Some Beautiful Oak

April 22, 2012 § 4 Comments

When buying my wood, I have two preferences – either reclaimed dimensional lumber or small, local sawyers who specialize in milling trees from the urban area. This beautiful slab of Oregon white oak with crotch figuring came from a small-shop sawyer just outside of Portland. I suppose there are two philosophies in how often to buy wood. One strategy is to buy some wood, build a project with it, and then buy wood for the next one. While practical, I would guess that this approach is also dictated by a lack of storage space. A second strategy is to just buy wood as you come across it, store it, and figure out later what you are going to build with it. James Krenov mentioned in his books that if you live with the wood long enough, it will someday speak to you and its use will become obvious. This strategy becomes more practical if you buy wood that isn’t completely dry. This was also part of Krenov’s work, as he would always have wood in various stages of dryness – some green, some on their way to being dry, and some dry and ready to work. As you use the dry wood, you replace it with some green wood and can keep the cycle going. Well, I have a little space to store lumber, it’s difficult for me to turn down a good deal on a beautiful piece of wood, and I prefer air-dried wood – so let’s go with the Krenov approach.

If you think oak and pine is the stuff you see in Home Depot, I would encourage you to seek out some local sawyers in your area (in the U.S., start with Craigslist, where many of them advertise). Once you establish a relationship with a few, you’ll discover that the wood finds you rather than the other way around. This particular piece came from a sawyer I had bought from in the past. When he slabbed out this oak tree, he shot me an email asking me if I’d be interested in any of them before they went up for sale. And while I was picking up this beauty, I also got some 22″ wide pieces of Douglas-fir (hello, tool chest), and a few thin slabs of Oregon ash.

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§ 4 Responses to Some Beautiful Oak

  • rob campbell says:

    Wow! That is indeed a beautiful piece. Also, I am envious to the point of minor jealousy regarding your wide DF boards. The thought of jointing all those to make a chest is one of the reasons I am putting it off…

    • Eric Bushèe says:

      Hey Rob. Well, if you are jealous of the width of that DF, I won’t tell you the great price I paid for them. If you knew that you might be sticking pins in a voodoo doll.

      The flip side is that they all need some drying time. The DF will need probably a year, the oak maybe two. That sounds like a lot of time but I have so many projects in the queue they will be dry before I know it.

  • rob campbell says:

    Nah I am not really a jealous or vengeful person, I am happy for you. Besides, all the alder and curly maple I have, I got for free. I’m not expecting to score my toolchest wood so easily. I do regret the lack of white pine out here, but Douglas Fir is probably a reasonable (and regional) alternative. It does plane quite nicely on its face, but I get tons of splintering on the edges, no matter how sharp I try to get my chisels.

    • Eric Bushèe says:

      Other options might be Sitka Spruce or Port Orford Cedar. I haven’t worked with either of those. They are harder to get a hold of, and no doubt more expensive. I know that Sitka Spruce was prized in wooden airplane builds, as it has a terrific weight/strength ratio. It seems it would have a lot of the same qualities as white pine – a strong, yet lightweight wood. Still, it’s hard to beat Douglas-fir for its availability and price in these parts. It doesn’t work like cherry but it’s useful for lots of projects.

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