Wednesday, June 25, 2014

working notes: rift sawn oak

Whether you like it or not, a ring porous wood like oak, ash or hickory will always have a prominent grain affecting the look of your project. This can really make or break the look of what you have made. Wood is a natural material and its grain is part of that, no doubt about it. But there are times when a prominent grain becomes a distraction to the overall design. I have an entire blog post on this subject here and will not repeat it all, but let's just review the visual differences in how wood can look depending on how the log was oriented on the saw.

First, a sample of PS white oak, the most common and cheapest cut (where the board face is parallel to a tangent of the log round):

Here is a sample of PS red oak:

Next, a sample of QS white oak (where the board face is along a radius of the log):

Here is the QS cut in red oak:

Here is today's subject, a RS sample in white oak that comes from a board that is somewhere between the two cuts above:

A RS red oak sample:

You can see at a glance that the RS wood has a quieter grain with the vertical lines of those annual rings lining up just so without the medullary ray flecks that the QS wood displays. I think this makes rift sawn oak easier to work into a design than either of the other two cuts. And not only for the frame in frame and panel work; see how well mannered it is as panel too:

 So the answer when you want to use an oak but do not want the prominent grain shouting over the overall design is to use RS wood. You get oak's strength, more stability in use than PS stock, and a quiet unobtrusive look that lets the shape of the design get a word in edgewise. A table leg is another obvious situation where this becomes important. In fact, I'd prefer RS wood for the table's rails too. Only for the table top would I consider one of the other cuts, probably preferring the QS material for its stability. Save the PS wood for drawer sides or pieces that go into sight-impaired homes.

In any case, if you pay attention to grain patterning in your work, the results will be visually more pleasing and you will find yourself searching for RS wood. This is why we have our red and white oak inventory segregated by cut.

Monday, June 9, 2014

working notes: Tupelo (black gum)

We sawed our first Tupelo log a year or so back. I tend to forget about these things as they air dry, but since it was our first attempt at a species we had not sawn before, I was anxious to run it through the kiln. We quartersawed the log since we figured it was like sweetgum or sycamore: one of those species that moves so much when drying that quartering is the best way to get usable lumber.

I will jump straight to the bottom line: This log has yielded a higher percentage of wood that screams "Keep me!" than any log we've sawn since that curly AND burly soft maple in 2005. I believe the log was lightly spalted - no black line or soft areas, but tons of colors waving in soft flames vertically up the board. Tans, yellows, purples, darker browns, cream, all in undulating striations that really popped with one coat of oil. See for yourself:

Each and every board has these colors throughout the entire board!

I am rearranging my shop schedule to make something out of this wood as soon as possible. Gorgeous wood does that to me. I found a table design I had set aside a while ago; this is the wood for it. I can't wait. The wood is lighter weight than the sweetgum, but it has the same diffuse porous structure that makes the kind of surface that begs to be touched.

Oh, pricing. To be honest I began by pricing this wood like our sweetgum - around $4. (We also just pulled some sweetgum from the kiln, and one of those boards migrated to Tom's Private Stash, along with four for Joe's Stash), but the more I look at it, that is not right. This wood is unique. Other pictures of Tupelo online do not look this spectacular, so the best pieces of this wood will be $8/bf, about what you would pay for normal wood from other places. And this is far from normal. 

First come, first serve.

As far as working characteristics, I may have more to say on this later, but for now it does not appear to be particularly difficult. Naturally it seems much like sweet gum (which may not help you much), although as mentioned these boards are lighter in weight. The sample above shows some tear out from the planer, but it saws, planes, glues and screws just fine. Perhaps soft maple is a comparison that is helpful. When wood looks this good I am willing to tackle some difficulties but I honestly do not foresee any.


October 2015 NOTE: It is possible that the species shown above is sweetgum, not black gum. Sweetgum heartwood, aka "red gum", can have the look shown above. The "tupelo" (black gum) identification is not guaranteed.