Armory National Historic Site:

The Black Walnut Tree, many of which can presently be found on the grounds, were used to make gun stocks. So why was Black Walnut used instead of other wood? Black Walnut is a hard, dense wood that is resilient. This wood, when seasoned (slowly dried), doesn’t shrink much and it isn’t prone to splitting which is key when making a gunstock.

Once a tree had been felled, the wood needed to be properly seasoned which took anywhere from 2-8 years depending on the moisture content of the wood. Because of this length of time, thousands of blanks needed to be properly stored for drying. 

Under Major James Ripley, Building 19 was constructed to store these blanks for drying.

Black walnut drying for gun stocks, Springfield Armory NHS Archives

During the Civil War, to quicken the process, a steam heated dry kiln was installed.

The Armory bought blanks from Upstate New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, and Massachusetts among others. They specifically requested wood that was fine, not knotted, or sappy to ensure the best quality for the U.S. Military Arms. While other trees were used to make gunstocks through private arms makers, Black Walnut was the primary wood used at the Armory, for small arms production, during its operating years.

By the 1820s, the armory used a Blanchard Lathe, which could carve out a rough gun stock from a blank in about nine minutes.

The last U.S. martial rifle to use a wood stock was the M14, which ceased production in 1964. Springfield Armory closed in 1968.

Yes, Virginia, the Navy has foresters

Naval Support Activity Crane is best known as the place the USN does most of their munitions research, storage and manufacturing and is the U.S. navy’s third-largest physical base in size.

While the Crane Army Ammunition Activity (CAAA), Glendora Lake Hydro-Acoustic Test Facility (they have a neat improvised laser range there) and the Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane (NSWC), employ something like 5,000-6,000 DoD civilian and contractor personnel depending on what’s going on there at any given time, and help support the state’s Camp Atterbury and the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center, the actual uniformed presence there is small.

What they do have is more than 50,000 acres of forest have been sustainably managed by dedicated foresters for more than six decades and includes the ceremonial “Constitution Grove” which helps keep the Navy’s oldest commissioned warship in fighting trim.

Navy foresters Trent Osmon and Rhett Steele from Naval Facilities Engineering Command Midwest’s Public Works Department Crane, Production Manager Robert Murphy from the Charlestown Navy Yard, and Cmdr. James Stewart, commanding officer of Naval Support Activity Crane, assess a white oak tree set aside for future use in repairing USS Constitution. (U.S. Navy photo by Bill Couch/Released)

Navy foresters Trent Osmon and Rhett Steele from Naval Facilities Engineering Command Midwest’s Public Works Department Crane, Production Manager Robert Murphy from the Charlestown Navy Yard, and Cmdr. James Stewart, commanding officer of Naval Support Activity Crane, assess a white oak tree set aside for future use in repairing USS Constitution. (U.S. Navy photo by Bill Couch/Released)

From the NHHC:

And while the landscape and available forests surrounding the Boston area has diminished, the Navy is still able to provide much of the material for this world’s-oldest commissioned warship still afloat. The forests of NSA Crane host century-old white oak trees throughout the hills and valleys, providing the logs that are formed into planks for the sturdy hull. Even stands of middle-aged white oak, 70 to 80 years old, are set aside for future restoration efforts of this mighty ship.  The management goals of this forest fit perfectly with the ability to provide large white oak trees for this great, heritage rich, cause.