I learned what a Chinese elm is 1 year and 10 days ago, and blogged about it here. A friend told me she had read about a very old one that had fallen on someone’s car during high winds the day before. It turned out to be only a 10 minute drive from work, which is where I was reading the email. At lunch I headed over, found the crushed truck on the side of the road, but the tree was already gone. Since then I’ve seen Chinese elms all over my area, and they are wild looking, beautiful trees. Here are some creating a tree tunnel not far from where I live:
I took these pics on the way home from the bearing place recently, with the new bearings for my planer:
They’re very twisty, and almost muscular in appearance. As LumberJock Demowen commented on my first Chinese elm post way back when, and as I’ve been saying ever since, they look like something out of Dr. Seuss’ imagination. I’ve stated in the past my interest in trying out every wood I possibly can, from the junk to the treasures. Chinese elm is used by people occasionally, especially in turnings, and it’s by all accounts a good wood. That elevated it above total junk, like ficus, to something I’ve been really interested to try out for a year now. I’ve even recently complained in a comment to trifern’s Elm turning (I’m the last comment on the page currently) that I never see Chinese elm on offer or falling down by itself anywhere, after a year of looking.
Then, very early this morning – like 4:30AM early – I saw this post on craigslist:
It only mentioned “a tree,” but I’d know that bark anywhere now, gray peeling to reveal orange-brown beneath. It was Chinese elm. It was also posted the previous afternoon, and it was a good 30 or so miles and 3 highways (the 401, the 10, and the 5) away. Was it even worth the big round trip? Would it still be there? The firewood crowd strikes hard and fast. Maybe the apparent size of these things would slow their pyro-fueled advance some.
I decided to be impulsive, printed out a google map, and jumped in the truck. It turned out I was a bit too impulsive, and left before properly considering what I might need, such as gloves, junkier clothing, my hand truck, and those ramps I built, and a towel to dry myself off and clean myself up with when I was done. In truth, I thought of them all, but thought “Meh, I’ll be fine.” Famous last words… I was nearly run off the highways the whole way there by the aggressive, early-bird types who populate the pre-sunrise roads (where’s the fire, people!?), but I found the place without trouble, and on the grass strip behind a long row of parked cars, they sat waiting for me:
It’s been awhile since those huge eucalyptus logs, so I forgot exactly how heavy green wood can be. I always have that feeling that I can just push a little more, and I’ll get it. It’s just a log. After almost throwing up in my mouth, I realized this one just wasn’t coming home with me. Sometimes you really just can’t push any more:
That’s okay, though. It was cut from one side to the pith, with a wedge driven into it. It looks like someone gave up trying to split it in half. I’d just go for the smaller, unspoiled ones. At some point I realized I could roll Old Unliftable over near the curb/driveway corner and roll logs up onto it with less effort than lifting them entirely and carrying them. Then I was able to use the curvature of the road – built in for rain runoff, as evidenced by where the moisture was pooling – to back the tailgate right up to the stump. Normally my tailgate is way up by my waist, but here it was dipped down right to the top of the stump. Perfect! I just tipped this log onto the tailgate and slid it home – substantially easier:
I left probably 1/3rd of the logs behind, including the few very largest ones. I had no intentions of making nor using huge slabs of this, though, and the logs I got will be ripped and crosscut into a number of large turning blanks, big enough to give my 12”x20” Jet lathe a healthy workout. I’m hoping in a month or three to just start churning out turnings, getting better and better as I make salable items all the while. In the meantime, I’ve much else in the way, such as jury duty, a diet (this is much more work than it sounds :), a friend shipping his car to me from Texas to watch for him, taxes, moving boxes of stuff out of the old office (they’re moving to a much smaller place soon), and of course the ever-present job hunt. I’m working currently on materials such as a demo reel to aid me in that effort. After much of this has subsided, I hope to be back out in the shop a lot more, making as much as time permits.
Anyway, here’s the full haul, ready to pull out around 5:30AM or so, only about a half hour after I left home, and still well before sunrise. I was leaking sweat like a water fountain, and missing that towel I’d neglected to bring. Did the Hitchhiker’s Guide teach me nothing? At any rate, the family will wake to find their log pile shrunk considerably since the previous night. The log ninja strikes again!
I hadn’t emptied the haul from the restaurant, so I had to pile those up against the edge first to make room. I think this is the biggest log of the lot. Pretty big! I had visions of this guy in my head seeing this particular log. They’re probably almost equal in weight, as the euc was a lot more dried out than this brand new, soaking wet elm log. I’d put the elm around 200lbs, a little less than the euc – the reigning champ of large logs I’ve dragged home.
I was really glad that it was pretty much all trunk pieces from a fairly vertical tree. Too often all I find are branch pieces with their inherent stresses from having grown horizontally, or at some angle off of vertical. So much of my wood has a pith way over by one side, evidence of reactionary growth. Wood changes to support such affected structures. In angiosperms (flowering plants, e.g. broadleaf/deciduous trees), reaction wood is called tension wood, and it forms above the branch, pulling up the wood beneath it like a rope stretched taut. In conifers, reaction wood is called compression wood, and it occurs below the wood, and acts to push up the wood above it, like a buttress. Each grouping has evolved to solve the issue of outside stresses in different ways.
That said, reaction wood is structurally, and even chemically different than the rest of the wood. Wood with a mix of regular and reaction structures loves to warp and bend, and will continue to do so as moisture levels change, because each kind of structure reacts differently to moisture levels. Reaction wood isn’t only in branches, either. Trees growing on a slant (e.g. many Chinese elms I’ve seen – they grow every which way) will show it in one side of the main trunk, and even trees that are buffeted by winds or snows primarily from one direction, or have branches trimmed on one side only to protect a nearby building, and are thus lopsided will grow to brace against the asymmetrical force.
But enough of that. More pics!
This is one of the few small ones:
I love these amateur buckings. The guiding principal seems to be ‘just keep hacking with the chainsaw until it comes apart’:
Some interesting bark:
It’s funny what relative scales do to your perception. This piece was just holding the front of the “FREE WOOD” sign against the large, unliftable piece. I almost left it there, before realizing it was actually a very large piece of wood, and would have to be trimmed down to fit on my lathe, yet is a really great size for making a large bowl on said lathe. I threw it in the truck:
Another large piece, showing some interesting curvy lines in the sapwood. There’s a dry, powdery coating on all the logs from the chainsaw, perhaps evidence that this wood will turn more into powder than large chips? I can’t say yet. It’ll be interesting to see how it handles, though. The leaves are more evidence of elm…ness.
I went in, cleaned up, and took a long break. Later in the day I went back out and noticed these things were checking fast in the windy afternoon air!
I went out as the sun was setting, and in the dark with a headlamp strapped to my head, Anchorsealed all of the faces I could get to. It was too late at night, and I was too tired to try flipping them, or unloading the whole truck and finding somewhere to put these, but the bottoms should check more slowly, as the moisture is more trapped. Not ideal, but what can you do?
Then, naturally, it started raining. It’s rained so much more in LA this year than I’ve ever experienced in my 7 years here. I can’t be bothered to try to tarp my truck after midnight, so I’ll survey things tomorrow and probably reapply some anchorseal. Mostly, I’d just like to get these cut into blanks very soon and sealed well, despite all else that’s going on. The back of the truck was a puddle of Anchorseal, and the truck is dripping a white trail of wax behind it, running down the dirt driveway. This LumberJocking is tough business.
But hey, I have a bunch of Chinese elm now! My wishes have been granted :)
-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator