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Rotten Wood or Good Wood

It isn’t my main business, but I mill lumber for customers on occasion, since I have all of the equipment and I have a hard time saying no. Often they will have a log in mind that they found laying in the woods or even one that they intended to mill sooner, but just never got around to it. Anyway, the log looks less than fresh and they want to know if they should spend the money having it milled.

Of course, I need as much information as possible before I can answer them, but there are some rules that I use to decide. First of all, think of logs as produce. For the color to be the brightest, with as few defects as possible they should be milled quickly. If they have been sitting for a while, I try to determine, in this order, what species the logs are, how long they have been on the ground, what seasons they have been through,  and the environment they have been stored in (shady and wet, high and dry, etc.) and finally what it will be used for (hopefully something rustic).

This white oak looks worthless on the outside. But, looks can be deceiving...

Species is first because logs decay at different rates. For example, silver maple starts to discolor in just a few weeks in the summer, while walnut can sit for years and the heartwood will show no signs of its age. Woods that are white are the first to go, because, as noted in an earlier post, the white wood is the sapwood and it rots

... the heartwood was like brand-new

much faster than the heartwood. Next to go are some open-pore hardwoods like red oak and honey locust. Last to go are logs like cherry, walnut and white oak.

This little, tiny, cute beetle was very close to having his day ruined by a sawblade.

For fun, I have photos of a white oak that I just quarter-sawed that inspired this post. Notice that the sapwood has turned to foam, falls apart in your hands, and has big beetles in it (I have regular size hands).

The difference in the heartwood is amazing. It was like a brand new log on the inside. I don’t know how long this log sat, but it was definitely years.

After considering species, time on the ground is the next indicator as to the soundness of logs. Here are some estimations based on three groupings. White woods will be absolutely no good after about four years, show considerable age after just one and be off in color after a couple of months. The open-pore hardwoods like red oak will be worthless in about five years, show their age after two years and start to be off in color in the heartwood after four. The heartwood of the third and final group can definitely go much longer. White oak and cherry heartwood will begin to discolor after six years, but have sound lumber for much longer. Walnut, as far as I can tell, never rots. I’m sure it does, but very slowly. Walnut is the last log I cut because I know it will not go bad on me.

All of these logs can start to show some signs of age after a short time depending on the season. During the summer the logs will get bugs in them and the heat can quickly cause discoloration. These problems will be worsened if the logs are stored in a wet spot versus a spot that is dry. The

winter is the best time to store logs. If it is cold enough, almost no degrade happens and the bug issue is moot. If stored in a shady and dry spot, off of the ground, and in the winter the logs will last the longest.

The last thing to consider is what level of degrade is acceptable, knowing that logs that have sat for more than a couple of months will have some “character”. Worm holes and spalting are common and can happen quickly in the summer, but still leave the lumber stable. Even lumber that is structurally impaired can be used for panels and other areas just for show. If you are alright with less than perfect lumber than you can easily use logs that have sat for a long time.

When checking on a logs condition, simply cut the ends back a couple of inches to see what is inside. Logs rot more quickly on the outside and from the ends. Trimming the ends may reveal wood in the middle that is still good, or it may not. Look at the color and check the hardness of the wood. If the color is marbled or there are soft spots, the wood is decayed. If it seems too soft/rotten, trim back further, a foot at a time, until you get to solid wood. If you get done trimming the ends and the remaining log is firewood length, your log is too rotten to mill.

Milling a 5-year-old cypress log

We have a kitchen remodel which we are working on in the shop and the wood of choice is cypress to match a door I built about 15-years ago. To match the rustic setting of his cabin, the customer recently decided to cover a wall with cypress and we needed a little more lumber. I had a few remaining cypress logs that have been there for about five years, so I took a gamble and milled them to see what I could get. It was a small gamble because cypress is very rot resistant, and it is common for us to find logs in this condition and still find plenty of good wood inside (click here to read more about milling rotten logs). The sapwood was starting to rot, which happens first in all species, no matter how rot resistant they are, but most of the heartwood was fine.

Check out the video below to see the process and hang out with me on a nice winter day at the sawmill.

