Does The Tree In My Front Yard Have Value? Part Two: Will Your Tree Make The Cut?
Advanced Veneering and Alternative Techniques
elevate your woodworking to a new level with the use of veneer
When the University of Rochester (U of R) asked me to manage its historical trees and make pieces from them, I jumped at the chance. The project sounded promising with multiple commissions and endless amounts of free material. It sounded like fun, too.
The U of R campus is huge, with a number of old growth historic, and therefore inherently valuable, trees on the property; some of them are suspected to be planted by Patrick Barry, one of Rochester’s horticultural luminaries of the mid 1800’s. Occasionally, some of these trees have to come down due to disease and/or new university construction.
The trees that we harvested varied in species and age, and included beech, sugar maple, black walnut, coffee bean, and white and red oak. All were large old growth trees, ranging from 24-inches to 36-inches in diameter, the largest a six-foot diameter beech.
On a circa-1920s red oak, our worst-case scenario occurred when the mill hit a number of nails deep inside the tree and we burned through three milling blades. I wanted to quarter saw the log to yield tight, straight and figured grain. This massive center chunk of a log, included the pith, which is an area typically avoided by woodworkers due to the checking that occurs in it, and we were unable to cut around it. I had to stop and rethink the end product.
The heritage value kept the ball rolling, so instead I decided to embrace the idea and use the entire chuck including the pith in a piece.
U of R is a major educational and medical institution, Rochester’s largest employer in fact, and my new table concept was based on a building block theme. Each block represented the different parts that make up this place of higher learning. Essentially, it signifies the idea that the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. I used the iron stains from the buried nails as part of the final finish, which adds to the story and its inherent value.
I also created a number of pieces from wide slabs, crotches, fused branches and a huge burl, all of which offered additional challenges.
I am three years into this heritage wood project and have created ten pieces to date, and the historic value of these pieces far exceeds the additional cost and extra effort.
So when you’re ready to make the cut, remember to plan ahead, prepare for contingencies, and you and your family will enjoy a sentimental piece of furniture for years to come.
A large vase which required treatment in PEG to avoid checking
Sculptural table made from Red Oak including the center pith. We had to stop cutting due to embedded nails that ruined three blades.
Beech conference table using the heartwood as a design accent
Sculptural vase using a burl that fused between two branches forming a single peice of wood
Two side tables made from slab wood, the first cut of a log containing the bark
A 16', 2200 lb chair
"Key To My Heart" Sculpture from a white oak and aluminum
Vase ready for final sanding