ring them bells

Although my main work is done with riven oak, I sometimes work with millsawn stock too. Particularly white pine boards that I use as secondary timber in joined chests & carved boxes. I really like white pine, and I have been lucky to have access to a good selection of wide & clear, air-dried stuff. It’s a tremendous wood to use.

wide pine boards

I have just about finished up the board chest I made this summer, done in air-dried millsawn walnut. And I almost got to the point where I like that wood, even. I have some left-over quartersawn walnut, wide and short sections, so I might be making some walnut boxes this winter.

But…still for me, the wood of choice is riven oak. I get to do a lot of hand-tool woodworking; spring, summer, fall, & winter. By far, my favorite time of year for this work is the fall & winter. Yesterday was a beautiful day in Southeastern Massachusetts; I got a chance to go out & split out some remaining red oak sections, into framing parts for a joined chest. The light has changed now, and the weather and the oak just combined to really speak to me.

I will never feel about rough-sawn boards the way I do about riven bolts of oak or ash. Opening up the log this way is so full of potential, I’ve stood by a saw, and watched each board come off, but it’s not the same. I’ve been the pitsawyer doing the same thing – but splitting it and seeing those fibers opened up, that’s it for me…

fresh riven oak

I am reminded of a phrase that runs throughout Ken Kesey’s book Sometimes a Great Notion. Kesey describes in detail various aspects of different character’s lives; and when he wants to highlight the significance of a place or feeling, he writes: “This is Hank’s bell…” (or Henry, or Joe-Ben….)


Standing in a woodpile, golden leaves falling through splintered sunlight, busting open vinegar-smelling oak, that’s my bell…one of them anyway.

Then a log truck arrived, the carpenters at the museum had picked out a bunch of logs for various tasks, and I spied some worth chasing. Once the useful logs were loaded, they filled the truck with firewood, and I saw a white ash in that pile…some beech too. A nice winter ahead.

One other bell…


8 thoughts on “ring them bells

  1. I recently came across a felled tullip tree. My friend who owns a portable mill, had it milled to various specs. Its a curious wood, with elements that remind me both of softer and harder woods. And I found, much to my delight that it can be riven fairly well—provided that one pay close attention to grain (obviously). Yet it can be directed with good chisel punches to alleviate wandering cleaving. More effort than oak, however its useful to know. Im working on a display cabinet for 17th century artifacts. I wanted to use oak, but it was simply too heavy for lugging around constantly. The tullip was a nice comprise.

  2. “Standing in a woodpile, golden leaves falling through splintered sunlight, busting open vinegar-smelling oak, that’s my bell…one of them anyway.”

    —agreed ! Its a wonderful, vibrant scent that gets me in the mood to work with it! My kids tell me they think it smells like ketchup ! I detect fine mustard and wine, but ketchup will do.

  3. I have feelings about riven boards that some might find a little odd. It always seemed to me that riving is an approach to engineer the boards to be extremely user-friendly. Because you’ve done so much normalization, you have a certain degree of flexibility in how you build things. And that’s cool. On the other hand, when you work with milled stock, the engineering work is in how you choose and lay out your joints (and how the grain will appear on the piece’s faces). The goal is the same, though: build something that looks decent.

    Living in the west, we don’t have an abundance of hardwood, so I always seem to be trying to stretch my stock of eastern hardwoods as far as I can. (Insert obligatory longing to be back in Pennsylvania here.)

  4. Have a look at; http://www.cleftoak.co.uk/

    Here it is damp, 12 o C; and though most of the leaves have fallen, they had a resurge a few weeks ago because it was so warm.

    Just cleaved some cherry for hand carving.

    I suspect you could buy “hand made” nails from Dik.biz


  5. Wow! I’m really jealous of those white pine boards. I have to agree with you. It’s fabulous wood to work with. I don’t know why it gets such a bad reputation. I love the stuff. Wish I could find some nice wide stuff like that though.

  6. Peter, you have the good life and the best part is that you know it. Have a good Thanksgiving.


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