Friday, April 30, 2010


This tree got blown down in one of the recent windstorms, of which there seem to have been more than normal this spring.  It’s been sitting down at the cutting area, patiently waiting for me to get to it. Today was the day.

It’s catalpa, which is not a well known tree in this part of the world, native to river valleys in Ohio and vicinity. It is very popular as a street tree, since it seems to withstand pollution very well. It has big seed pods that hang off it all winter, making it quite easy to spot once you know that factoid.

The wood is dark, the grain is kind of like ash but darker, and it has a very distinctive smell when cut.  It is a “hardwood”, but is still relatively soft, close in hardness to chestnut or alder.

I had a couple nice catalpa logs last winter, this is the first decent one I have found this winter. I am pretty sure I'm the only guy in town with several hundred bf of catalpa stacked up beside the house!

Unfortunately the camera died right after I took this first (and thus only) picture. You can see where I was cutting the trunk just at the point where the branches begin. The branches were kind of wild and uneven, I am sure they would have produced a lot of very splitt-y and unusable wood. After I got this cut done, I peeled the rest of the bark off the trunk part, rolled the log slightly to move the knob on top over to the bottom, moved the other chunk with the branches out of the way, and set up my guide (an 8’ long 2x8) on the top.

Conditions were perfect - the sky was clear, the log was on a bit of an angle so that gravity helped the cut, the wind was strong and blew all the dust and exhaust away from me as I cut, and the chains were sharp. I peeled 6 2 1/2” thick by 6' long by about 18" - 24" wide slabs off the log before I came to a bad knot in the wood and decided to call it a day.

Here is the result, temporarily leaning against the garage next to the Elm of Death. The visible face of the catalpa shows the nasty knot that caused me to stop cutting. The other slabs are not that bad.

All in all a very nice day resulting in some very nice wood, and I was there and back in 2 1/2 hours. Only had to stop to sharpen once.

Getting close to the end of the cutting season now, probably only a couple more weeks. It doesn’t matter to me though, I have no storage space left! It's actually good, I will get to spend more time in the shop building stuff.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Mystery Conifer Identified

After several weeks of not really knowing what the mystery conifer was/is, I think it is figured out now.

The trunk is close to four feet in diameter, and you can see the branches are quite large relative to the trunk. I did slab up a branch a couple weeks ago, that was my first introduction to it.  At the time, I was told it was a fir.

The growth rings are quite wide, so obviously it was very happy growing here. Whoever cut it down cut the trunk into pieces about 2 1/2' tall to make it easier to manage. I was skeptical of it being fir, my initial guess was cedar of Lebanon. I posted some pictures on a website specializing in milling, and asked for suggestions. Hemlock seemed to be the most popular suggestion of that group. As I investigated further, in particular by looking at the bark, I realized that it likely was not cedar of Lebanon, but the closely related deodar cedar.

Anyways, today I was down there cutting this round into quartersawn boards (not the one above, it's ugly. The one below.).

I got 12 quartersawn boards out of the half away from the big branch, for a total of about 100 bf. It's a lovely aromatic wood, would make great drawer bottoms or backs of cabinets, similar to Port Orford cedar's uses. There is a contrast between the heartwood and the sapwood though.

As I was cleaning up to go, a guy came by to drop off a load of pine he had cut down. He said that he was the arbourist who had felled the mystery conifer, it came from a house in south west Vancouver, and that it was  . . . deodar cedar!

I was well pleased with my sleuthing. And my cutting.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Elm of Death - Pt II

Well I wasn't going to give up on that elm, no way! I went at the second half of it with my 60" chainbar. The big bar was necessary because although the log was less than 30" in diameter for most of its length, it widened out to 53" at one end where there was a very promising crotch.

The first thing that happened as soon as the chain touched the wood was that the chain came off. I have never had that happen before. Luckily it did not whip around or anything scary like that. Turns out a couple of teeth had their drivers damaged though, so I spent some time filing the drivers. I also took the opportunity to dress the bar as I noticed it was developing a ridge.

After two hours of work I still did not have a slab cut out! By the end of four hours I had three slabs out of this log, and I was done done done for the day. The third slab was so heavy it took four guys to carry it into my van. I could have taken off a couple more slabs, but I was too tired to push the saw and the grain was a bit rustic looking.

