Well, I have never been accused of being overly smart and in my life I have made some mistakes and picked up some scars here and there as a result, some from bad decisions and some from good ones that just got a little ‘dicey’ along the way. As they say, not all scars show on the outside. Now that I am turning a corner in my life and staring at ‘retirement’ I have to find a way to fill my mind and my hands with something positive. As I have never been treated really well by the folks I have worked for, there isn’t much in the way of funding for my retirement beyond Social Security. So I need to be able to pay all my bills and buy the basics. My wife and I have simple basic needs and I am hoping a part time income will be enough to help us get by.
So why wood? Well, I have always loved the different types of wood and enjoyed working with them, but was (and still am) not very good at it. I am just not the woodworker type I guess, but I still love the stuff and continue to try, and learn. We augment our heat in the house here with wood through the winter and in the course of splitting many cords of wood over the years I would often open up a piece of wood and wish I could make something from it because it was so beautiful or showed some unique character that I felt should be preserved. Over the years I would throw many pretty and special pieces in the woodstove. So one thing led to another as they say and here I am, following a philosophy that is a work in progress.
How does ‘philosophy’ factor into this? Well, those scars I mentioned above don’t all heal at the same rate, especially the ones you can’t see. Working with wood calms me and gives me peace, much like good home grown music. The philosophy I follow is to take something mother nature has created and is nearly done with and make something I find pleasing out of it that either I, or others can enjoy and use. From start to finish. I don’t go out and buy wood so I can get it done faster, I don’t have the highest quality wood either. In fact, some of it is downright punky and a mess when I start. But when you open it up and look inside, it can speak to you. Many pieces I have, or am making are based on what the tree told me it should be. It has a way of letting one know many times, and many times not, that you have to go further with it.
It all starts with a tree.
Maple Blow Down, Spring 2019
The tree I am cutting above came down in a windstorm and is typical of the wood I gather for projects. I harvest dead standing, blow downs and old rotten stuff that still has a good heart inside. If I open it and it’s junk, it becomes firewood or food for the insects as nature intended anyway. (They have to eat too, right?) I bypass rotted standing trees because they provide a food source for the birds feeding off this insects that inhabit those trees and there is nothing I can use from them. It’s all about taking what is no longer needed in a woodlot and making it into something useful and leaving the place cleaner. My slash (the tops and small branches) are packed into brush piles that provide shelter for small critters, and the deer like to munch on them also. In this way, I don’t feel like I am going in and just taking stuff I want, I leave something useful behind as a sort of ‘payment’.
Trees become logs.
Some of my Logs and some from the Ashokan Center for a lumber donation.
Logs get skidded to the mill and the ends painted to seal them (recycling old paint). Sometimes they sit for a while until I know what I need and sometimes they go right on the mill. Up to this point there is nothing but sweat and a little risky work involved. Now it gets interesting.
Logs become lumber.
Part of the Ashokan lumber donation.
Just about a day’s work to make that load above when it was done. A handful of logs from an Ash tree taken from the Center and returned in this form. They will using it for building and repairing things as the need arises. It’s pretty straight forward lumber that most folks could find a use for. But sometimes you open up a log and see some interesting possibilities:
Book matched pair from a Soft Maple log.
The above is a case where as soon as I cut the log, ideas were jumping into my head. As I write this, close to a year later, these pieces are nearly air dried and sitting in my shop as an upcoming project. Remember this photo in the coming months, you will see this wood again as it go through the process. For now, here is a hint, think: ‘Corner Shelf’. (Update: You can see the first finished corner shelf in the Furnishings Gallery now.)
Lumber gets dried.
Stickered pile of Ash slabs
Slabs and lumber are stacked with stickers (1” x 1” spacers) to allow airflow and uniform drying, the ends should be sealed too, but I don’t always do that (sloppy work). While it dries, we wait, and do other stuff. Then we wait some more. Some folks wait 2 years or more for air drying, some air dry down to 15% MC (moisture content) then kiln dry, and some don’t wait at all. I don’t have a kiln, so I try to air dry down to about 12% if I can, then bring it in the shop to get a little more out of it before I start making something. I try to drag it out to at least a year if I can unless it is for framing lumber, then I can use it quicker because I don’t mind a little cracking or checking after it is nailed up, it’s just as strong.
There is a bunch of waste in the process of milling. There are the slabs (first cut off each side of the log) that usually get made into firewood. They go in a pile:
Pile o’ slabs
I have been letting these dry in the pile and pulling selected pieces to make benches from. After stripping the bark with a draw knife and sanding and making legs, etc. they turn out pretty nice. It’s a very labor intensive process though for a simple rustic bench.
Rustic Bench, Maple
I’ll leave you at this point. If you enjoyed reading this, have any questions or comments, please free free to leave leave a comment here or use the contacts form to send me an email and I will answer as best I can. I write these blog entries because I think it is sometimes important to better explain what, why, and how I do things., it gives you an idea of what is involved.