back to oak

Here’s some last thoughts about walnut. The driving point that I was trying to make is that the bulk of my techniques apply to oak – and don’t transfer well to walnut. (they’re even worse in cherry, but that’s another story.)

 Some readers joked “stop trying to make oak furniture in walnut” and there’s something to that, but there is a lot of 17th-century joined furniture done in English walnut; and some also in American Black Walnut. The latter is usually decorated with moldings, not carving. The English ones have both decorative methods.

My gut feeling is that the frustration I feel working this timber is mainly tied to its kiln-dried state more than anything else. I’d bet money on it.

Enough. the walnut high chair is nearing completion, so I took some time to get stock ready for what comes after.

planing white oak

Yesterday & today I have been working up some of the funny white oak that I split a while back. Once the snow piled up in earnest, any urgency was out the window. Storing green wood is quite easy during a winter like this – just leave it in the snowbank. I dug some out, and split it into blanks that will go toward some wainscot chairs I have to make this spring. It felt great to split, hew & plane some oak again. What a wood.

If you read the post about this log, you’ll remember it had some weird event in its life (probably lightning strike) that separated its core along the growth rings.  Even with that bizarre feature, there are some bolts that yield 9” wide panels; but the grain is a good deal twisted, so there’s extra work to do.

hewing upstroke


end of stroke

Working the twist out means some more hewing than usual, and when it’s this wide, I like to use a hatchet with a handle kicked out away from the plane of the hatchet head. Once again, I am using an excellent German hatchet from Jennie Alexander’s collection. (thanks, JA) To get the handle out of the way, some use a bent handle, like on a broad axe. Others have heads/eyes that are cranked over. That’s the case with this one.

German joiners' hatchet

When I get to planing a board like this, the first approach I use is to plane directly across the board with the fore plane/scrub plane. That’s the quickest and easiest way to flatten the face of this stock.

fore plane, across the grain

At this stage, I have left it this way, when I get back to this stock in a month/month & ½; then I will work it more carefully and complete the planing process. Here all I was after was producing the rough stock.

done for now

4 thoughts on “back to oak

  1. I think you are right about the kiln dried stock. I haven’t worked with air dried walnut, but I’ve worked with air and kiln dried red and white oak and there is a huge difference in hardness and brittleness in the kiln dried wood. Even air dried oak that has been sitting for years is not as hard as kiln dried stock. I think it has more to do with the rapidity of the kiln drying rather that absolute moisture content. That “softness” combined with the trueness of grain in riven stock, as you’ve said before, just can’t compare with even the best kiln dried stock.

  2. The driving point that I was trying to make is that the bulk of my techniques apply to oak – and don’t transfer well to walnut.

    Yep, i think thats correct. As for air dried walnut, i recently bought an air dried for 4 years slab that was 27″ wide X about 6 feet long for a restoration project of a period queen anne piece. The restorer had no issues with milling it but coloring it drove the restorer to the point of calling me with the distressing news that the new walnut was never going to match the old walnut.( unless i was willing to wait a couple hundred years)
    The solution? He bleached the new walnut to start from a blank canvas so to speak and the result was, it’s a near perfect match.

    Wood is funny that way, no 2 trees are exactly alike and it resists attempts to force it into a form it doesnt wanna go.

  3. I have to concur Peter.

    My experience is far more limited, but in the past 3 or 4 years of working green white oak, air dried white oak, kiln dried white oak…and a plethora of pines I have gone nearly mad trying to figure out why some things plane easier than others or even dry properly. I think its as much the season, the tree, the conditions, so many things Ive begun to keep a journal of whats working, whats not–what technique works, what doesnt.

    I am working on my kitchen cabinets and hewed out a white oak post for one side. It was about 3 x 6 inches. The wood had been quartered for 8 months, so I figured it would be ready to work into a post size piece. I brought it inside to work it(the heat is very low now as I renovate the house). Despite being quartered stock, after a day or so, I began to see hair line cracks. They are only about .5 inches and I can work around them, cut it down a bit more, but my assumptions based on what I *THOUGHT* I knew, have eluded me once again.

    The more I study and fiddle with this stuff, the more I think its a case by case basis.


    • addendum:

      the cracks appeared perpendicular to the rays…where I would least expect them. However the wood was still pretty wet (learned as I work inside it) I planed the wood pretty smooth…this may account for the cracks.

      I worked another piece from the same period, same wetness,….no issues.

      Go figure.

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