Sara's Chest

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Project by cronk posted 04-03-2007 04:49 PM 2214 views 1 time favorited 22 comments Add to Favorites Watch

One of my favorite nieces asked me to build her a blanket chest which I have finally finished. Now – how to get it to in New York ? May take a bit but have a plan.

The Black Walnut used in this project came from a tree my friend Don Bird and I cut down in 1987. Can’t remember why the farmer wanted it cut. Don had his dump truck, backhoe and we had several chainsaws. The tree was 62 inches in diameter and was about 75 feet tall and a massive crown spreading 40 feet across. the trees age was 98 years which put its birth date in 1889.

We cut all the branches off and cut them into usable lengths for later sawing into lumber.Some of them were 24 to 30 inches in diameter. After all the limbs were removed we had this main stem standing 14 – 15 feet in the air. We decided it would be easier to quarter this chunk standing rather than lying on the ground as we couldn’t handle it in one piece. Anyhow Don had his big saw with a 60 inch bar so I climbed in to the backhoe bucket and he raised me up as high as he could and I preceded to saw the trunk into quarters and we then cut these off at ground level.

Later that summer, as time permitted we sawed it into lumber and stacked it up to dry.

I lined the bottom of the chest with Tennessee Red Cedar that my brother in Oklahoma brought me which he swapped for some walnut.

-- cronk, oregon

22 comments so far

View Chip's profile


1904 posts in 4291 days

#1 posted 04-03-2007 04:57 PM

Beautiful cronk. A real heirloom. I have a thing for walnut so this chest especially appeals to me.

Question though. I have read quite a few articles that say that branches of trees are never good to use as woodworking lumber. They said they torque much more then the trunk because of more built of tension. Have you ever used the branches before and, if so, did you notice any problems?

-- Better to say nothing and be thought the fool... then to speak and erase all doubt!

View scottb's profile


3648 posts in 4526 days

#2 posted 04-03-2007 05:31 PM

Very nice… and what a find with that Walnut tree.

I hope to see more projects with that.

I’ve read the same things too Chip. I have some stacked firewood for the lathe (from my neighbors tree) all the branch wood had cracked, twisted or otherwise changed shape. Small pieces might be good for turning, but I’d be afraid to make boards out of them – Incidentally the highway dept came by in recent weeks and took down some storm damaged trees and branches that were endanger of falling on the road behind me (My back 40, a steep hill, borders a state highway) I’ve seen a couple people scrounging for firewood. I’d have snagged some of (MY) wood, but the remaining peices are huge (for me and my car) and seem to be branch material, which is probably not worth the trouble (of either hauling back up the hill – very, very steep – or stopping on a very busy road and try manhandling them into the car) Fortunately my FIL does some treework, and I have access to his huge woodpile.

-- I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it. - Van Gogh -- --

View cronk's profile


33 posts in 4321 days

#3 posted 04-03-2007 06:19 PM

Yes, I have used “branch wood” before. Yes, it does have a few more stability problems but if you dry it good and be particular how you saw it up it is totally usable – in my opinion – and you can get some very interesting patterns from the limbs. I’ll run across a piece once in awhile and just looking at – the piece just doesn’t look stable so the shop needs some warmth into the wood stove
I appreciate your comments

-- cronk, oregon

View fred's profile


256 posts in 4297 days

#4 posted 04-03-2007 06:27 PM

Very nice. I like the book matching of the front and sides.

-- Fred Childs, Pasadena, CA - - - Law of the Workshop: Any tool, when dropped, will roll to the least accessible corner.

View Bill's profile


2579 posts in 4360 days

#5 posted 04-03-2007 07:05 PM

Nice job Cronk. And a wonderful history to go with the wood as well.

-- Bill, Turlock California,

View dennis mitchell's profile

dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 4513 days

#6 posted 04-03-2007 07:40 PM

That Walnut is almost purple. Nice job.

