Tuesday, October 23, 2007
The Last Red Oak
I went to my sawyer for a log last Saturday. I was taken by this view as I came over the hill in an area known as the Beechwoods.
Much to my dismay, my sawyer had just sawn the last of his white oak logs and only had red oak to offer me. Knowing that I had a student coming Monday gave me little choice. So I chose a relatively small red oak, given that more white oaks would soon be available.
I don't normally use red oak. It has a texture and lightness that I don't care for, preferring the density of white oak. Also, the only dramatic breaks in bending and spindles that I've personally seen have been in red oak. It's a shame really, because large, clear red oaks are always easy to find in my region.
But, beggars ...
Here is Bruce Bidwell cracking the log. Everything went smoothly, although it was a little more hornery than usual. I realize while we were splitting out our pieces that there is a great difference in the way that this red oak splits. It was much more difficult to control the splits than I am used to with white oak, it didn't have the fibrous quality.
Once we got the wood to the shave horse, I also found the red oak to be less fun to shave. Normally, with white oak, my drawknife slips between the fibers and follows them easily. With the red oak, I found that I had to pay much more attention to the visual clues to confirm whether I was with the fiber line. But we shaved it, and Bruce has a fine set of spindles to show for it.
Bending wood with a student is always a fun time for me. After all the hard work that they put in, learning to split and shave along the fibers, they get to see the results as the wood becomes fluid.
I think you know where this is going.
The trouble started immediately. As I pulled the piece, expecting it to flow around the top of the curve, I heard the cracking. A cross fiber shearing, not the subtly lifting of errant fibers, but a full on break.
There was nothing to be done.
Every log is different, and I've had some fine luck with bending red oak. Perhaps it's too easy to accept when a prejudice seems confirmed, and I'm sure I won't be able to resist another try (steamer problems?), but for now, I won't be buying any more red oak.
Luckily, I remembered that I had sunk a bolt of white oak in my pond last summer for just such emergencies. And tomorrow we start again.