Adventures in Trace Fork #1: Woodworker's Paradise

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Blog entry by Tony posted 04-05-2009 01:19 AM 972 reads 0 times favorited 4 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Adventures in Trace Fork series Part 2: Interesting Trees »

Most Saturday mornings, I am hiking in Trace Fork Canyon in South Charleston, WV. Heavily wooded, steep, and rocky, the canyon is 300’ deep and runs several miles right through some of the most congested urban sprawl in West Virginia. You can literally go from shopping centers and subdivisions right into hundreds of acres of forested paradise in just a few minutes. Here’s a photo I took with a model airplane on a bright, hazy July morning, showing the canyon snaking away into the distance, with one of the many shopping centers that line the rim across from the park:

I grew up on a wooded 10 acre homestead adjacent to Little Creek Park, a 300 acre city park. The happiest times of my youth were hiking and fishing in the canyon. I’ve gone Back to the Future for my mid-life crisis, and most weekends over the past year I could be found rediscovering the many miles of trails running in or near the canyon. As a long time woodworker, I couldn’t help but notice the thousands of fallen trees along the hillsides. I’ve helped with trail maintenance after storms, and have even taken home some chunks of wood. However, carrying a chain saw and 50 pounds of wood a mile or more back to the car over extremely rugged terrain is a recipe for a very sore back – spoken from experience!!

Since I started carving walking sticks this year, I’ve kept a take-down bucksaw in my pack, and look for suitable stock from fallen trees. To date, I’ve collected Black Walnut, Black Cherry, Hickory, Ash, Elm, Boxelder, Hemlock, White Poplar, Beech, Red Oak, White Oak, and Sycamore. Here is a shot of some sticks in various stages from very green to ready for pyrographic detail:

Here is a very common view, with an up close shot:

The last two shots are of a large Black Oak (see edit below) that fell over, knocking down a large White Oak, which took out several smaller trees, just missing a pair of nice American Hornbeams. Darn!! The carnage led from the first big Oak, over the trail and down the hill, all the way to a second parallel trail at the bottom of the ravine. Here are some shots of the carnage:

I had to clean out my son’s car really well when I got home:

Here is today’s take in my garage:

I’ve already waxed the ends of all of those sticks. Most of them I’ll be able to use next spring, but the bigger ones I’ll let dry until spring 2011. I’ve read two different theories on drying branches. One says to leave the bark on as they dry, the other says to strip the bark before drying. I did have the big Poplar stick in one of the above photos split badly within a week of peeling it and putting it in my garage, but most of my other sticks have been OK. I prefer to strip the bark before drying. Besides, I find the use of a drawknife and spokeshave to be strangely relaxing….I guess it takes all kinds.


EDIT 4/7/09: The large fallen tree I originally identified as a Northern Red Oak is actually a Black Oak, Quercus velutina. I was tipped off last night while carving one of the branches I culled from it. It had bright orange inner bark, and strange channels running longitudinally through the wood, just under the bark. The channels almost look like they were carved.

4 comments so far

View Tony's profile


56 posts in 3377 days

#1 posted 04-05-2009 01:49 AM

Well, I have a little work to do to figure out photo posting. All of the above photos are chopped off on the right side.


View oldwoodman's profile


137 posts in 3420 days

#2 posted 04-05-2009 04:22 AM

Is it legal to cut up downed trees in West Virginia? It certainly seems a shame to let all of that lumber go to waste. I know that downed trees will gradually decay and add to the “humus” of the forest floor, but here in California, too much underbrush and downed trees has contributed to some nasty forest fires. Somewhere between 100 and 200 homes were burned to the ground near Lake Tahoe in the summer of 2007 because of a forest fire (started by an illegal campfire) that quickly got out of control because of the high density of brush and trees in the woods. The state agency in control of forest preservation had a policy of not clearing out the forest.

It would sure be nice if you could be a “responsible citizen” and help make the forest a safer place by taking home some of that lumber. At least you get some great times of relaxation as you hike through the woods.

View Dick, & Barb Cain's profile

Dick, & Barb Cain

8693 posts in 4321 days

#3 posted 04-05-2009 04:35 PM

A very nice story.

I’ve discovered that wood up to 1” to 1 1/2” doesn’t check much when peeling before drying.

Besides it peels much easier when it’s green.

-- -** You are never to old to set another goal or to dream a new dream ****************** Dick, & Barb Cain, Hibbing, MN.

View Tony's profile


56 posts in 3377 days

#4 posted 04-06-2009 04:37 PM


We hikers and bikers clear the trails of downed trees all the time. Beech and Red Oak seem to be the ones that fall the most, either through their roots failing or lightning strikes. Some of the fallen trees I’ve seen are so massive two people together couldn’t reach around the trunk. Unfortunately, there is just no feasible way to get large chunks of wood back to the vehicle.


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