One of the greatest, if not the greatest benefit of joining a local woodworking club or guild is the freely shared knowledge, experience and time. Where else could you find a mentored “class” in making a project from start to finish for $40? Need more reasons to seek out and join a local woodworking club? Keep reading.
The club I belong to, the Central Jersey Woodworker’s Association, recently started what we are calling group builds. As part of these group builds, an experienced member of the club mentors a small group of other members through a project. We typically have several of these going on at a time so that everyone who wants to can get involved. The projects range from small tables, to boxes, to whatever else the membership and mentor(s) desire to build. This past weekend, a small group of us, led by member John Aniano, set out to begin work on one of these projects, a 17th century joint stool.
While this project was chosen before our mentor was aware of the new book by Peter Follansbee & Jennie Allexander, the book was a very valuable guide in our beginning stages as we chose and prepared our “trees”. The version that John and I are making is going to be a copy of an original in the Albany Institute of History & Art. The other members working on the project, Wilbur Pan & Frank Vucolo, have decided to use the original, and the works in the book, as inspiration and put their own spin on it to suit them. This is the great thing about being woodworkers. We don’t have to settle for what the catalogs feed us. We’re free to design and build to our own personal tastes and desires.
So before we could get started, we of course needed to get a tree. You might think that this fact makes a project like this impossible for you to consider, but you might be surprised to find that getting a tree isn’t all that hard to do. While our ancestors had to go out into the woods and cut down the perfect tree, we actually have an easier time. Seek out your local forestry service and ask them about obtaining a permit to cut firewood. In NJ, there is acutally a program where homeowners can cut their own trees down on state land for $20 per cord. There’s no reason you couldn’t use this program to get a log for a project like this. I’m sure there are many states with similar programs, if you just call the forestry service and ask. Another option is to seek out a local tree service. While these folks usually don’t have trees as nice as those from the forrest (tree services are typically removing unwanted or nuissance trees from more populated areas), you can still find some gems from time to time. Call a couple and ask around. You might be surprised at what you can find. A third option is the lumber mill. Many of the mills that saw and dry the lumber we commonly use for our other projects are very happy to sell you a green log. So call a few and ask. Believe me, this stuff isn’t as hard to find as you might think.
In the case of our project, John took us to see a local arborist and tree service owner (lumber sources – another great reason to join a local club). Dan was more than happy to let us stroll through his property and he showed us a nice group of freshly cut red oak that we found to be just right for this project.
Once we had our logs selected, Dan was kind enough to buck them to length with his 3′ chain saw, move them with the Bobcat and split them into quarters for us to make them easier for us to load and unload into Frank’s truck. Even split into quarters, these things were heavy. With 5 soping wet red oak logs, each about 24″ long and 22-26″ in diameter, loaded into Frank’s truck, we made our way back to John’s shop to go through the process of riving the oak down into smaller pieces and talk about next steps like working the leg stock to dimension and planning for a 2 piece top (unfortunately, none of the logs we were able to get was large enough for a one piece top). By the end of the day on Saturday, each of us had a good pile of red oak wedges, ready to be further riven into stock for legs, aprons and stretchers.
At home on Sunday, I took to the task of breaking down the wedges a little further, removing the juvenile wood at the center from the wedges that still had it intact from Saturday, and removing the bark and sap wood. This was really satisfying work and really was much easier than I had anticipated. I have done a bit of riving before, but never in wood that was this nice and well behaved. After working with this oak this weekend, I have a new found respect for it. I was never really a big fan of red oak prior to this, but after riving this stuff out, I have to agree with Follansbee. It is a real pleasure working with nice, straight grained green oak. It split beautifully, easliy and straight, using nothing more than a couple of steel wedges, a froe and a hatchet. After splitting everything down, I managed to split out 6 pieces for legs (I split out extra for when I screw up the turning) and tons of thinner pieces for aprons and lower stretchers. I have so much extra of these thinner pieces that I already have plans to make a couple of Peter’s carved boxes as well. All this from one 2′ section of a log. I’m really beginning to see why Peter likes this kind of woodworking so much. I think I’m really starting to like it as well :).