Neighbourhood lumber supply

log bark drawknifeI live in a location in Houston where residents often leave tree “waste” on the curb for a city collection service that runs every other month. Occasionally I’ll find a nice tree trunk and haul it home on my shoulder.

I am not very good with wood or tree identification, but I find that trees with smooth bark (probably some sort of fruit tree) are easiest to process and the wood is often a nice colour. The smells when removing the bark with a draw-knife are sweet yet subtle.

The logs are usually split with a sledge hammer (read about how I re-handled my hammer here) and wedges, but I will try to resaw the log pictured above to see if it produces better results (like in this Close Grain post).

The picture below shows the rough split pieces of a log I chopped up last autumn. The ends were painted to try to prevent cracking – cracks are caused by the wood drying unevenly and often originate from the centre of the tree. Wooden spacers (stickers) between boards also help with even drying. Twisted lumber is undesirable, but I take what I can get! A cross cut in the right place can produce two less-twisted boards. In this case it is worth it, as the wood has kept a beautiful yellow colour even after 10 months of drying.

split wood drying

The wood is rough processed without knowing what it is to be used for, so there is a compromise between keeping pieces as large as possible (more potential and useful), but small enough to dry in a reasonable amount of time.

Pros and cons of processing your own lumber

Not to be a naysayer, but:

  1. De-barking logs and splitting/sawing the lumber can kill a weekend. I am mainly a hand tool user, but a chain saw becomes very desirable after two hours swinging a sledge hammer.
  2. Air drying takes months to years. Not only is it a long wait, but it requires a dedicated storage area. 
  3. By splitting logs, you are at the mercy of twist.

On the plus side:

  1. The lumber is free.
  2. The lumber is often of a variety of hardwood that cannot be bought, even at a specialty hardwood supplier.
  3. Logs are otherwise destined for a waste facility.
  4. Thick boards can be produced.
  5. Strength is preserved by splitting along the fibers of the tree.
  6. It puts a home-grown local flavour into our projects.

I only wish I could put a name to the lumber…

The first stop for further reading about splitting logs is Peter Follansbee’s blog

3 thoughts on “Neighbourhood lumber supply

  1. Trial & Error –

    Nice to find a neighbor here in the Houston area. I’m not sure what type of tree you are processing there, though maybe a large crepe myrtle or magnolia? I’ve seen that type of bark before. When I get back to my classroom, I’ll flip through the southern tree field guide and see what I can come up with.

    My e-mail’s woodshopcowboy at Drop me a line sometime – I’d like to see that treadle lathe in person.

  2. That looks like crepe myrtle. The bark looks familiar and the fact you got it from your neighbor’s yard waste is a good indicator. I’m on the north side of Houston myself, crepe myrtle everywhere. I’d be curious to see how the lumber turned out…

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