View from the Garage

February 22, 2010

Tale of a Torrey Pine

Filed under: Woodworking — thefusionguy @ 6:12 am

Long before we moved into our house, the neighbor to the west has had a large Torrey Pine tree in his front yard. The Torrey Pine is the rarest pine tree in the US, and it grows naturally only in a small strip of coastal land near San Diego. (There is also a small population of a variety on Santa Rosa Island, off the coast at Santa Barbara.) It is normally a rather small pine, but in landscaped locations where it gets plenty of water it can grow to huge proportions. Unfortunately for this particular tree, it is both watered daily and near an overhead power line, so SDGE every year prunes off branches that grow toward the power lines. This has unbalanced the tree over the years, and it has been leaning precariously over the neighbor’s house. The high winds early this year convinced the neighbor that the tree had to go. This is a big deal in Del Mar, where the tree is highly protected. But two weeks ago the tree was cut down. You can see in the before and after photos the difference it made. It was like losing an old friend.

I thought I’d like to make some kind of keepsake out of the wood for the neighbors, as a souvenir of the tree. The tree was cut while I was snowboarding in Utah, so I didn’t have the opportunity to get any of the wood. But another neighbor had collected some of the wood for firewood (a lot of it!). He had borrowed a hydraulic splitter from the guy that cut the tree, so he split in half a round about 18″ long and 24″ in diameter, with no branches. I figure this is about 4 to 5 cubic feet of wood, almost saturated with water. Water is 64 lbs/ft^3, so these half-rounds might weigh 120 lbs or more. So: how to mill this lumber. I thought to use my 14″ bandsaw, which was really the only option. So I added some support for the wood and hoisted it to the bandsaw table. I didn’t want to use one of my good sawblades, so all I had was an old 1/4″ blade with 4 teeth/inch, not the ideal thing. It was pretty hard to slide these heavy logs though without just breaking the band, but I managed it. The big problem was that the pitch from the sappy wood kept forming globs on the band and interfering with its limited cutting ability. I found that brushing the sides of the band with a brass-wire brush and then rubbing beeswax on the blade helped a lot with reducing this problem. Here’s how it looked for the smaller of the two pieces.

The first cut was the hardest. After that the weight was substantially reduced, which made the cutting easier. Still, the narrow band wandered a lot, so cleaning up the wood will be tedious. After making a fairly right-angle of the quarter log, it was much easier to work.

The photo on the bottom right shows the stickered wood in the garage for drying. The wood is completely soaking wet, so it will definitely take a couple months to come to an air-dry condition. I added a fan to try to reduce the tendency for mold to form, and coated the ends with paraffin to keep the ends from drying too much faster than the rest of the boards and causing cupping and checking from the uneven shrinkage as the wood dries. I’m a little skeptical that the wood will be usable, but we’ll see. I cut the pieces much thicker than I expect to use, to allow for correction of substantial cupping and warping. Either I’ll have some interesting wood or some firewood with lots of labor put into it.

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