Previous Posts

Augusta Project Nearing Completion
   Two years in the making, this green building is almost finished.
You Won’t Believe The Trees At Elephant Rocks State Park
   This Missouri park has amazing granite formations and surprising trees.
Lose The Sandpaper, Grab The Razor
   Use a razor the next time you are finishing a project.
Drying Twisted Wood And Knowing When To Walk Away
    Twisted sycamore tree, twisted sweetgum lumber, and why lumber doesn’t dry flat.
River Logging Begins At WunderWoods
    Five maple logs are pulled out of the Missouri river and milled.
Pecan Bent Branch Bench (say that five times)
    A bench is milled from the branch of a giant pecan tree.
How To Make A Thick Countertop Out Of Thin Wood
    Stretching a small walnut tree to make a big countertop.
Walnut And Cherry Are Great Exterior Woods
    Procrastination proves that walnut and cherry don’t rot.
Aging Metal Hardware Like A Man
    Fire is the key to an antique hardware finish.
The Best Wood Filler
    Sanding dust and a secret ingredient are combined to make a new wood filler.
Martin Goebel Has Big Plans
    Milling a giant black oak log for a customer.
Tornado Takes Down Giant White Oak
    It’s hollow, but it is huge. Scott wishes it was solid.
Missouri Botanical (Shaw) Gardens Is For Tree Lovers Too
    A tour through tree heaven.
What Makes A Good Crotch?
    The outside of a crotch gives clues to what is inside.
Shape Is Key To Identifying American Elm
    Photos and descriptions help identify American elm.
Hazelwood Tornado Hits Home (My Old One)
    News coverage video of the destruction.
Ax Men’s Shelby Stanga Gets An Early Birthday Present
    River walnut log is cut up and lost.
Woodworking And Sanding Go Together
    Sanding is necessary and takes the right mindset.
Widebelt Sander Gets Straightened Out
    Grooves in rubber drum are sanded smooth.
Giant Sycamore Almost Crushes Truck
    Sycamore log is carelessly loaded onto truck with almost disastrous results.
2013 St. Louis Woodworking Show In Collinsville IL
    Find out details about the big woodworking show.
Log Busting Without A Chainsaw Guide
    Use a chainsaw to quarter a log without guides.
How To Turn New Wood Into Antique Beams
    Pine lumber and beams are distressed for an antique look.
Skidding Logs Without The Ruts
   A sheet of plywood is used to skid logs.
Most Awesomest White Oak Treehouse Tree Ever!
   A white oak tree stands out from the crowd.
Driftwood Fireplace Mantel And Other River Treasures
   Scott and Mira find beaver sticks, railroad ties and other cool pieces of wood.
Curly Cherry Bar Top Fights Back And Loses
   After putting up a good fight, a curly cherry bar top finally takes a finish that sticks.
Fisheye In My Finish Again (and again, and again)!
   Previously finished pieces cause problems when it is time to refinish.
Sassafras Images, Photos and Facts
   Sassafras not only smells good, it is also a pleasure to work.
Antique Factory Carts Are Here, And Here, And Here…
   After purchasing 200 more antique lumber carts, Scott tells how the whole cart business started.
My Bow Is Made Of Catalpa (bean)
   Scott and Mira work on their archery skills. Mira is done, Scott needs to keep working.
Woodworking With Gloves: Am I Crazy?
   Woodworking with gloves reduces splinters, but is it safe?
Soft Maple Is Not Too Soft
   A WunderWoods favorite, soft maple gets a bad reputation just because of its name.
Joia Tubes Rock The Night
   WunderWoods customer Joia Tubes, comes out with a new light up set.
Pattern Guides On The Table Saw: Fast In The Straightaways
   The table saw is set up to cut matching pieces from a pattern.
The Kreg Jig: Is It Real Woodworking?
   The Kreg jig is fast and easy, but using them may be too much of a shortcut.
The Biggest Burr Oak
   See the biggest tree Scott has ever milled.
The Shop and Sawmill Fire Story: Long Version
   Scott brags about his fire starting skills and comes clean on what really happened.
WunderWoods River Logging – Just The Beginning, Or The End?
   Scott and Mira go on a little excursion and end up in front of a canon ready to fire.
Where The Metal Meets The Wood: Sauer And Steiner Woodworking Planes
   Beautiful hand planes are built one at a time and are true works of art.
How Big Do (American Black) Cherry Trees Get?
   Cherry trees get bigger than most people think.
The Slippery Truth
  Scott shares a few tips on making things slide smoothly through the tools in the shop.
Google Satellite Branches Out Into Log Procurement After Tornados
  After a tornado hits the St. Louis area Scott uses Google satellite imagery to locate logs.
Calculate Board Feet? Go Figure.
  Use these measurement tips to figure board feet in lumber.
The Best Tape Measure Ever
  All tape measures are not created equal. See what makes one stand out above the rest.
My Biggest (Woodworking) Blunder
Jointing A Straight Board: The “Reverse Rainbow” Method
Quartersawn Sycamore Table By David Moore
20″ Planers: Powermatic, Grizzly And Others All Made By Geetech. Who Knew?
Take The Time To Smell The Wood
Habit 7 (of highly effective people) – Sharpen your saw
The New Shop: 1735 S. River Rd., St. Charles, MO 63303
The “Augusta Project”
Slippery White Oak Changes Woodworking History (Maybe, Kinda-Sorta)
Once You Go Impact, You’ll Never Go Back
Metal: It’s Like It Grows On Trees
Siberian Elm And American Elm: Leaders Of The Elm Revolution
Mueller Brothers Timber Sawmill: This Is How To Bust Up A Log
Why Quartersawn Lumber Is So Stable: The 0-1-2 Rule In Action
Google SketchUp Is Free To Woodworkers!
Black Friday Blowout Event
How to Make Charcoal
Log Wins, Welding Begins
Have You Heard About Shrinkage?
“The” White Oak
Big White Oaks
Considering Wood Movement
Kiln-Dried Walnut Is Not Steamed Walnut
Doyle Log Scale: How To Determine Board Feet In A Log
New 100-year-old cherry; It is (no) lye!
Sanding White Pine: Avoiding A Sticky Situation
Utility Knives And Plastic Don’t Mix
Bigger Isn’t Always Better When It Comes To Sawmilling Cedar Trees
Big Walnut, No Nails
Rotten Wood or Good Wood
Wood Sculpting – A Different Approach to Woodworking
White Wood, Sap Wood and Spalted Wood

