Saturday, March 6, 2010

Almost Out of the Woods

My busy season is starting to wind down at work, which means I have time to take a walk during the day to get some fresh air.

Soon I'll hear the buzz of chainsaws as people have their trees pruned or cut down. That's the sound of early Spring around here—music to my ears.

It reminds me of one of the first projects I ever built: a rustic chair. Back then, I had only a jigsaw, electric drill, one chisel, a really dull handsaw, and sandpaper. I didn't have much disposable income to buy tools or nice lumber. But I did and still do live in a neighborhood that has an abundance of trees. And neighbors who love to trim them.

One day on a walk, I spied a homeowner cutting down his small locust tree. I've never been shy about anything, except for being a wee bit shy of 5' 6" tall, so I asked him if he had plans for the wood. Nope. Would it be okay if I took it home? Yep.

So, what do you do with short, gnarled branches? You build a rustic piece.

I had read about mortise and tenon joinery so I drilled holes with a spade bit and used the chisel to make the tenons, which I rounded with sandpaper. It took a long time, but I was so proud of the painfully uncomfortable chair I had built.

Then I found more branches and made a rustic table. Try using a dull handsaw to cut limbs in half lengthwise if you ever feel like being mean to yourself.

Eighteen years later I'm still using branches and logs given to me by friends. I use them to make spoons and lately, a kuksa. The difference is, now I have some really nice tools to use.

So keep your eyes and ears open. Let your friends know to keep you in mind if they're planning to cut down a tree.

And if you live in apple country like me, now is the time that orchards are cutting down old apple trees and are happy to give them away.

You don't need a hike in the woods or the lumberyard to find suitable wood for projects. Sometimes you can find what you need right in your neighbors' backyard.


Jeff Madre said...

Kari, your post reminds me of the section of peach wood in my garage. As I have been cleaning out the garage to find the shop hidden within, I have moved this piece quite a few times. Each time the thought of making a spoon from it crossed my mind.

After reading your 'spoons' link above I feel the need to ask if I should soak this wood before I attempt to shape it. Or do blisters build character?

Kari Hultman said...

Jeff, you can carve dry wood; it's just easier to carve it green. Soaking the maple in water did soften the outermost fibers, but the wood was harder the closer I got to final shape. Gouges work well on dry wood. Give it a try dry--you might not have any trouble at all. I've always wanted to try carving peach. I'm not even sure what the grain looks like.

naomi said...

Cool! Kari, i like it when you post about your younger years with no disposable income to buy stuff-that's about where i am now, so it's a great tip for those of us who are just starting out and who are students. Cheers!

naomi said...

PS--you're so funny that you store wood in your freezer--does Nancy have enough room for her mint chocolate chip ice cream? ;-)

Kari Hultman said...

LOL! It had been in there for months and every so often she'd ask, "Now what's that wood for again?"

Vic Hubbard said...

Cool Kari! Now your have something to drink grog out of...whatever grog is.

rgdaniel said...

"18 years later I'm still using branches and logs..."

So if my math is correct, you built your first rustic chair when you were 11? That's talent!!

Unknown said...

Haha, I can just imagine a big block of maple sitting in the freezer. Too funny. Most people don't realize this, but often things dry out faster in the freezer than they would at room temp. The best way to keep wood wet is to store it in a couple of trash bags. Even with this, there will still be some sublimation and moisture loss, but you can counteract this by throwing in a wet paper towel from time to time. I do this often with turning blanks that I don't have time to get to, so they don't start checking. Great work though, and I love your blog. Keep it up!

Darnell said...

Ya, the relative humidity in your freezer will dry out your lumber. Even better than bags is Mason jars or Tupperware, if your wood will fit.

You're fortunate to live in apple country, aside from the fresh fruit. Applewood loves hands, tool handles and drawer pulls age beautifully.

I dunno how uncomfortable your chair could be. I'd sit in it, given a cushion. :D

Alfred Kraemer said...

It seems you made the chair and the table with green wood - how did it hold up after drying?

Most of my chisels have handles from trimmings from my back yard. My three mortise chisels with sockets have all black locust handles. I know locust can split easily but I have yet to bust any of those handles. Other woods I have 'gleaned' from backyard trimmings are ash, apricot(looks like cherry), red elm, and apple.
They are all tough, finish nicely, and look pretty.


Vic Hubbard said...

Kari, Have you ever managed to obtain a good size piece of applewood? I took a cutting years ago and just sanded it smooth. I think Sylvia still has it. It doesn't function as's just a really pretty color.

Kari Hultman said...

Vic, I can't wait to use it, actually. Drying is slow, though. I have to leave it outside in a plastic bag, otherwise the endgrain splits in a matter of minutes.

Bob, look at me....ready? *KISS!*

Marco, I wondered about that. I read about freezing the wood in one of my books, but I did have doubts. I had been keeping it a plastic bag prior to that, with a bit of water on occasion, but it was getting so moldy. I carved away almost all of the mold, but some of it goes pretty deep.

