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Forum topic by Mainiac Matt posted 05-02-2012 12:24 AM 1155 views 0 times favorited 5 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Mainiac Matt

8046 posts in 2327 days

05-02-2012 12:24 AM

Topic tags/keywords: harvesting logs lumber split mill

I’ve been getting some “fun time” doiing my annual spring “woodworking project”.... splitting fire wood.

I was admiring some of the red oak heartwood grain and figure and it occured to me that by splitting my own wood over the years I’ve actually gained quite a bit of insight about how wood grows and how different features in the growth of a tree manifest itself in different grain patterns.

Back in ‘96 when I first started clearing parts of my wooded lot in Maine, I contracted with a guy to mill timbers on site with his Wood Mizer, and part of the deal was that I had to be his tender. This also was a huge learning experience, as we milled up 10,000 BF of timbers and boards for the timber frame house I was building.

Some of the lessons learned through these experiences include:

1. blue mold gets into freshly cut pine very quickly, but spraying with dilute bleach can stop it.
2. tanic acid in oak initiates corrosion on contact with ferrous metals, leaving black stains on the wood.
3. seeing first hand the compression grain ring pattern in a large leaning pine tree, and having it “move” dramatically months later when joinery cuts in the beam releaved stresses locked into the grain.
4. having a large billet explode on the log splitter was a painful demonstration how spiral grain can lock powerful stresses into the wood.
5. seeing how the diffent ways you cut a beam or board affect the way that stick will check or cup while drying.
6. cutting into logs and seeing what powder post beatles or carpenter ant damage
7. watching freshly milled boards warp like a pretzel when the hot aftenoon sun hits them…. then flipping them over and seeing them straighten out again.

I’d love to hear some of the experiences other guys on the forum have had harvesting, splitting and milling lumber and how they have informed your wood working.

-- It’s the knowledge in your head, skill in your hands and motivation to create in you heart that makes you a woodworker. - Mainiac Matt

5 replies so far

View Dallas's profile


3599 posts in 2486 days

#1 posted 05-02-2012 01:24 AM

I’ve seen white oak tree’s that are dead leaning explode when I hit them with a chainsaw.

It’s an exciting, if not joyous experience.

Growing up in Idaho and Montana, cutting posts and poles for spare money is great until you see some of those standing dead Ponderosa pine’s become widow makers by splitting between the wedge cut and the cross cut.

-- Improvise.... Adapt...... Overcome!

View Nomad62's profile


726 posts in 2957 days

#2 posted 05-02-2012 04:16 PM

The best part of this post to me is the fact that I’m not the only one that snoops at the firewood instead of just cutting it up and tossing it in a pile. My wife rolls her eyes at me whenever I get to looking too closely, sometimes when I’m getting ready to toss it in the wood stove. I have several “saved” pieces, and I’ll get to monkeying around with them sooner or later. One aspect of splitting wood is how one piece of ,say, western red alder, will split at the drop of the axe while another of the same tree will be so stressed it will challenge my wood splitter; chopping (at) it is a waste of time. The twists and highlights exposed in chopped wood can make a dreary task somewhat enjoyable. Thanx for posting this, it made mine a better day.

-- Power tools put us ahead of the monkeys

View Bill White's profile (online now)

Bill White

4930 posts in 3959 days

#3 posted 05-02-2012 05:37 PM

Oh! Don’t drink beer and cut firewood at the same time.


View Helkat's profile


74 posts in 2295 days

#4 posted 05-02-2012 05:47 PM

I’ve never needed to chop wood for heat, so I never had much experience with it. But some time ago I bought a house that needed a few trees taken down, mostly pine. But there was 1 small black oak in the mix. After splitting a lot of the pine for summer fires, one day I switched to the still wet oak.

The whole time I was chopping, I kept thinking I must have spilled some kind of BBQ sauce on my shirt, but couldn’t remember. It wasn’t until I started stacking that I realized it was the wood!

I wasn’t expecting the light, but sweet, smell compared to the pine.

Once I identified its source it didn’t seem quite like bbq anymore, but it still has a wonderful scent.

-- Nat, UPstate NY,

View Mainiac Matt 's profile

Mainiac Matt

8046 posts in 2327 days

#5 posted 05-02-2012 06:09 PM

Aside from color, which can vary quite a bit, one sure way to tell white oak from red oak is by smell.

One of the “real” timber framers who assisted me with my frame raising always called white oak “piss oak”. And he was right…. it had a strong amonia smell when cut.

of course if you drop the tree, you can always look at the leaves and remember the old saying….

Red Oak leaves are pointed like the red mans arrows, and white oak leave are rounded, like the white man’s bullets”

Of course, there are umpteen different specieas of oak that fall into the classification of red oak….. but it’s a start.

-- It’s the knowledge in your head, skill in your hands and motivation to create in you heart that makes you a woodworker. - Mainiac Matt

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