slow train coming

There’s slow food, slow train coming, slowhand Clapton – and slow-grown oak. This is a concept I have covered before on the blog, but there’s many new readers these days. I  have two sections of oak I’ve been working lately that illustrate the differences between fast-grown and slow-grown oak very well.

On the left above is a piece of red oak that is about 4″ high x 1″ thick. It’s riven radially and planed green. I counted somewhere in the vicinity of 70 years of growth on this one piece.

Next to it is a stile for a joined chest – also red oak, it seems to be about 16 years’ worth of growth there, in 3 1/2″ of stock.  Technically, the fast-grown stuff is stronger than the opposite; with fewer years, there’s fewer earlywood open pores. thus a greater concentration of dense material.

The slow-grown stuff has so many bands of early wood, the porous vessels that grow in the springtime; that it is lighter in weight, and has less strength in some aspects than the fast stuff.

when every thing else is equal (straight, no knots, large diameter, etc )  I would much rather use the slow stuff. It works easier, and has a better “grain” than the fast growth.

Here are the same two sticks of wood, the slow one behind, the fast one in front. On the radial face, the slow one’s appearance is much more even, the fast one stripey-looking. When carving them, the fast one is bumpy as you cut across the transitions from early wood to late wood. Bump, bump, bump as you trip across those pores.

Both of these particular sections were very nice-splitting oaks; the fast one surprisingly good. Its radial face was dead-flat and just needed smoothing. But I have relegated it to the rear framing of an oak carved chest underway, because I don’t want to look at it.

I have seen some English furniture of the 17th century that has fast grown oak; but the New England stuff, and the better-quality English stuff is in finer-grained oak.

Here’s a detail view


With 350 years of patina, the stripey look isn’t too jarring, but when new it is distracting to me.

A New England chest, oak framing around a pine panel. pine lid above. But the oak is the slow-grown stuff I have harped about enough now.

Most of these photos should enlarge considerably, so to really see them, skip the phone & other tiny devices. Like the Rolling Stones, these should be played loud – I mean opened up big.


12 thoughts on “slow train coming

  1. I actually use a fair amount of red oak down here near DC. We do have white oak but I tend to use that for European projects.

    I think a lot of it boils down to the availability of old slow growth wood and what one can get their hands on, let alone afford.

    Id rather use a faster (relatively speaking) oak than no oak at all…or more succinctly, to see it used for furniture or some heirloom type project than….gulp…firewood. (thats what the twisty and knotty stuff is for!)

  2. To whit, I do sometimes use white oak for stiles since they tend to touch the ground….in our humid climate that makes more sense. Vertical stuff tends to be red.

  3. But what is the difference between the two trees these came from? I mean, why would one oak grow more slowly than another? Is it climate change, less nutrition? Curious minds are being curious!

  4. I’ve followed your blog for several years now and keep returning because of your great content and unbelievable carving. As your are such a great carver, any chance we’ll see what kind of pumpkins you put on display? Is it the “carver’s kids have no pumpkins” at the Follansbee Halloween party, or do you put those great skills to use into jack-o-lanterns? You popped into my mind as I was carving pumpkins for my kids today so I thought I’d ask.

    Thanks for doing what you do. Us hobby woodworkers really appreciate it!

  5. As a house carpenter, rather than a joiner, I do not use the same standards for aesthetics so this comparison was very interesting. I was aware fast growth, ring-porous woods are stronger than slow growth; now I will be aware of the aesthetics. In a similar vein, most old houses are built with slow growth wood which is much better than wood typically available today. Slow growth wood is stiffer, stronger, more rot resistant, holds nails better, and may resist insects better. Too bad their is a common “out with the old in with the new” philosophy amongst average carpenters today.

    • Old houses where? what’s old in one place is of no account elsewhere…I think the slow-growth softwoods are actually the opposite of the slowgrown hardwoods. In softwood, I think the slow stuff is the more dense material. R. Bruce Hoadley’s books “Understanding Wood” and “Identifying Wood” are the best sources I know of for learning the ins & outs of timbers.

      • Bang on Peter, a slow grown softwood (conifer) is denser than fast grown of the same species but there are exceptions and depending on the strength characters required fast grown is generally stronger at least for modulus of rupture and elasticity however for radial and tangential compression I’m not sure but probably not.
        Thanks for the tip, too bad old growth and slow growth oak don’t exist in this part of the world(NZ). We are stuck with fast grown (20% denser than English oak) which is apparently murder on bench-saws, routers and such so this riving approach opens doors for working with oak.
        On the question of why one slow and one fast, another explanation could be if the tree grew from a coppiced stump then it would grow fast until the crown area caught up with the over supply of nutrients from the big root system compared to a seedling that has to grow both a crown and roots while competing with the other saplings and trees around it. Coppiced wood has potential to be straighter and have less defects but as you say it doesn’t look right, looks like pine to me.

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