Anyone can use found wood but you may have to beat the “firewood vultures” to the source. However, there are more sources than you may think. Simply look about as you drive along the highways, and in back lots or small farm fields…..see the dead/fallen timber there. Yes it has not been kiln dried and cut to avoid having too many flaws. Production lumber is graded for grain and clarity, a lack of knots and other “flaws”. But I think that is boring – the same. Oak from the lumber yard looks like Oak and like the Oak at the store down the road. I feel that the flaws are part of the story of the once living tree that contributes the wood.
The spot where the tree grew may have been un-level ground, or subject to rather continuous wind. This causes the tree to grow crooked, or branches to break off, and injuries that are grown over. Each of these forces causes the grain to twist, change, develop rays (cross-grain marking), bird-eye and other markings that are unique to that tree. My wood often looks like the tree species and contains other marks or color …some have mistaken a well-aged piece of ash for marble….it is this reaction that I find makes “found” wood special. And best of all it is inexpensive and sometimes I get paid to go get it.
The Emerald Ash Borer (an invasive pest) is killing many ash trees here in Michigan. I enjoy taking at least something of beauty from this environmental disaster. Storm damage also provides a chance to score some found wood….and points with the community as you help to remove damaged timber from roads and lawns.
I do use some special tools to make use of “found” wood. A chainsaw is required to cut the logs into lengths, blocks for turning, or removing cracked and broken areas. The chainsaw also serves to drive a milling machine. The mill uses a pair of rails to make the first flat /level cut and each subsequent “slab” follows the line of the previous cut. This is labor intensive and slow, but I do not need large equipment that tears up the ground to harvest slabs form back-yards, or even back into the woods or storm damaged areas. A bow saw removes limbs safely and without the need for more gas for the chainsaw and is useful for squaring up or sectioning the larger blocks into turning blanks. The total mill and other equipment weighs less than 100 lbs. I can carry it to the fallen tree by myself….though it is more efficient when I have a helper on the handle at the end of the mill. Below is this operation taking place on my home-built custom cutting station on my work trailer.
|Out in the woods cutting wood|
It takes some experience looking at and cutting logs to avoid rotten wood or wood that has cracked (Checked) too much to be of use. Also noticing where it has lain…if it has been down for some time helps in getting the best color. “Found” wood will absorb color from mineral deposits and from the processes that naturally break down wood on the forest floor. Fungus will grow, under the right conditions, that follows the grain and creates dark lines throughout the log. This is know as “Spalt”. Spalted wood is more valuable due to the interesting color, and the fact that there is a fine line between rotten - and really nicely spalted and colored. I lose some material to weather every year because wood reacts to the humidity even when stacked, and kept in my shop. Like the wood at your home center it must be dried and then kept relatively stable or it will move. A typical 8ft x 6 in x 1.5 in board could get as much as ½ inch longer or shorter depending on the humidity. Too much humidity for too long and it will rot…..to much drying to fast and it will crack. This causes some of my finds to become firewood logs for my son’s business.
Generally the wood must dry in my shop for over 1 year before I can use it. I do not like to use a wood drying kiln because in my area - *Southeast Michigan. It tends to be humid here. The wood coming out of the kiln will regain and loose moisture in the storage environment. The kiln also does not allow developing spalting to continue to develop. In the end I feel that the wood will be more stable, and last longer for the customer, if I air dry it.
Slabs will be rendered into boards for making benches, tables, and boxes using standard wood working equipment. Large bench or table tops that will not fit in my planer are actually planed using hand planes. I must pause and re-sharpen the plane iron (cutting surface) often as I remove 1/8 to ¼ in of surface making the slab flat and smooth. I begin with a large Jack Plane and finish with a medium sized Smoothing plane...If I am careful it will take only a reasonable amount (several hours) of sanding to bring it to a smooth finish. Once sanded with the final grade of sand-paper (200 grit) the surface will be ready to have a finish applied.
|What a wood plank looks like|
If you are interested in using “found wood”….. You need not get all of that equipment to make things from “Found” wood. I started using this wood to make candle holders, vases, and bowls. All you need for that is a chainsaw to cut up some turning blocks, and a lathe for them to fit in. I turn items on my own lathe. The pencil holder is one example. Hand held tools shape the turned piece as it spins in the lathe. It takes a little practice to hold the tool so the edge drags just right for efficient cutting. You can hear the correct angle as it drags the edge and cuts rather than chunks out the wood. Often classes in this art form are held at your local community college or center. There are plenty of resources on the web which will help explain how to work with and age the wood properly. Various ways of drying it…..or turning it wet and letting it dry to a very natural odd shape are also covered. One is not always better or worse than another but one method may suit your location and personality better than others.
One of my custom pieces is this gorgeous mantle.
This beautiful bowl was made from the stump-wood in my Father-in-laws maple tree. The tree was huge and old but had developed a lean, and was dying. I felled the tree and made quite a few turning blocks from the most solid bits that remained. It is easy to see the beauty in this less than “perfect” wood that would have been ignored by the production mills. The cracks and insect galleries add visual interest. A year of sitting first outside in a shady damp location, and then in a few months being moved to my garage floor have also colored it with splat, and mineral deposits. This is found wood ….and its beautiful.
You can find this fabulous wood at Wolfcreekmill