Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Making A Silk Purse Out Of A Sow's Ear...

Last November I did a post on milling some Elm and Ash from logs to planks. You can check it out here.

I had to move the stack of planks I harvested from two trees that were felled last fall. I use the term "plank" rather loosely here, as planks are usually relatively flat, and these are far from that. I didn't mind moving them because it allowed me to check their moisture content and change their sticking order and orientation. What I found was a bit of a surprise.

I thought the Ash wouldn't take much time to dry out because the tree had been standing dead for the past 4 or 5 years. I expected the Elm, however, to still be wet, given the tree it came from was still producing leaves, not very many of them at all, but leaves none the less. As it turned out, they were both dry enough to work.

I moved a couple of the slabs of Elm over to my outdoor workbench and started to have at it. Before I started work, though, I went out and purchased a 12 1/2" surface planer. I love working with hand tools, but I'm not looking to die with a plane in my hand.

After the "some assembly required" part of my new purchase was done, I got to work. I used my Stanley #5 1/2 with its radius blade to waste some wood.

I didn't try to make the surface perfectly flat. Instead, all I wanted to do was even out the surface enough to ensure it wouldn't tilt or twist as it went through the surface planer. Another way of doing this would be to attach some straight scrap pieces to the outside edges of the slab, making sure they project beyond the bottom surface so they act like sleds. If you don't do one or the other, the surface planer will give you a parallel surface on the opposite side, bows, twists, hills and hollows included.

I cut the two slabs cut down to 12" wide with a circular saw and planed both on the surface planer with parallel surfaces. Both slabs ended up being 2" thick. 

I was impressed with the Elm's grain last year when I first saw it after cutting it up with a chainsaw. All the planing only made the grain look even better. I stopped at this point and hauled both slabs into the house and stick stacked them in the living room for a few weeks so they acclimatise.

My plans are to take these slabs down further, to about 1 1/2" or so. I will then glue them together and cut them into a 22" square. I am think of putting a simple, reverse angled egde all around, finishing it in some way that will bring out the grain even more. I want to make the grain the feature of this table, so I am leaning towards mounting it to a 12" clear acrylic cube. Hopefully doing so will make these beautiful pieces of wood look like they are floating off the floor.




  1. I suspect that they dried fast because they are short, don't you think?

    1. You may be on to something, Andy. They are pretty thick, but I didn't seal the ends, a part of the process procrastination caused me to miss.