Pushing the 60" bar is too much for just one man. I need to bring a buddy to help with it next time.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Elm of Death

I've slabbed up a couple big elms in the past. I guess I forgot how much work they are! This one was a street tree that blew down in the recent storms.

Trees weren't the only things that got messed up by the winds. Three sailboats wound up on the local beaches. One was destroyed, one was vandalized, the third has a concrete hull and no-one has any idea what to do with it.

Anyways, onto the elm. I felt like a mouse trying to eat an elephant when I started on it.  The trunk portion of it was wider than about 30", which is as wide as my mill can handle. So I spent a lot of time trimming the sides so it would fit my mill. Then since the log was too long I had to cut a 'slot' at the point where I wanted to pull the mill out. I got 8 pieces 2 1/2" thick and about 5'6" long, as there was a big crotch above this. 

On my best days, I can average about 20 minutes per slab, this is from the time I leave my house until I return. This log took over an hour per slab, and I had to do it over two days, just for the one part. All the bark had to be peeled off, then the edges trimmed, the end with the splits cut off, then a notch cut in the middle for the mill to exit in. It was tough, tough going.

I was happy with the performance of the mill(s) though, especially my main one. The new chain and new sprocket continue to work well. The chain does not cut super fast, but does leave a reasonably smooth finish on the boards, except where it gets hung up or stops moving, it leaves a bit of a gouge. Very similar to resawing a board on a bandsaw. Slow, steady constant feed pressure is the key. I am experimenting with different raker settings to see if I can get the mill to feed a bit more easily.

This log held a couple of surprises too. First of all, it did not stink, which was a nice surprise. All other elms that I have cut up smelled awful. This one was practically scent free. A guy who was cutting firewood at the same time as I was there tried to convince me that it was maple. I almost was ready to believe him but there were some leaves still on it that were clearly not maple. The second surprise was the grain - the other elm logs I cut up had beautiful straight grained sections, but this one was swirly with inclusions and kind of irregular throughout. I suspect it might be a different variety of elm than I have seen in the past.

After I cut these slabs out, I peeled the bark off the top half of the log with the crotch on it, cut off a big branch that was in the way, then cut it to length. I hope to go back and get it in a couple days if no-one else beats me to it! I'll need my 60" bar as the crotch part is 53" wide. And there are lots of other logs waiting there still.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Another Busy Couple of Weeks With Nothing to Show for it

"Well I think I have solved my wood storage crisis.". I saw this in my last post and laughed. The new storage area is nearly 3/4 full already.

There have been a couple big windstorms recently that brought down a number of trees around town, probably the biggest winds in a couple years. I slabbed up about 100 bf each of alder, cherry(!) and what for now we will call the mystery conifer. The log dump area is packed with other goodies, elm, catalpa, maple, more alder, more cherry, as well as some mystery conifer logs that are 43" in diameter!

For no apparent reason I have started to work on a stand for my 12" Beaver bandsaw. I guess I needed a break from the bookcase!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

How Much Wood Could a Woodchuck Use if a . . .

Well I think I have solved my wood storage crisis.

I've taken over a corner of the backyard behind the garage. It has the advantage of being north facing so it does not get any direct sun. Disadvantages are that being a corner the breeze is obstructed in two directions, the ground is kind of damp, and I can't pile things too high without it becoming visible to the neighbours.

The theoretical maximum storage capacity is four stacks of 15 slabs, each slab 2 feet wide by 2" thick. That's just shy of 2000 bf. However, not all slabs will of course be that size, some will be shorter, or narrower. But this is certainly enough space to see me through until the late spring when I stop milling. Right now the pile has on it the maple I got recently, as well as some more very nice old growth Douglas fir that is close to 2 feet wide.There are a couple slabs of alder in the middle of the pile, they have a very orange tinge to them.

The day after I set this up I was down at the warehouse where I am storing the Mini project. Serendipitously, leaning up against the wall covered in dirt and grime were a bunch of those corrugated fibreglass thingys. I asked and they were mine. Extra sweet since the 8' ones are more than $20 each new. Saved probably a couple hundred on that score. They are great for covering piles of wood to protect them from the rain.