Processing a large amount of beech

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Processing a large amount of beech

Postby Rusty Froe » Thu Dec 03, 2015 9:59 am

Hi there.

I have a large beech tree in my garden that will have to be felled.

The top three quarters or so is rotten and heavily woodpeckered, so this will mostly become firewood.

Probably the only usable wood is the main trunk and a long, thick, horizontal branch which splits into three smaller branches.

The trunk is about twenty inches wide.

I'm going to ask for the bottom four feet to be cut as one piece, this will give me a relatively straight cylinder which flares out towards the roots.

I'll get the rest of the trunk cut into two foot lengths, there will only be a few of these and they'll be kind of twisty.

The horizontal branch is probably about fourteen inches at its widest but has multiple curves, probably I can cut it into several fairly straight yard long lengths.

The three branches at the end of the horizontal branch are probably no thicker than four or five inches, I assume they will only be good for firewood.

I'm new to green woodworking and I'm not likely to get easy access to this much good quality wood again so I don't want to waste too much of it.

I'm assuming it will be relatively simple to split the lengths of trunk with wedges and a sledge. I have done this with six foot lengths of cupress of a similar width.

Are there any special tricks/problems with splitting beech as opposed to conifers?

I'm planning to make some simple chairs with the four foot piece of trunk and I assume heartwood would be used for strength.

Can the sapwood be used for anything at all besides burning in the wood stove? I'm thinking it could be turned into light pulls or carved into spatulas or spoons.

I'm guessing that the pith will not be in the centre of the horizontal branch but somewhere near the top.

I understand about splitting the wood into two equal halves through the pith but what do you do with the two pieces?

Do you continue splitting the pieces into two equal halves by splitting radially at a jaunty angle and passing through the pith line or can you just split it into equal pieces and ignore the pith.

Since the pieces you are left with will have very closely spaced and widely spaced growth rings, would they be suited to different things?

Lastly, would it be feasible to turn a two foot long by six inch diameter cylinder of wood on a pole lathe?

The ends of the lathe bed are two substantial lumps of cupress trunk so I'm hoping vibration won't be a problem, but I'm wondering what sort of spring I would need.

There are some saplings/small trees I could probably press into service for motive power but I don't want to attempt the impossible.

I don't need to round the whole cylinder, I just need to turn four "equators" and then cut it into four pieces and turn each of them into a sphere.

(I say sphere, but anything approximately ball-shaped would suffice.)

Thanks.
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Re: Processing a large amount of beech

Postby gavin » Fri Dec 04, 2015 11:27 pm

Mike Abbott suggests that beech grown north of Watford (? I forget exactly what latitude) has too wavy a grain to be usable in greenwood work. Certainly beech I meet in Scotland is shite for cleaving as it is way too twisted. Yours is a garden tree, so I suspect you'll have wavy grain anyway. The great risk is you'll spend time learning how to use a mostly un-usable tree and get disheartened.

My heartfelt advice would be to seek instruction from a local knowledgeable greenwoodworker. If you don't pay for this instruction it will probably cost you much more in time and wasted materials than if you did pay for it. One plan would be to take your 4 foot length to someone with knowledge, space, tools and capacity and you'll get a quick result: they'll tell you from looking at the whorls and twists in the log if they think cleaving it worthwhile or no. You may be able to do much of this by photos shared before you move any logs anywhere. Where in the world are you?

I'd contact your local group of bodgers to see who they wd recommend. Alternatively : Will Wall, Brian Williamson, Sharif Adams, Mike Abbott, Barn the Spoon - look them up in the membership list of the bodgers. If you don't have a membership list or know where is your local group, then you have yet to pay your £20 p.a. to belong to the Bodgers. You don't have to be a member to use this site but it would increase my goodwill toward you if you were to become a member.
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Re: Processing a large amount of beech

Postby Rusty Froe » Mon Dec 07, 2015 8:35 pm

I have no problems turning over money for practical instruction. In fact the first thing I did when I found out that this tree would have to be felled was contact a local bodger and arrange a day of paid tuition. Sadly this had to be cancelled (not by me) as did a subsequent opportunity for training at a demonstration/fair owing to circumstances beyond his or my control.

There are other bodger's courses fairly close to me but they don't appeal as much.

I am well South West of Watford. Most of my relatives are from North East England or Scotland. They're all pretty twisted. :D

I'm going to give it a go, worst case it will end up as firewood, possibly I can make a decent number of (wavy) shingles out of it for my woodstores.

Although it's a garden tree it probably hasn't got a typical garden tree growth habit. There are four or five closely spaced, large beeches growing in a hedge. No human would plant trees that closely so I assume they are from blackbirds in the hedge. The hedge is currently about six feet high so the trees have all grown straight up (like in a forest). After they emerge from the top of the hedge the trunks are mostly extremely bent and twisted.

I won't become disheartened. It'll either turn or burn. Either way someone has just dropped a load of free wood in my lap. (Not counting the cost of the tree-surgeon.)
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Re: Processing a large amount of beech

Postby gavin » Tue Dec 15, 2015 6:37 pm

Do set yourself up some sort of cleaving brake. I find folk generally reluctant to practise cleaving but it amply repays the time you spend practising it. If you have Mike Abott's champion the lumber horse, you'll have a cleaving break on the back end of it. Being able to steer the split by putting the thicker side down i.e. below the froe-blade and pressing on the end of that thicker side is a great way to get better yields of usable material. If you do hook up with your paid tuition person, do get the basics of cleaving from him or her.
Gavin Phillips


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Re: Processing a large amount of beech

Postby Rusty Froe » Thu Dec 17, 2015 7:02 pm

Have already built a cleaving brake and inclined pole similar to the one in Mike Abbot's first book.

Shave horse and pole lathe are still "works in progress".

Mostly cobbled together from large lumps of Leylandii-like conifer, sycamore and hardwood pallets.

Had to pay for the six inch nails though.
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Re: Processing a large amount of beech

Postby Rusty Froe » Thu Dec 17, 2015 7:07 pm

In case anyone thinks I can't count.

There are three large beech trunks with two thinner (6-8 inches) trunks growing between them.

I'm guessing it's only three trees, but it's difficult to tell.
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