Tag Archives: medullar rays

memory and usefulness in red oak

Some friends had to remove a large pin oak from their back yard, as it was declining and would soon pose a hazard to their house.  They were sectioning most of the large branches and upper trunk for firewood, but were interested when I mentioned the possibility of milling some of the trunk for use in something that would last longer.  So began our adventure of brainstorming and design work, which appears to be leading us toward a coffee table and a console made from the quarter-sawn lumber.  Here are a few photos showing the transition from the original trunk to fresh sawn lumber.  The wood is currently air drying, but will be finished in a kiln this fall.

Here's the log set up on the portable mill, ready for the first cut.

When quarter-sawn, the oak reveals its striking medullar rays. There is a strong contrast between heart and sap wood, and some interesting irregularities within this wood.

We ended up with a generous stack of select cuts, most of which is 4/4 (one inch thick) stock. I kept a few pieces at 8/4 in order to have options for legs and structural members.

I'll be book matching consecutive cuts for the tops, perhaps maintaining a natural edge or two.

I’m not typically a big fan of red oak, but this one was cut effectively to reveal good flecking and a few pleasant surprises in color variation.  Last year I found a red oak crotch piece where two trunks had grown almost parallel to each other for several feet, and the grain went wild along the merging edges.  I turned two shallow bowls out of it, one of which is pictured below.

natural edge red oak bowl, 2013 (private collection)

detail of the burl, spalting, and bark inclusion

Opening a piece of wood is like unwrapping a present.  Further cutting, surfacing, and construction reveal qualities that shape meaning through function and aesthetic experience.  When this is coupled with a memory of the raw materials, a personal history that preceded the wood’s cultural usefulness, it presents a unique opportunity for a living memorial– one that can maintain vitality and relevance in daily life instead of sliding ever deeper into a mysterious past.