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How much work could wood be?

Many customers appreciate the rare woods that I work with but few know how much work is involved in sourcing, retrieving, drying and processing it. 

I have been saving raw wood for years and recently had a sawmill come to my shop to cut my stock of logs into boards.  I thought this would be a great opportunity to share how those beautiful candles and charcuterie boards end up in my store.

This blog post describes the process of getting to wood to my shop.  Future posts will cover how I dry and work it.

The process starts with building relationships with farmers and land owners who are removing trees.  I am lucky  that I live in the middle of the Niagara region and either know or am related to farmers. 

Fruit trees are are regularly but infrequently removed for a variety of reasons.  Peach trees only last 25 years before production drops off and they have to be replaced.  Sometimes the farmer wants to change varieties (Asian pears are popular right now) or even the entire crop (lots of NOTL farmers are switching to grapes because the income is more predictable), and other times the land is sold and needs to be cleared.

The traditional process is for the farmer to use a tractor to pull out the tree, roots and all.  They let them dry for a few weeks before piling them up in the middle of the field and burning them.

If I'm lucky the farmer will give me a call and let me salvage whatever I can before they burn them. 

This is a plum orchard that I salvaged in 2018.

This is me salvaging 60 year-old plum in 2019.  That is as big as a plum tree gets.

This is one end of a peach orchard I salvaged in 2019.

This is the other end of the same orchard where the farmer was throwing the trees onto the burn pile as I worked. 

I had to race him to get this load of peach wood.

These are big fields and I sometimes have to carry the branches or trunks several hundred feet to my truck.  Some of the trunks weight several hundred pounds and I have to use a hand-cart to pull them across the uneven field.

This is a trailer load of plum branches and trunks with the felled orchard behind.

I then have to get them to my shop and store them until I can process them.

If I'm really lucky I get wood dropped off at my shop by friendly neighbours or tree service companies that I come across on my local travels.

This is a pile of walnut that my neighbour took down and dropped off in my driveway.

These are cottonwood cookies that I bought from a tree service company that was working down the road.  They are 40 inches across and each one weighs more than 300 pounds!

Here are a few of the plum trunks I have salvaged over the years.  They are 14-16 inches wide and three feet long.

I can cut branches up to 6 inches in diameter using my shop machines.

This is a pile of plum branches cut to length and ready for end-sealing and storage.

Bigger wood has to be stockpiled until I can get a portable sawmill on site to cut it.  I recently had a mill come by to cut the wood that I have been saving for the past three years.

This is the sawmill arriving.

I would love to have a mill like this but they run $20K+ so it is much cheaper to rent one once in a while!

This is the sawmill about to cut "Milton" (Milton Berle, get it?), a 28 inch wide maple burl that I found five years ago.

After about six hours of cutting, we had stacks of plum and american walnut all over the yard.

Here is Milton, who is now six 8/4 slices and two interesting offcuts. You can see in the background a stack of eight foot 8/4 american walnut slabs.

We got three pallets of 10/4 plum which has fantastic colour and grain.  We cut it extra thick because it will twist a lot when it dries.

Here is some shorter walnut slabs and several stacks of plum.


We also cut a few dozen plum cookies.

Here is the final tally of wood in my tent, stickered and ready to air dry (except for the eight-foot walnut that i still have to move into that open spot). 

I even saved the waste cuts which are the first and last cuts of each log and are mostly sap wood and bark.  Plum is such interesting wood even the waste can be used for smaller items.

So now we wait ....

Air-drying wood takes a year per inch, so these won't be ready for at least two years.  I can shave a bit off that with my home-built kiln, but I'm going to have to build a bigger one for this volume of wood.

So there you have it: getting wood from field to shop.  Pretty easy, isn't it?

I'll keep you updated on how the drying goes.