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LAS VEGAS , This week I’m in Las Vegas for one of our annual trade show pilgrimages. This show is called AWFS. Mostly, these shows seek to deafen you. One whole floor of this show is devoted to enormous industrial machines (some as big as a school bus but without the yellow paint or screaming children) that can turn wood into product. Plywood goes in one side; a chair comes out the other. That’s not an exaggeration; I’ve seen it.

But if you keep your wits about you here, sometimes you unearth something extremely interesting. Yesterday we were tipped off to a booth that was stranger than anything I’ve come across at a show.

Tom Frink of Colorado has developed a process of coloring the wood of almost any tree while the tree is still growing in the forest. Using a secret process known to only three people, he adds color to an entire tree (all the way out to the twigs) while it is still alive. It seems crazy, but the samples he and his son showed us were amazing. The wood was colored (any color) all the way through. The only part that didn’t get colored was occasionally the pith in the dead center of the tree.

Frink colored his first Aspen grove in 1964 and has been coloring trees ever since for his own use in his woodworking business. Recently he developed an allergy to wood dust and so he’s trying to find out if there are any commercial opportunities for his process. Hence, his booth at AWFS. The booth showed off some really wild samples. Imagine a maple board that looks spalted, but the spalting is purple. Or it’s green. Think about turned bowls with a bold stripe of red running through the middle. They even had some twigs that they broke open to reveal the colored middle.

Wood turners seem pretty excited about the process in particular. Apparently it’s a non-toxic procedure (“You could drink the stuff,” Frink says of the dye) and Frink promotes the fact that you can then use a lot more of the tree if it has this wild coloring throughout. He made and sold jewelry from colored branches, for example. And there’s got to be a use for the sawdust. It looks like colored confetti.

– Christopher Schwarz

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