The Biggest Burr Oak

A friend of mine sent me an e-mail recently and said he had a line on a couple of logs. He gave me no details. I responded quickly telling him that I was not currently chasing logs because I had to focus on work that would make me money quickly, and collecting logs was not it. He let it go until I saw him at the next St. Louis Woodworkers Guild meeting when he brought it up again. This time he talked about the trees being big, which caught my attention. Then he said the magic words – Burr Oak. It wasn’t an accident that he knew the magic words for me because they were magic words for him too. See, a few years back he built the front door for his house out of Burr Oak lumber that I milled, and we both want more like it.

I knew it would be hard to duplicate, because that tree was, by far, the biggest that I have ever milled. It measured 54″ in diameter, inside the bark, 20′ from the ground. It was ginormous.

That’s not me, but that is the “Biggest Burr Oak” after it was cleaned up and back on the ground.

Unfortunately, the bottom 12′ where the clearest lumber would have been was rotten, but I still got an 8′ log that was pretty clear from the top. That particular tree was very close to my last home in Hazelwood, MO and I had admired it from a distance for a while. It was in a fenced in area on the IBM campus, so I never got right next to it to appreciate just how big it was before it fell. It was a perfect looking tree, the kind that you draw in school, with a short trunk and a big round top. I specifically remember saying to myself, “That is a big tree, too bad the bottom log is so short.” That short log was 20′ long, which shows you how wide the tree was. After seeing the photos of it on the ground and actually working on it, I imagine that it would have set some sort of records for size.

To mill that log, we cut it first into quarters with a chainsaw, lengthwise. Then we milled each quarter on the sawmill to produce quartersawn lumber. I always tell customers that size is one of the key factors for deciding whether to quartersaw a log or not. Sometimes I have to think about it, but this log left me no choice. We had to quarter it to get it on the mill and then still had to take a deep first cut on my old Corley circle mill to get things started.

The boards don’t look too big, but they are 17″ wide.

The log produced quartersawn boards without bark or pith up to 20″ wide, which is crazy wide for quartersawn white oak lumber. I still dream about the lumber that would have come out of the base of that tree if we got it before it rotted. They would have been perfectly straight-grained and up to 25″ wide without a defect, and I would have retired on the proceeds. As it was, the bottom log was completely gone and the top log that I milled still showed some signs of decay in spots.

After working with that log, I heard Burr Oak and started picturing more of the same. I heard big and I pictured perfection in wood. I knew the potential and hoped for a repeat. Well, after picking up the new Burr Oak I must say it is nowhere near as big. It is big (about 36″ in diameter), just not ginormous.

The new Burr Oak along with a funky sycamore and big cypress ready for loading.

It will have good lumber in it since it is solid to the ground, but it has a lot of branches and nubs that will make the lumber less than perfect. It doesn’t matter, though. I am a wood junkie and I can’t do anything about it. If I didn’t go get it, I can guarantee that it would have been bigger than the biggest Burr Oak and not rotten. The Burr Oak also came with a big cypress and a funky sycamore, both of which will also find a home on the walls of my shop. Thanks John, for letting me know about it (I owe you some lumber).

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About wunderwoods

Hi! My name is Scott Wunder and I am the owner of WunderWoods Custom Woodworking. We build wine cellars, built-ins and furniture from local woods, here in St. Louis, MO. Recently, I finished a three-year term as the President of the St. Louis Woodworkers Guild, which had me writing a monthly article for our newsletter. I love to write, especially about wood, and found that I still had more to say. Every day I run into something wood related that I realize some of my customers don't know and this seems like a great forum for sharing what I have learned (instead of telling the same story to each person). The main thing to remember is that I try to keep it light and as my wife always reminds people that have just met me, "He is joking."

4 responses to “The Biggest Burr Oak”

  1. Mike Cronin says :

    I live on a ten acre place in the country in Johnson Co. Iowa. At least 20 yrs. ago I had a man from the Extension Office come out to look at my trees. At that time there were three acres of trees. I was particularly interested in what he thought of an old burr oak on the edge of the trees. He said it was there when Lewis and Clark made there journey in 1804. I have since let the rest of the property go to a wild state, planting a number of trees over the years. There are numerous 15 ft. burr oaks growing near this huge 200 plus year old tree now. My wife and I just went out to measure it. It is 128in. in circumference and 43in. in diameter. The crown as near as I can tell is 65ft. and I just can’t estimate how tall, maybe 70ft. One day years ago I saw a bald eagle perched in its highest branch. What a sight. I read online that the biggest burr oak is in Woodford Co. Ky. Its is 500 years old, is 287in. in circumference,90in. in diameter 104ft. tall and has a 93ft. crown!

    • Suzanne Hall says :

      I think that is pretty neat to have such a wonderful old Burr Oak on your property. Or any Burr Oak for that matter. It is fun to think about who might have sat under your tree over the years. The Burr Oak is my favorite because of its beautiful form, and of the huge “chicken egg” sized across that it has. They are just amazing to hold in my hands. I want to take them everywhere as not many in my area know about the trees. I purchased the acorns over the years as I wanted to see if they would grow here. Well, they do and they grow fast if they have a lot of sunlight and water. As fast as a Maple tree. But I can see where their growth would be slow crowded with roots from other trees. I now have 7 on my place, and this is their 3rd year to have acorns. They produce acorns at an earlier age then other trees as they had their first small crop at 7 years of age. I would love to be around when they become huge, but I will never see it. I would love to see an old Burr oak in person, and have only looked at the pictures. I think they are the prettiest tree there is. So feel good about your old tree, as many have sat under it’s branches. Maybe some famous people as well. I enjoyed reading your story.

  2. Tony yates says :

    I have a large Laurel oak that I will be processing soon . Any recommendations on how or what to do would be highly appreciated if you have the time

    • wunderwoods says :

      Laurel oak is in the red oak family and processes the same. It is pretty easy to work with overall. If you have any specific questions feel free to ask.

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