Texas Live Oak Experience?

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  • #651420
    Austin Conner
    Participant

    Does anyone have experience using Live Oak for furniture? Specifically Texas Live Oak?

    I’m in an area where I have access to slabs of live oak at a good price. I know it’s quite hard and would be difficult to hand tool. I’d appreciate your thoughts.

    #651593
    Austin Conner
    Participant

    One more shot on this one.

    What about specific advice for working very hard woods? Live oak has a Janka hardness of 2,680 lbf (11,900 N) making it about twice a hard as white oak. Is this plane-able?

    #652198
    Sven-Olof Jansson
    Participant

    Dear Austin,

    Apart from gratitude for the shade they have provided, I’ve no experience from Live Southern Oak. But, having to do with whatever the regional wholesale monopoly delivers small volume retailers, I’ve had the pleasure of working with white and red oak coming from North American latitudes well below the most southern tip of Europe; and consequently with much higher modulus of elasticity and rupture compared to those of European Oak (Querqus Robur).

    The attached photos are of a piece of white oak with a density of 0.92 Kg/dM3 (57.43 Lb per cubic foot), which is quite close to the average of Live Southern Oak (the Texan variant is probably a bit denser [sinks in water]).

    Basically, this little off-cut has everything going against it as a piece suitable for working on with hand tools. First, the grain is running oblique, leaving the faces with wide streaks of late wood upon all irons delight on bouncing from. Needless to say, it can only be planed in one direction, using a very shallow blade.

    Second, while the recipient of the ready piece was very happy with its colour, that tint came from a heartwood that had accumulated substantial amounts of silicates and other edge antagonising minerals; making planing plainly a pain. The sapwood, though not easier to bend or indent, was much more becoming.

    Third, the medullary rays really were loci of reduced resistance amidst the narrow early wood and wide late wood, which led to splits in the half concealed pins.

    Fourth, once to dimension it remains ever so smooth and very flat – like a finely machined piece of metal.

    Based on the above, I think Live Texan Oak can be brought to something quite exceptional. Quarter sawn it will have the tangential aspect on the edge and not on the face, which should make the work easier. Hopefully, there will be straight grained stuff for you to find (I’ve been told that such wood actually exists), with acceptably wide pores, and moderate extractives.

    Sven-Olof Jansson
    London, UK; Boston, MA

    #652282
    Austin Conner
    Participant

    Thank you Sven. Your photos look quite similar to the Live Oaks around here, although with smaller pores.

    I’ve been scared off of my interest in working Live Oak for the time being based on a piece of Pecan (Hickory) I picked up yesterday. Live oak is almost 50% harder than pecan and I’ve had all I care to handle for now.

    I spent two hours flattening one side of an 17”x28” (43cm x 71cm) slab. It will make a lovely small bench, but I could hardly work from one side to the other without sharpening up at some points.

    #652327
    Sven-Olof Jansson
    Participant

    Nothing at all Austin!

    With Scots Pine from Northern Scandinavia (really makes the Latin name ‘Pinus Sylvatica’ seem sensible) having Janka index, MOE, and MOR exceeding those of some hardwoods; yet being easier to work than all hardwoods I’ve come across, I asked the purchase head of the timber yard (who has more than one degree in dendrology) why this was. He explained that the resistance to tools that wood puts up is indeed related to the variables above, but in addition the amount of crystalline material incorporated – particularly to the heartwood – has a major impact on the effort needed and time spent sharpening. This was confirmed by the warehouse floor manager (50 years experience).

    Pecan and American Beech (Fagus Grandifolia) have comparable density and hardness. Preparations and dimensioning of a 11.5 sq ft kitchen top in beech took me one week; and that wood was free from any visible effects of extractives, so two hours for one face of 3.36 sq ft is probably very good progress – particularly as pecan is far less fastidious than beech, and hence more likely to grow in soil rich in minerals.

    Attach photos on stock preparation of oak with distinct differences between the heartwood and softwood, and from the kitchen top.

    All in all: the live oak could be more negotiable than the pecan, despite higher density.

    Sven-Olof Jansson
    London, UK; Boston, MA

    #652335
    Austin Conner
    Participant

    That is good information, thank you. I’ll file that away for future use. I’m so new to wood and woodworking, and there is so much I don’t know.

    One day soon I’ll feel sporty enough to give live oak a go. Today I spent a few hours with some African Mahogany to remind myself of how enjoyable hand planing can actually be.

    #656342
    Edmund
    Participant

    I’ve worked with a California variant — the Coastal Live Oak. Absolutely beautiful stuff, but it weighed so much that you’d want to carefully consider a piece of furniture of any size. A slab-top dining table or etc of this stuff would really be daunting to move.

    It was a PITA to work. It was a locally harvested slab, so perhaps I’d feel differently if it had been some carefully selected free from a professionally-managed lumber concern, but the grain was wild, it had tons of internal stresses and it moved as much as any wood I’ve ever used. Add on top of that the hardness — all work has to be done in very small increments with freshly-sharpened tools and takes much longer than you expect.

    If you’re new to hand tools, and don’t have access to any machines, you might want to pass on this opportunity for a while, especially if you’ve not worked with very hard woods yet. OTOH, if you’ve done a few projects with, say, hard maple and you didn’t find it problematic then perhaps you’re ready to try live oak.

    #656352
    Austin Conner
    Participant

    Strangely enough Edmund, I ended up with what must be a piece of Texas Live Oak in a lot I purchased from a local dealer before our quarantine period began. It was mixed in with its regular white oak cousins.

    I was an absolute pain to work with. I don’t plan on doing it again in the future, but it does look fantastic as shelves on a bookcase I built for my sister-in-law.

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