Slabs, planks and automotractors

Every woodworker worth his shavings should rip a tree out of the woods, cut it to planks and make stuff out of it!

Well – maybe not, but it sure is fun! My brother-in-law had a HUGE oak (15-20 metres tall or so) which I called dibs at a few years ago. When I (fiiiinally!!!) got my shop (we bought a house with an one-bay garage. The cars are MADE to stay outdoors, so now we don’t have a garage anymore), the time was right to go slabbin’.

Huge oak I felled and cut to planks

You can’t just hack away with any axe at a piece of vertical wood like that and expect to have any degree of control, so I had other plans. Explains why Felix (my brother-in-law’s golden retriever) was so calm that day. He trusts me.

Say h-h-hello to my little friend!

50ccm swedish rage with a 21” bar. Manly!

I cut a notch facing the direction I hoped the thing would come crashing down at, then made a felling cut from behind. The oak was leaning in the general correct direction, so it was all good. At the first crrreeeaaaaak I was running like a bat out of Hell! I prefer to de-ass the area with a quickness when heavy stuff has a run-in with gravity. In this case, everything went smooth – although I wonder what the driver of that passing car thought as he or she saw a HUGE tree come crashing down in their general direction… oh, well.

Now to clean up the mess…

The tree yielded several large trunks, from 60 to 90cm in diameter. In addition I got several smaller trunks from above where the tree split in two (I saved the crotch area. Of the tree.) and some huge branches.

Then some months passed, a bug arrived, I got temporarily laid off and spent a month home with the kids (one of the most positive things about the pandemic, really). I then rented a band saw sawmill and got to work.

It is a lot of work!

I cut a slab from the widest trunk by screwing two planks to the ends, laying another plank on top to act as a guide then used the chain saw. I used the plank to guide the chain saw bar along the trunk, creating a good and straight cut about 5cm into the wood. I then removed the plank and cut into the trunk at the ends. By placing the bar over the initial lengthwise cut, I adjusted it to the correct direction and dove the bar into the trunk until the saw stood at 45 degrees to the trunk. I then moved the saw along the cut and repeated. This method ensured that I cut cleanly and straight. We use the same process when ripping stock with a hand saw – start the cut and ensure you follow the line and you are square (if that’s what you want), then drop the heel of the saw. This will ensure that you are sawing straight and true automatically.

The bar was about 2/3 the diameter of the trunk, so I had to repeat the process on the other side. I was about a degree off course, but eventually split the trunk in two pieces. Had to use some… persuading… with the forks on the J.Deere… I then repeated the process to cut the slab. Lot of work, and I do not plan to do it again anytime soon…
I used a power planer to take off the excess areas and to get the slab mostly flat. I planed surfaces for the stickers so the slab will get even pressure during the drying process.

After I had reduced the rest of the trunks to a pile of sawdust, rejects, offcuts, bark and quite a few planks, I drove them home where I stickered and staced them to the best of my abilities.

Oak slabs; future furniture and projects!

I focused on getting as much quartersawn oak as I could. The band saw could not take anything wider than 49cm, limiting the width of the slabs. That’s okay, I really do not need lots of very wide slabs either. There’s a limit to how many live edge slab tables I want to make… Plus, my power planer is 25 cm (10”) and the band saw limit is 30.5 cm (12”). For me, those numbers dictate a lot. Removing the sapwood should yield a plank at a maximum of 30cm in width. I can rip such planks with my band saw, but to use the thicknesser I would have to rip the plank down to 25cm or do thicknessing manually. In oak.
That’s one of the tasks I reeeeaaaaally do not want to indulge in….

As exemplified in the image above, I got a good amount of flat sawn slabs too.

Stickered and stacked to dry

I took a trip to the local building supply warehouse and asked if I could clean up their wood racks for sticks. I got all the sticks I needed for free, all fir and very dry. The best material for sticks; should reduce sticker stain a good deal. I then painted the ends of the planks to slow down the drying process at the end grain – this reduces splitting and cracks.

Then I got a call from the owner of the sawmill. Did I want some Elm trunks as a birthday present? YOU BET! Elm is beautiful, but smells really funky when cut. The grain does wild things, so the wood can be hard to work. Makes for very stable wood once dried, though. The piss smell goes away when dried, thankfully…

I got three big trunks which I cut flat-sawn slabs 2” thick.

Beautiful grain pattern!

I stickered and stacked the elm, then strapped the slabs down with straps tightened to concert pitch:

Here is an article I wrote about drying your own lumber.

Now all I have to do, is to wait. For at least two years. THEN I can start using some of the materials. But that is okay. I do not foresee running out of oak or elm any time soon. That is a luxury not all woodworkers have, so I won’t complain about the wait. Too much.

At least the first covid vaccines are being administered. I am thankful for that!

11 thoughts on “Slabs, planks and automotractors

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