Probably the oldest timber in the world which has been subjected to the use of man is that which is found in the ancient temples of Egypt. It is found in connection with stone-work which is known to be at least 4,000 years old. This wood, and the only wood used in the construction of the temple, is in the form of ties, holding the end of one stone to another in its upper surface. When two blocks were laid in place, then it appears that an excavation about an inch deep was made in each block, into which an hour-glass shaped tie was driven. It is therefore very difficult to force any stone from its position. The ties appear to have been the tamarisk," or chittim-wood, of which the ark was constructed, a sacred tree in ancient Egypt, and now very rarely found in the valley of the Nile. Those dovetailed ties are just as sound now as on the day of their insertion. Although fuel is extremely scarce in that country, those bits of wood are not large enough to make it an object with Arabs to heave off layer after layer of heavy stone for so small a prize. Had they been of bronze, half the old temples would have been destroyed ages ago, so precious would they have been for various purposes.
Rankine says there are certain appearances characteristic of good wood, to what class soever it belongs. In the same species of wood that specimen will in general be the strongest and most durable which has grown the slowest, as shown by the narrowness of the annular rings. The cellular tissue, as seen in the medullary rays (when visible), should be hard and compact. The vascular or fibrous tissue should adhere firmly together, and should show no wooliness at a freshly cut surface, nor should it clog the teeth of the saw with loose fibers. If the wood is colored, darkness of color is in general a sign of strength and durability. The freshly cut surface of the wood should be firm and shining, and should have somewhat of a translucent appearance. In wood of a given species the heavy specimens are in general the stronger and more lasting. Among the resinous woods, those having the least resin in their pores, and among non-resinous woods those which have least sap or gum in them, are in general the strongest and most lasting. Timber should be free from such blemishes as "clefts," or cracks radiating from the center; "cup-shakes," or cracks which partially separate one layer from another; "upsets," when the fibers hare been crippled by compression; "windgalls," or wounds in a layer of wood, which have been covered and concealed by the growth of subsequent layers over them; and hollow or spongy places in the center or elsewhere, indicating the commencement of decay.
The finest and most costly of the veneer-woods is French walnut, - a wood that does not come from Frarce, but from Persia and Asia Minor. The tree is crooked and dwarfed, and is solely valuable for the burls that can be obtained from it. These are large tough excrescences, growing upon the trunk. In this the grain is twisted into the most singular and complicated figures. The intricacy of these figures, combined with their symmetry, is one of the elements that determine the value of the burl. Color and soundness are other elements of value, which varies very widely. Burls worth from $500 to $1000 each are not rare; and at the Paris Exposition of 1878 one burl weighing 2,200 pounds was sold for $5,000, or upwards of $2 a pound.