One Man's Dying Tree is Another Man's Dining Room Set

It's a common misconception among nonwoodworkers that one of the advantages of that hobby is that you can save a lot of money over buying furniture from the store.  It only takes one trip to the lumber yard to cure that.  It would probably have some truth to it if the typical woodworker were willing to just bang out a piece using particle board and laminate, but part of the draw of the hobby is being able to make something that stands apart from your standard particle board "box of boxes" from Ikea. 

Over the winter we had some trees taken down.  There was a black oak and a maple that were on death's door; (What tool does the Grim Reaper bring for a tree?  A scythe seems inadequate.) a bunch of invasive ailanthus that were crowding out our black walnut; and a locust with a failing root system that was leaning toward the house.  From the direction of the lean, it looked like it was planning on bisected our bed when it went and take us with it. 

As much as I would have liked to claim the man-cred of taking down my own trees,  The rather dense spacing of the neighborhood and the fact that we're penned in on both sides by lawyers made me very aware of current liability law.  We opted to have an arborist take the trees down, but I did request that they leave the larger parts behind.  The plan was to have a portable saw mill come the following week to cut up the logs.  Then Jack Frost realized that winter was almost over and he was a bit behind quota.  I think he may have overshot the mark.



And that was before the second 21 inches of snow fell.  By the time the snow melted, the lawn dried out, and I had my miscellaneous business trips and external reviews out of the way, it was May and I was starting to get pointed questions when the logs would be going.  The answer turned out to be Memorial Day weekend.  One note about keeping logs.  If you just let them sit, they'll start to dry out, and cracks will form at the ends.  This is known a checking, and once they start, the cracks can migrate inward a ruin more and more of the wood.  More on this later. 

Carl from B&K Timber Mill showed up with his Wood-Mizer.  I dare you to try to think of a more impressive piece of kit than this.  Go ahead.



It made pretty short work of the logs.  Not all were suitable for turning into lumber,  We processed five in all and it took about an hour per log.  All you have to do is manhandle the log onto the lowered hydraulic lifter arms.  This is where the manual labor comes in.  Once the log is in position, the arms lift onto the bed, and a set of hydraulic clamps and pistons can flip it into whichever orientation you need.  Then the band saw zips down the track and cuts a pass.  For the oak, we squared of the logs first, removing just enough get rid of any bark.  Then we cut into 4/4 (1-inch) boards.  I'm a bit of a fan of mission style furniture, so I wanted to keep my options open about those big chunky table legs you sometimes see.  I had Carl cut a couple 4-inch thick slabs as well.  Moving those turned into an adventure in itself. 

The maple was a special case.  logs were fairly short and bent.  Getting them into a rectangular block would have wasted a lot of wood.  Instead we opted just slicing them into 2-inch thick slabs.  It was while cutting them up that I got my surprise.  Check out the picture.


See those dark streaks?  In the center of each one is a couple of small holes left by a burrowing beetle.  The insects carried a fungus that infected the wood, causing the staining.   If you look carefully, you'll also see a bunch of horizontal tiger stripes.  This is curly maple.  Carl said that in two years of sawing, this is only his second piece. 

In the end, my yard had fewer logs, a pile of sawdust, and 1500 board feet of lumber. 


Total cost was $375.  That's not bad considering that the arborist was going to charge us about $1000 to dispose of the logs.  We actually came out ahead in the deal.  Little Pete was very appreciative of the equipment, and for a short time, really enjoyed his new climbing structure.

Of course, getting it cut is just the first step.  The wood needs to be dried before it can be used.  I'll save that for another post.