Darnell, yeah, I don't be freezing any more wood. That will free up some space for ice cream. heh. Applewood is great to work, is gorgeous and smells like cider when you cut or plane it. It's hard to find a big piece without knots, though.

Alfred, the chair and table have held up great but there has been some shrinking. The m&t joints have all held, but the parts that were nailed have pulled away a bit. They are both still fully functional, though. I didn't know about apricot. I would love to try that. The fruitwoods are my favorite—so nice to work with and plane beautifully.

Vic, I have several apple logs that a friend and I scavenged from an orchard about 4 years ago. I had planned to use them for more planes, but applewood moves too much unless it's really old. That piece you sanded has a function--it's makes you happy to look at it. :o)

Tom Buhl said...

Kari, my in-laws live in the remnants of a once large (for home operation) apple orchard. With your enthusiasm for fruit woods I'll have to scrounge some to play with. Being new to this wood addiction, I tend to think of fine (yeah, right) furniture but your blog and gallery has helped me see satisfaction of just playing with and shaping woods. Not sure I get thrill of having chainsaws harken the coming of springtime, but if it works in your neighborhood it is all good. cheers

Laurie said...

Kari, you are SO inspiring me. I SWORE that I didn't need any more hobbies... I ONLY bought the sander to restore the gelcoat on our boat... I ONLY bought (all twelve of) those scrapers to refinish my desk... I ONLY bought a Lie Nielson plane because it was beautiful to look at.... And I ONLY need a Nobex Champion miter saw because there's a teensy bit of molding that needs fixing....

Yeah, right.

TO SELF (sternly): I do NOT want to learn to make boxes.... I do NOT want to make beautiful boxes.... I do NOT want to make gloriously exquisite complicated boxes that people will want to use and keep for a million years....

Keep up the great work, Kari. Oh, and I love the kuksa!

Woodbloke said...

Vic - 'grog'...Nelson's blood, a mix of dark rum and water, issued to sailors in the days of wooden fighting ships. My dad (who was RN, also recieved the rum ration, but he wasn't that old!)

Kari - nice stuff...I've not done much work using green wood, but I understand it's easy to turn as well, you just need full waterproofs and sow'wester.

Now there's a good photo opportunity for the Blog! - Rob

Kari Hultman said...

Tom, applewood is similar to cherry, but a little harder and a little browner. It holds an edge very well, but it's definitely a challenge to find a big enough piece that doesn't have knots. You can always work that into a design, though. Have fun scrounging. :o)

Artie, haha! You DO need more hobbies. And more tools. And more wood. Hey, look at it this way—you're helping the economy. ; )

Rob, I'm not sure what Nelson's blood is, but maybe it's best left unexplained? I turned green wood in the lathe class I took and it does indeed spit at you.

Phil Marquez said...

Believe it or not Kari, you've given me some project Ideas in this blog.
I've been woodworking for many years and have made a wide range of furniture, but I've never done what you call"rustic" items.
You've done a Great job and they look to be fun to make.
Thanks for the ideas!

pdcawley said...

Nice looking Kuksa. Who made the knives (especially those lovely looking hooks)?

Steve Branam said...

Hahaha, a few years ago I wasn't storing wood in the freezer, but my wife was getting annoyed at all the sections of fallen trees I was dragging home from my coworkers and stacking up in the corner of the yard. There's a good blog post in all that about harvesting urban timer and green woodworking, since those were the books I was reading at the time. Unfortunately I didn't get a chance to work much of it, so now I'm afraid all I may have accomplished was collecting some free firewood.

I still have it, restacked in an out-of-view spot. Not quite green any more, but some might still be usable, though full of checks. So it's an experiment! And I did notice an apple orchard down the road selling a bin of trimmings as firewood...

And while grog is good, when I need to stop my brain spinning madly out of control so I can sleep, I like mog: warm milk, Ovaltine, and rum. Mmmm!

Kari Hultman said...

Phil, thanks! Rustic pieces are fun to make, but they might lack something in the comfort department. ; )

pdcawley, the knives were made by Del Stubbs:
I highly recommend them.

Steve, I'd done the same thing with logs, so don't feel bad. I even cut up an entire tree myself, hauled the logs home, and there they lay for 2 years. I asked my friend whose tree it was if she'd like to have the logs back as firewood. She did. So we hauled them back to her place. I like the sounds of your MOG mixer better than the GROG mixture!

Shazza said...

Cool stuff Kari!

How long did you have to defrost the maple before it was ready?

I would love to learn how to make one of those chairs or tables! Maybe I should just go for it.

With all of the snow we had this season there have been a LOT of trees and branches being cut down. The park we go to was filled with downed trees - mostly tall pines though.

kanishk said...
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