Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Emerald Ash Borer and the Apprentice's Slant Front Desk

The Emerald Ash Borer has been devastating the ash trees in western Pennsylvania.  The bugs bore through the bark and create tunnels in the layer known as the xylem which transports water. The early signs of a dying tree are patchy areas of bark loss and leafless branches at the top of the tree. The tree is typically doomed in two or three years. Typically, shoots of new growth will form centrally and at the base of the tree. By the way, ash trees are one of a few species that can grow via coppicing, which is the process of allowing shoots to grow from the stump after a tree has been felled. Rapid growth of the new tree occurs because the root system is already in place. The golf course in my neighborhood has lost hundreds of trees to this bug. 

Ash borer tunnels in xylem of ash tree are easily seen after all the bark has fallen off.

On the bright side, this has given the putting greens some "breathing room" and might save me a stroke or two. The maintenance crew on the golf course needed to remove all of these dead trees. One late winter day, while walking the course, I noticed that the crew had taken down not only ash trees, but a fairly large walnut tree as well.

Logs of walnut are stacked adjacent to the cart path with ash next to the crew. I "hauled ash" and walnut (the walnut logs seen on the path were used for the project) on a dolly along the cart path back to my house nearby .
 Photo courtesy of Stefan Gustafson.
The timing couldn't have been better. Having just returned from Roy Underhill's week long Woodcraft week course in March, I decided to use what I learned to work the walnut and ash logs by hand.

Official Knighting Ceremony in becoming an Assistant to the Assistant Green Woodworker's Apprentice

Using wedges and froes, the walnut split nicely into roughly two inch thick pieces.

Walnut split with wedges and a froe
It was then off to the shave horse to further smooth out the pieces with a draw knife followed by the some cross grain passes with a scrub plane and finishing the rough millwork with a No. 6 plane along the grain.

Shaving horse made during Woodcraft Week 
Finally, some of the pieces were cut into various thicknesses for a future project using frame saws and other types of saws. Great workout. The shave horse is quite relaxing.  You can get so carried away in the rhythm and efficiency on this thing that by the time you "come to", you realized you have whittled a log down into a pencil.  All this shaving horse meditation helped me think of my next project...a miniature slant front desk. Having a very small workshop and, now, having the perfect sized wood available, an apprentice sized desk seemed ideal.

While I have proven to myself that the traditional methods of milling can be used, I had to succumb and finish processing these logs with a band saw due to time constraints and general lack of muscle. My plans called for many pieces of walnut and ash in quarter inch thick boards, which are about 2.5 times thinner than a full scale desk. The end grain of the 1/4" boards were painted with some old paint to prevent checking, and the boards were stored in my attic until the summer.

By June, I checked on the boards, and most of them held up pretty well, albeit, some were cupped. The boards felt dry. The moisture of the boards was about 12% using a digital multimeter and nails as shown in the Woodgears website. The drying time seemed much faster than I had anticipated.  The general rule is about 1 year of outdoor drying time for an inch thick board. I would guess that a two inch thick board may take about three years to dry while these 1/4" boards only took 3-4 months.

In the upcoming posts, you will see how the ash and walnut logs from the golf course morphed into the small desk below.

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