How to Read, by an Oak-snob

I’ve been slow to add stuff to the blog here. Time to correct some of that. Today’s chore is splitting up some leftover bits of oak, and some newly dropped-off bits. Here’s how I read these, and how I decide what to split from a few different bolts. the first one is an old one, been split & hanging around a long time, over a year I’d say. It was given to me about 2 months ago. Free wood is sometimes not worth it. this is one of those cases. Note how the radial plane is cupped. This isn’t from drying, it’s the way the tree grew. The medullary rays curve from the center of the tree to the bark. So if I want wide flat stuff from this, I have my work cut out for me. What I do with such a piece of wood depends on several things: what I need at the time, how much effort I want to put into it, and how much other wood I have around. These days, wood is in pretty good supply, time much less so. Thus, I want to get the best piece I can from this as quickly as possible.

The ruler shows how “un-flat” the split is.

The piece was 26″ long, but with the checking at each end, I expect to get about 22″ length out of it. Just right for a joined stool stile (leg). So I opted to split a 2″x 2″ square out from right below the sapwood. First split with the froe gets off the inner twisted bits.

Next I split off the sapwood & bark. Surprise, the sapwood sheared off across the grain. Usually a log that has been around this long has punky rotten sapwood – I expect that. But to shear off like that means there’s something underneath…

And there was – some deformity curving the grain near one end. So didn’t get my 2″ x 2″ x 22″ stile. The resulting piece could be a ladderback chair front post (something I want to build, but have no time for right now. I’ve made parts for 3 of them so far this fall.) or the leg to a workbench out in the yard. I already have maybe 4 of those benches. On to the next split.

This one’s big & fresh. Just came in yesterday. Bark looks good. Very wide bolt, maybe 12″ or more.

But a big knot creating disturbed grain all around it, the full bottom third or more.

I always am working between getting the biggest piece (widest) I can, or getting the best piece of wood I can. Usually I want the best one. Which in this case, is much narrower than what I first expected from a section like this. See the ruler here, the best (straightest, flattest, least-work) piece is from the 10″ mark to 15″. So that’s what I split.

 

Now the distorted stuff is isolated in the right-hand section, destined for firewood.

Then I further split the remaining stuff into four thin boards for carved boxes, or narrow panels for the sides of some chests. Once I don’t think about where they came from, these are excellent clear, straight boards. This is a case of free wood that is worth it.

One of the older bits looked promising: wide, maybe 7″ or more. 24″ long.

But when I sighted down its length, lots of twist from one end to the other. I didn’t shoot it well enough, but you can generally read the twist down at the far end. Its right hand corner is high, as is the left corner nearest us. Means some hewing before planing. Not fatal, but maybe there’s better wood out here.

Yup. Fresh too. (that means easier to work…) Shorter, but wider.

When I scooch down and sight its radial plane, dead flat! That’s the stuff I’m after…

Gonna have lunch and find some more like this one.

 

Want to learn more about how to read these logs – Plymouth CRAFT has a weekend class coming up that’s just the ticket.  https://www.plymouthcraft.org/riving-hurdlemaking-weekend

Riving, hewing, drawknife work. Me, Rick McKee ( https://www.instagram.com/medullary_rick/  and https://blueoakblog.wordpress.com/  ) and our friend Pret Woodburn will show you all we know about opening oak logs and what to do with them.

 

 

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