From tree to planks

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    Joost Borst


    I just got a phone call from my girlfriend telling me that her dad is planning on taking down an american oak tree with a diameter of around 15cm in their garden and if I was interested in the wood that came of it.
    Of course I aint one to deny free wood but it did make me wonder how one go’s about turning a tree into planks.

    After a quick google I found out the following things to look out for:
    – Seal up the tree using latex paint on the ends to prevent cracking.
    – Sticker the boards every 0,5m and put the sticks directly above each other.
    – Put it in a dry area for a year to let it dry checking it with a moister meter (got that one already).

    So that leaves me with the following questions,
    – Is there a certain pattern you need to cut to get the best boards?
    – What do you do with the bark? Do you take it of straight away or leave it on during drying?
    – Can you use the center of the tree as wel?
    – I’m planning on doing everything with handsaws cause I dont have the power tools for it, would a 10pt ripsaw be okay for this or would I need a more agressive saw?

    I hope someone has experiance in this and is willing to give me pointers on what to look out for so this first attempt is a succes.



    Steve McKaskey

    Any boards you may get and going to be quite narrow. It may not be worth the effort . Greenwood carving or turning may be a better option
    Good Luck

    Austin Conner

    As Steve said, a diameter of 15cm pretty small. Any usable boards you get will be pretty small.

    Regardless, given that it’s oak, you would be better off splitting and riving the wood than try to use a handsaw. A froe and a maul would make quick work of a tree that size. Riving will also maximize the amount of quartersawn lumber you get out of the effort.

    Colin Scowen

    I get to do this quite a lot where I live, trunks in lots of different sizes. There are two things to consider. The most important, I feel, is what you might plan to do with the wood you get. 15cm diameter is not really going to get you anything to make large cabinetry from, but it will get you some material for tea light holders, small boxes, drawer pulls, legs for stools, drawer fronts, chopping boards, cutlery, artistic sorts of things like clocks, weather stations etc. I have made some pieces that people have paid for just from old wood from the firewood pile.
    You don’t say how much length you would get, but again, depends what you might want to do with it, but also on how you might have to transport it and how and where you might store it. (I can’t use anything longer than 1.5m, otherwise it won’t fit in the back of my car for example.)
    In terms of breaking it down in to usable pieces, 15cm diameter sounds about doable with a rip saw for short pieces, but again, depends how long the pieces are and how many you have to do. Personally, I would get a few splitting wedges and split the logs first. Be prepared for tension and compression to change the shape of anything you get, so don’t worry too much about getting things precise. Cut / split stuff larger than you might think you need to.
    Secondly, don’t just think planks. If you will be there helping with the felling, don’t be afraid to get some extra chainsaw time in cutting away branch junctions in a way that helps you. A three way split off the main trunk for example, can, with a bit of work, be turned in to a wonderful show piece three legged table. And take some slices across the trunk as well, sand and finish these, and then give them to your girlfriends family as platters, or coasters etc. to say thankyou.

    Colin, Czech Rep.

    • This reply was modified 4 months, 2 weeks ago by Colin Scowen.
    Joost Borst

    Thanks for the suggestions. I havent considerd splitting at all, Ill look into it. Unfortuantally I wont be there when they take it down cause I have to go to work.

    Regarding the size, I usually only make small stuff cause thats what my workmate can handle, dont have the space for a propper workbench.
    Length of the tree is around 2m so just about fits in the car.

    I’m planning on trying to atleast make two of the serving trays with alternating wood for my mother in law and my grandmother in law(is that a thing?).

    The whole endevour is basicly one big experiment and having fun doing it, if nothing usefull comes from the tree Ill just return it in pieces as firewood together with a bag of shavings to start the fire. My father in law loves his fire place 😉

    Shaun Van Arsdale

    This will help with drying if you get access to something bigger.

    Colin Scowen

    In case you still need it, I took one of my logs at the weekend and split it using wedges, a splitting hatchet and a heavy hammer. Photos show the results. To get a better set of final split parts, I maybe should have cut the knotty parts off each end of the log before starting, but, as this is only a demo and I have more logs, I am not too worried. I used plastic wedges, which work perfectly well for splitting, but which do not function well if you try to force them through a branch.
    The splits still need a deal of work to get them flatter, but that is just plane / large chisel / rip saw work that can be done on the bench.
    I would not normally use this method with a log like this, but it serves as a demonstration on how to break the log to more manageable and usable parts.
    I started by examining each end in case there were any obvious checks that can be used as a starting point to split the log in to two. Hammer the hatchet in to start a split, insert a wedge, then back to the hatchet. Start on the end, and then move down the side. On a big log like this, don’t be afraid to knock it over, sometimes that can help the split to propagate. Once it was in two pieces, then each half was split in to roughly 4 pieces (same method).
    Shorter logs may only need a single split before you decide to use a rip saw.
    There are many other ways to do this, I just happened to have this equipment available.

    Colin, Czech Rep.

    • This reply was modified 3 months, 3 weeks ago by Colin Scowen.
    Joost Borst

    I forgot to post back on the result.

    Tree went down easy enough, got a trunk of about 2m with a diameter of around 15cm.
    There was a kink at the top of the trunk so I cut that off into its own smaller piece.

    Sawn the small piece in planks straight through with a handsaw (not recommended, took me 15-20 min. per cut.

    For the main trunk I borrowed a reciprocating saw that made the job alot easier even tough it kept jamming cause of the trees size. At the end of the trunk I got fed up with sawing so I split the last 30cm with some pine wedges I made. Unfortunately the grain goes of in a wrong direction, so the rest will have to be done with a saw.

    On the large trunk I tried some quarter sawing. So I hope that turns out good.
    Its hardwork but I had fun doing it and still have to do one half of the larger trunk.

    It looks to be not much but atleast some decent looking wood.

    I added some pictures from halfway through the process.

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