Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Chainsaw milling the curved beam...

After we deposited the huge American Elm (Ulmus americana) at the PCEI Nature Center, we got to work cutting it into a manageable size. Peter used a chainsaw and cut some irregular chunks off the larger diameter end to make the log more cylindrical. This made the log easier to rotate and apply a chainsaw mill.

We spent some quality time determining the optimal depths and orientation to cut our slabs. We opted to cut ~9" slabs on either side of the pith.

We borrowed a Sperber chainsaw mill from local timber framer Nils Peterson. To guide the chainsaw mill's first cut, we placed an extension ladder on top of the log. The rollers on the chainsaw mill slide across the smooth surface of the chainsaw mill. We placed spacers under the extension ladder to compensate for the taper in the log and keep the cut relatively level with the height of the pith.

Each pass of the chainsaw mill takes about 20-30 minutes. It is definitely slow going, but sometimes a chainsaw mill is the only way to cut massive, inconvenient, remote, or curved timbers. (Thanks Nils!)

After cutting our slabs, we found that there were two veins of rotting wood inside the tree. These defects were located on opposite sides of the slab, and will make laying out and carving the curved beam more difficult and perhaps impossible.

We left discouraged, but not defeated.

Days later, Jacob Dolence, an Americorp volunteer from PCEI's Environmental Education program, helped me mill the second 9" slab from the log using the chainsaw mill.

I moved the more defective slab to my mill, and the least defective slab to my workshop.

Time to layout and perhaps carve the slab into the curved beam that we want. My fingers are crossed!

Monday, December 15, 2008

East City Park Elm

Sadly, many American Elm trees around Moscow are infected with Dutch Elm disease.

We arranged with Roger Blanchard, The Moscow city arborist, to take all of the usable wood from a century-old American Elm tree. This tree was first girdled, and then felled, because it was found to be infected with Dutch Elm disease. The tree was felled by Lacey K tree service. We agreed to move the wood outside of Moscow and/or to remove all of the bark to kill the beetle larvae which carries Dutch Elm disease.

The butt end of the tree was massive, and we estimated its weight at close to 8,000 lbs. Far too large for my trailer, we borrowed the 5,000-lbs capacity trailer from PCEI. We hired a hydraulic self-loading rock-moving truck to lift the log onto the trailer. The weight of the log was enough to lift the back of the trailer and the back of my Jeep completely off the ground as it was being loaded.

The log and the weight were clearly too much to safely transport to my sawmill. Instead, we moved the log to the nearby PCEI campus. It took three 4x4 trucks to pull the log off of the trailer and onto the ground:

The hope is to mill and chainsaw carve this giant log into the special curved timber on the front of the PCEI Artist's studio...

Milling, Milling, Milling...

This late fall, Peter and I have been hard at work milling the timbers for the studio. We wanted to mill everything before snow prevented easy access to the mill site.

This work is moderately rewarding: It takes a long time to move logs onto the mill and into the correct position. However, the payoff happens when one gets to open up a log and look inside for the first time. Even after milling dozen of timbers, I get a kick out of seeing a near-perfectly square timber take shape out of a curved, knobby, muddy, bark-covered log. The better the wood quality, the more fun it is. Large, clear, straight logs with no obvious pitch pockets are the best. As far as preferred species, Western Larch and American Elm are particularly rewarding, as well as the rare high-quality Douglas Fir log. Clear Ponderosa and Lodgepole Pine is nice too. Heck, its all good.

Lacking large machinery for moving logs around we often have to rely on levers and cant hooks (aka peaveys) to move logs into position. Here is Peter, standing atop our log deck, rolling a large log off the deck all the way down to the sawmill:

Peter is more cavalier about standing on top of an unstable log deck than I am. :-)

Rolling a log up onto the mill can be challenging. I bought optional spring-loaded ramps which make this a lot easier. The log "rachets" up the ramps. Even working alone, I can move a very heavy log into position on the mill with the aid of a cant hook.

Here, Peter is operating the sawmill, finishing the top cut which will finalize this large timber. Each ripping cut takes a matter of seconds. Most sawing time is spent setting up cuts to make things square. Carefully planning out how to get the most out of each log and then moving things carefully into position really pays off and reduces waste.

The sawmill sounds like a large, loud lawn mower engine. Hearing protection is a great idea.

Here, you can see the back of the bandsaw blade as it makes a cut into the log.

The bandsaw is lubricated with water. You can see that here:

Here I am, finishing a cut on a massive Ponderosa Pine log.

This pine log turned into a huge 13"x14" timber. It had enough defects (knots) to prevent its use as a beam, although it might make an excellent post or it could be cut into 1"x12" boards and used as board and batten siding. A lot of barns around the Palouse use pine board and batten siding. I've seen original, 100 year old pine siding in good shape on some of these barns.

Below, I am milling a large dead-standing Western Larch log. This timber will be one of the three large top plates on the studio. It will be partially responsible for supporting the weight of the heavy living roof. I've always found that Larch seems to check more severely than most other native softwoods. The fact that it was harvested as dead-standing means that it is drier and more stable (i.e. seasoned) than most of our other green logs. It is critical that top plates don't warp too much.

We've finished almost all of the milling for this project, although finding/carving the large curved beam on the front of the studio is proving challenging...