View Drew1House's profile


425 posts in 4287 days

#7 posted 04-03-2007 09:07 PM

Beautiful… Interesting that you can put a title like “Sara’s Chest” in here and this is the one forum where no one would think any naughty thoughts…


-- Drew, Pleasant Grove, Utah

View Branden's profile


321 posts in 4335 days

#8 posted 04-03-2007 09:18 PM

Brilliant! Very nice piece, you may want to send her something else and keep this for yourself!

-- Branden - Sacramento, California -

View Lou's profile


178 posts in 4281 days

#9 posted 04-03-2007 10:40 PM

very nice! great work!

-- "What one can make with good tools is limited only by one's talent" (

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 4298 days

#10 posted 04-04-2007 03:41 AM

Great looking chest. That extra space up there could have been use for an interior shot, your holding out on us!

It looks like you have a great shop to work out of too.

The limbs are notorious for having a lot of tension in them, of course they have been fighting gravity for their whole life. Just be carefull about using it. You can make veneer out of it and override the tension with a stable core plus get more sf. out of it too.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View MsDebbieP's profile


18618 posts in 4359 days

#11 posted 04-04-2007 01:03 PM

I’m curious—what exactly might happen if using branch wood?

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (, Young Living Wellness )

View CharlieM1958's profile


16280 posts in 4417 days

#12 posted 04-04-2007 03:07 PM

Beautiful chest! I love stories of pieces that can be traced all the way back to the tree they came from.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View Ethan Sincox's profile

Ethan Sincox

767 posts in 4373 days

#13 posted 04-04-2007 03:28 PM


Branch wood can be highly unstable because of the way it grows. It isn’t a trunk, growing straight up into the sky; it is coming off the trunk and more subject to gravitational pull and constant motion from wind. This can cause unstable growth paterns and, as a result, unstable wood.

Most saw mills won’t even touch it.

But it does make great firewood. :)

-- Ethan,

View frank's profile


1492 posts in 4405 days

#14 posted 04-04-2007 04:59 PM

Hi Cronk;
In my experience of using branch wood, which is in my estimation quite good, the use of the wood, stable vs. unstable all comes down to understanding the wood I am working with, plus what are the joinery practices I am going to use and proper drying of the wood. This drying time can be over an extended period of time, hence a lot of the mis-information we get about using branch wood comes from woodworkers who just cannot wait for the wood to dry out. You will never get good branch wood from out of the firewood pile and neither will it be dried in under a years time.

Then there also remains the need to understand that there is a proper time to pop the bark off (debarking) and a proper time to saw and then comes the ‘sticking’ of the wood….all in all a time of process as the year or years roll on. And then comes the question of who wants to wait that long, since I can go on down to my ‘isles of lumber’ and buy what is already done.

Branch wood in my experience can make nice table and bench legs and as you have stated Cronk with good drying procedures and proper sawing can produce pieces of lumber that are full of beautiful character.

In reply to what you Ethan have said, the reason that most sawmills won’t touch branch wood is that they do not have the time to process the drying of the wood before it is ready to saw. Sawmills saw green wood which is then stickered and dried some what before continuing on it’s journey, while branch wood needs to be dried out somewhat before going through the sawing process. And then there also remains the issue of size and board feet to branch wood compared with logs. The money for sawmills is in the demand of what the public wants and is willing to buy and pay for according to board feet, hence they are going to work with logs, never yet saw a lumber truck pull into a sawmill loaded with branch wood.

Branch wood is used and will continue to be used by the makers of rustic furniture and these are those, who for a big part will also continue to mill the wood themselves according to their tradition of working the wood.

Actually I might just add that right now I have branch wood that is drying out in various stages, from 1-6 years, some with the bark on and some with the bark off, some outside and some inside….see what i mean; how many workers of wood are willing to wait and go through this process? I also know rustic furniture makers who never touch the wood till they have a use in mind and so the wood just abides it’s time, sitting outside.


-- --frank, NH,

View MsDebbieP's profile


18618 posts in 4359 days

#15 posted 04-04-2007 06:40 PM

I have trouble waiting a week let alone a year or 6!!

I keep learning more and more each day. Some of it I understand and some I just go: Huh?

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (, Young Living Wellness )

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