|Project by Gary Fixler||posted 1493 days ago||15116 views||4 times favorited||21 comments|
This was a surprisingly involved project. I have a friend, Rebecca, who loves log cross sections. She often implores me to simply cut ends off of logs for her. She wants to decorate a wall with log circles, for example. She doesn’t even care if they split. Last year she sent me a picture of log cake stands and asked me to make her one for her sister’s wedding.
In November of last year, a coworker invited me to come see his home at Village Green, a 65-acre ‘park’ in LA with condos scattered through it. It has very old, and very large trees in many of LA’s most prominent varieties. They sometimes trim trees and leave piles of logs for anyone living there to take whatever they want for any reason, so he invited me to come score some Modesto ash (Fraxinus velutina), which had been sitting out for awhile:
He helped me fill the truck:
Then I filled the area in front of my log rack:
These had such nice bark on them, I wanted to show it off. I decided to make Rebecca a cake stand. I didn’t tell her I was going to. I just started on it. It turns out that ash is some crazy hard stuff, and wanting to keep the bark on, and not having enough throat clearance in my band saw (and fearing cutting round objects after all the horror stories), I dug in with my Irwin Marathon crosscut saws, carefully avoiding chipping out bark as much as possible.
This time lapse – actually the 3rd such attempt to film this cut, with the first 2 being of only a few minutes each – is 1:11 in length, which is 71 seconds, and it was shot at 1 frame/second. Doing the math, that’s 35.5 minutes of cutting to make one round. It’s a real bear to get through this wood:
When done, I had a nice, thick round ready to begin its long journey toward being a decorative cake stand top:
Note the WD-40 can – I kept spraying the saw to lube it up. The log kept binding on it. It’s not the best lube for this job, but it works a lot better than dry cutting the wet log.
Here’s a closeup:
It’s about 13” in diameter:
I used some mineral spirits to get a sense of the look of the log later, here applied to half the log round:
There is a little bit of checking in the middle, and it looks like the log has reacted in some way around the check, perhaps an infection or rot, though the wood was very hard still in these areas:
All sealed up with Anchorseal:
I wanted to try the alcohol soak method of drying out logs quickly with minimal checking. From what I’ve read, you just soak the green wood in denatured alcohol for a 24-hour period, then let it air dry for a few weeks. I didn’t have a container, though, so I set the saw for a 90-22.5=67.5° angle to make pieces for an octagon shaped ring:
I jointed a scrap of 2×4, set my miter sled’s rail stop to a length I determined by a quick Sketchup model around a rough 13-inch+ circle, then cut out 8 pieces with the 22.5 angle.
And here’s the little soak tank they’ll form:
It has a 15-inch ID across its flat sides, leaving almost an inch around all sides of the log round, perfect for being able to reach in later to lift the soaked round out again:
First up, trimming it to width (and removing the wax coating) with the router bridge/sled:
I didn’t clamp the part down in any way, so I made light passes. Here it is after 2 of them, which doing the math on the above time-lapse took 15.5 minutes to achieve:
You can see the tool marks left by the router. These were actually really hard to remove, even with 60-grit in the ROS. Ash is very, very hard:
More routing fun in time-lapse form. This is actually just over 30 minutes of real time:
And about 25 more minutes:
It’s a little time-consuming, but it’s also a lot of fun. I love watching the wood become flat and perfect.
Difficult tool marks:
The bark held on through the procedure admirably:
It was probably an hour with 60-grit in the ROS to sand these tool marks out:
Here’s a pointless time-lapse of setting up the soak tank outside at night:
I left it on top of a tarped wood-holding box overnight, and it rained:
It did seem to work pretty well. The moisture content dropped rather considerably after it dried out for a few days. This was the 28th of January, with the day I took it out of the tank being the 17th. I had started the project in November, so it’s already been about 2 months by this point:
I was anxious to see how it would look with some butcher block oil, which was the intended final coating:
It was a lot more orange than I’d expected:
I took another, much smaller log of the Modesto ash, got one side flat, IIRC with the belt sander, then screwed it to my resawing sled to create a parallel cut to create the stand base:
Ash being so hard, and the saw being so dull, I sort of burned my way through the log:
I drilled a mortise in a 2×4 scrap and turned a piece of large dowel to fit snugly in it as a floating tenon. After a few attempts, I got a good fit:
I used a plywood circle I’d had laying around with a hole in the center to mark the center of the bottom:
I set a stop on the drill press and drilled to depth with the Forstner bit, just the right size for the floating tenon:
Believe it or not, that’s 12 minutes of fighting. I can’t believe how hard this wood is. It kept slowing my drill down.
I got the stand ends cleaned up on the belt sander:
Here’s 22 minutes of mortising the stand base:
The tenon was just a little tight, so I sanded it, rounded the ends a bit, and sawed some kerf flutes. Then it fit:
Here’s the glue-up (Titebond III):
And here’s the finished stand, basically, with more butcher block oil on top:
A look at the bottom:
Here’s a closeup from January 29th:
The only thing left to do was flatten the bottom a bit better and put my stamp on it. Then Rebecca told me ‘no rush’ – she wasn’t going to ship it to the wedding in FL, which I was rather glad about. I don’t know what FL’s heat and humidity would do to this thing if she sent it there. Still, she wanted it for her own home. Production halted, however, and this thing sat in my dining room until mom’s visit a couple of weeks ago. It moved into my room and things piled onto it.
Then this past weekend, the girl who asked for the stand was to have a 1920s themed garden party, so I dusted it off, and threw this together just this past Saturday:
I had found plywood scraps that were just barely taller in width than the height of the cake stand, so I used clamps and some quickly-jointed 4×4s (just for a 90° on one corner) to throw together these rails. The level showed me they were perfect all around. Hooray for square, parallel pieces, and a nice, flat work surface:
I clamped down the plate (on a paper towel to preserve the nice top surface), and ran the router bridge to shave off about 1/8-inch:
All that was left was a quick sanding to remove the tool marks (very fast this time), and then the brand:
And here it is in use with a delicious red velvet cake (made by the man in the background – Mike, my old college roommate) – at the 1920s themed garden party, after we moved inside:
And here’s me with Mike in our finery:
Our gracious hosts, Tom and Rebecca:
If you want to see more of our pseudo-20s, they are here.
The cake stand was a success. The hostess loved it and wants to leave it out on display from now on. She’ll use it anywhere it’s called for. All in all, it was a 7 month build process, though almost all of that time it just sat around, drying. Still, when I routed the bottom flat this past weekend, it was soaking wet inside still. I warned her, of course, not to leave it on wooden surfaces, and perhaps to put it up on something that will allow it to air out underneath.
Unfortunately, the second round I cut to make another one of these for my mother split open like Pac Man months ago.
-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator