Tasmanian King Billy Pine (Athrotaxis selaginoides) is also known as just King Billy or, sometimes, King William Pine. A native to Tasmania it grows in the higher alpine areas so is not adverse to a bit of snow – but it doesn’t like fire much. Similar to Tasmania’s Huon Pine in that it just doesn’t seem to rot (well, not quickly anyway); the wood is permeated with resins which seem to protect it.
Also, like the Huon Pine, once the early settlers discovered it’s unique properties they decided to log it to the point of extinction. Although, to be fair, out of control camp fires decimated them just as much – not sure that is any better. Any remaining trees are now in protected World Heritage Areas or National Parks and anyone caught cutting one down would be publicly flogged (which would be fair enough).
The only way to get hold of any is from house demolitions and secret stashes in sheds. It was popular to use it in window frames and sills due to its extreme light weight; so any old house renovations can sometimes produce nice timber. Due to it’s rarity and the beautiful grain patterns it is much sought after by musical instrument makers (I’m told it has wonderful acoustic properties); we use it in some of our really special pieces.
It is an easy timber to work because it is so soft; can get tear out though so you need to be careful planing it. Has very tight grain as it is a very slow growing tree; can take hundreds of years to mature and can live for thousands of years (really hard to replace once it’s gone).
Identifying it is not too difficult; has a slight pinkish tinge and super fine, fairly straight grain. Huon Pine is the only local timber with similar grain but is a yellow to golden honey colour; they also have distinctive smells – you only need to cut a piece to release the smell – very nice. The timber is also extremely light which is quite odd for a tree with such fine grain. It can be confused with Baltic Pine (Norway Spruce) as they were both commonly used in window frames in older houses. The big difference is the Baltic Pine tends to have many knots and the grain is not as tight although the colouring can be very similar.
If you are fortunate enough to own something made from King Billy, treasure it. Future generations may not have the chance to have something made from this most special timber.
Tas Special Timbers: https://www.tasmanianspecialtimbers.com.au/king-billy-pine/