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.


greg said...

I have mostly used ash, but have used quite a bit of red oak. Breaking parts have never been an issue for me with either. I've even successfully bent read oak bows from a very old log- the exterior showed signs of spalting.

I know you use an electric steam generator- I'm wondering if you get enough steam from it. I've been told that the steam should be jetting out of the exit holes.

Unknown said...

I think that differant areas have oaks that work and bend differantly. Here in central North Carolina I have never gotten red oak that bends as well as every single white oak log I buy. Curtis Buchanan, four hours west of me in the mountains of Tennessee, gets both poor bending and nice bending oak. Russ Cherry in Alabama sold red oak bends for years without any trouble.

My current ideal is to get a red oak log for spindles as it doesn't warp as much, has less knots and rives easier the my white oak. Then I get a white oak for bends.

Peter Galbert said...

Thanks for the input. I tried to bend the red oak again today and it broke the same. Using the same steamer and process, the white oak from my pond bent beautifully. I think that Elia may be right about the regional differences, although I did have a red oak break similarly during bending when I taught at Penland in North Carolina. I have had the same experience with hickory, some of it will tie in a knot and others just shatter. I'm sure that I will play with the log some more.
After shaving both red and white oak, my student expressed that the white was much easier to shave along the fibers and then he bent the arm without any fibers lifting at all, let alone breaking.

Anonymous said...

I would stick with what works. The only red oak I like is what I refer to as "cherry bark" oak. It is plentiful in the middle TN area. The only white oak I had fail is the very slow growth type with very tight growth rings. Otherwise white oak is all I use.

Greg P.

Anonymous said...

I use red oak almost exclusively here in Maryland. With severe bends I find using a bending strap solves most problems.
Larry Barrett

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