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.
Red oak base moldings, reclaimed/belt sanded/planed
I’ve been busy in the studio since school ended, with new sets of oil and ink paintings underway. The wood shop has been getting plenty of use as well. I was fortunate to reclaim several truck loads of red oak base moldings which were otherwise destined for the landfill. There are plenty of nails to remove but the wood cleans up well, as you can see in the photo above. Because the oak is red and flat sawn, there is not much to compel a full clean-up. Instead, the wood tends to hold more life in the median state– refreshed without being made new, cleaned up without being stripped of its history. During this process I happened to be reading Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac, and came across the following resonant passage:
The spring flood brings us more than high adventure; it brings likewise an unpredictable miscellany of floatable objects pilfered from upriver farms. An old board stranded on our meadow has, to us, twice the value of the same piece new from the lumberyard. Each old board has its own individual history, always unknown, but always to some degree guessable from the kind of wood, its dimensions, its nails, screws, or paint, its finish or the lack of it, its wear or decay. One can even guess, from the abrasion of its edges and ends on sandbars, how many floods have carried it in years past.
Our lumber pile, recruited entirely from the river, is thus not only a collection of personalities, but an anthology of human strivings in upriver farms and forests. The autobiography of an old board is a kind of literature not yet taught on campuses, but any riverbank farm is a library where he who hammers or saws may read at will. Come high water, there is always an accession of new books.