sifting through two new logs

looking at the end grain of a red oak

Rick McKee & I went to the sawmill not too long ago & got 2 new oak logs. One red, one white. The red one’s for joinery, the white one’s for chairmaking. The past two weeks I’ve started sifting through them making them into parts of things.

starting the split

We split them at the mill, I have no way to get the whole log down to my backyard & shop. The white oak was an 8-footer, and I only bought 6′ of the red oak, leaving the mill 12′. Eighty cents a board foot. Neither of them were the best logs, but they were the best we could find in some small piles of oak logs. And they’re both working out very well, better than expected even.

short term storage

With winter coming on, storing the green wood is easier. No insects to be concerned with. Above are six-foot sections standing against a ivy-covered stone wall/embankment. Their bottom ends are not in the dirt, but standing on some reject oak sections. The greyer ones are pieces from previous collections that for one reason or another never got used. They become firewood. I like this vertical storage because it’s easier to select the next piece to work from. Rather than having to lift them from a pile, I just tilt them out and bring them down one at a time to be split further into parts. (at the top of that view is the road, just below out of sight is the riving brake, then the shop. That’s why you hear so much traffic in some of my videos).

But some green wood is in piles.

more green wood

On the north side of the shop, on timbers to keep it off the ground, is a small pile of odds & ends. One chunk of the white oak, but only four feet long. Some turning stock, maple & cherry and a longer piece (the last one) of this year’s hickory harvest. In my experience, those cheap tarps are awful at keeping things dry but they excel at keeping things wet. Now that I have the white oak for bending chair parts, I’ll soon cut up the remaining hickory and make it into Windsor chair spindles. The turning stock is for the cupboard I’m making.

planing long rails in red oak

I have framed much of that cupboard, but had a few small, but long, rails to prep. Then onto drawer fronts and backs. These parts are around 40″ long. I start by planing a clear radial face, getting it flat & true. Then hewing off the two tangential faces back outside. Then back to planing. Then back to hewing & back to planing. Not the most efficient, but a nice rhythm to it. One I’m quite familiar with.

hewing red oak

The cupboard has so many parts, more than 40 just for the frame, I label them as I make them.

drawer fronts and backs begun

But I don’t spend the whole day processing stock. I do that for the first half, then onto something else after lunch. So I got out the short square blocks that make some of the front stiles to the lower case & cut the mortises in them. These small (1 1/4″ to 1 1/2″ long) mortises are a pain. I have a hard time chopping them like a real mortise, so I bore them with an auger bit then clean them out with a chisel. So it takes twice as long. These blocks are 9 1/8″ long and 3 1/4″ square. There’s 4 of these in the lower case, and two shorter ones in the cornice. These two frame the top drawer to the lower case.

lower case front stiles

The white oak is for chair making. I’m only making one chair right now, the JA ladderback that I’m making as a video. I bent the posts for that a week ago. I don’t often get white oak – I’m a little leery of it for my joinery because I have a harder time drying it than red oak. But for chairmaking I love it. Bends like nobody’s business.

JA ladderback rear posts

Here’s a reject chair post that checked a day or two after I shaved it. It was close to the middle of the tree and pretty wiggly. That’s what I didn’t bother bending it. I just stuck it in the corner and a few days later saw the checking. The ones I used, further out in the tree, are fine.

checking in a reject white oak chair post

One chair I want to try to make this winter is Curtis Buchanan’s comb back – his “new” one which he’s been making for decades now. I needed a large chunk of thick stock to make the bending form & found some fake beams someone was throwing away at the dump. Nearly 3″ thick white pine. Perfect. This comb is 31″ long or so.

new comb back crest bent

That’s much of what I’ve been up to. Soon I’ll have the cupboard framed and begin making the parts for the moldings, etc. If you were here last year you saw that same cupboard in great detail – here’s a link to a whole big pile of blog posts about it

I got that by searching for “Essex County cupboard project” – the search button often can help you find stuff I’ve blathered on about for the past 14 years or so. But the organization of the material is not great. You might get swept down some rabbit holes.

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

sawn stock

well, I mentioned last week that this year I will be working some sawn stock. Already I have the walnut high chair that is underway; but recently the carpenters at work hired the local fellow who runs a bandsaw mill. While he was here, we had him saw up a white oak that didn’t quite make it as riving stock. There was enough twist in the log that made it obvious that riving it would waste a lot of wood. So I asked him to saw a bunch of 1″ and 2″ stuff from it.

squaring up the white oak

He had to slab off some of the flared end of the log. His mill handles 26″ wide, I think. so after running it through a bit to even things off, then it was a matter of what stock to cut where/when. I didn’t want to spend a lot of time agonizing about it, we had a number of people around to move this wood, and many other sawing projects for the day. I was essentially cutting in line. So quick was key. I chose to cut 2″ stuff off the top, I think we took 2 planks at that size, then one of 6/4 – by then we were nearing the middle of the log, so I switched to the 1″ stuff at that point.

sawyer's view

My plan was to then take these 1″ thick boards & rip them down the middle to approximate some quartersawn stock. We ripped three of these boards, the center board and one north & south of it.

ripping them down the middle

It was noisy, but quick. It’s been years since I have regularly pitsawn stock; so I’ll take what I can get. These sort of mills do real nice work, they have a fairly narrow kerf. We stickered & stacked the stuff right off the saw, onto the forks of the tractor, then just set the pile down on some bunks. I later broke it into two stacks. And there it sits. You”ll see this white oak later in the year.

stick & stack

white oak sawn stock

This is one of two piles from that log. The plank on top is an oldie, put there to cover the stack. The thinner stuff is in the middle of the pile. I rarely have wood like this on hand; it will take me quite a while to use this up.

white oak

the end view shows the quartered stock in the middle as well. Sandwiched between some wide stuff on bottom, with a heavy plank above.

thanks to the whole crew for making it happen, and Michael for snapping the pictures.