Walnut And Cherry Are Great Exterior Woods

I’ll admit it, I am not as fast as I’d like to be. I always think that I will get things done quicker than I do. And, I always say that things are done when I mean they are “basically done”, which means that I still have a few things left to do (therefore not done). I like to think of it as being optimistic. Well, while I am being “optimistic”, a lot of other things aren’t getting done (mostly because I am busy working on the thing that I thought was already done).

The one thing usually not getting done is sawing. After all, the logs aren’t going anywhere and a lot of them are just getting better with age. I’ll let them sit for a while, depending on the species, and try to play it just right for special things, like spalting, to happen. Sometimes I push it too far and the log rots and becomes unusable. Species like ash and maple, which have a lot of sapwood, need to be milled sooner than the rest. They (especially maple) will quickly stain, spalt and then rot, while others will be fine. I often use this rotting process as a gauge to decide which log to mill next. I like all of the logs I bring in, and I don’t want any of them to turn into dirt before they get turned into lumber.

Through the years, as I have kept tabs on the disintegrating logs, I have learned what it means to be “durable”. In the books about different species of wood, they always list their durability, which I thought meant how they handle wear and tear, like from a hammer, but they mean from the weather. Turns out some woods last longer outside than others. I knew this, of course, but only from reading it. Now, after all of my “wood collecting”, I know it from watching it happen. Some woods go fast, but some never seem to go. And, they are not necessarily the first ones to come to mind.

I was inspired to write this because of the two that are extremely durable, but no one ever thinks to use outside – two of my best friends – walnut and cherry. These two just don’t rot. I should say the heartwood doesn’t rot. The sapwood on both of them rots as fast as any other sapwood, but the heartwood doesn’t rot. I commonly find old logs with no bark and sapwood that just flakes off in my hand, but the heartwood is fine. It might have cracks in it from the log drying out or bug holes from sitting too long, but the heartwood will be just as solid as the day it was cut down.

This walnut looks rotten at first glance, and although the inside wasn't perfect, it wasn't rotten. The inside looked the same as a fresh log. Click on the link near the end of this post to see the inside.

This walnut looks rotten at first glance, and although the inside wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t rotten. The inside looked the same as a fresh log. Click on the link near the end of this post to see the inside.

This cherry log came from a tree that stood dead for years before it was cut down and then the log sat for two more years before it was milled. The next photo shows the inside.

This cherry log came from a tree that stood dead for years before it was cut down and then the log sat for two more years before it was milled. The next photo shows the inside.

The sapwood (dark band at the top of each piece) turned from white to gray on these cherry crotches, but the heartwood was perfect.

The sapwood (dark band at the top of each piece) turned from white to gray on this cherry, but the heartwood was perfect.

Of the species I mill, these are not the only ones that perform great outside, but they are the surprises. I bet almost no one would think of using walnut or cherry outside. They always end up inside because they are so nice, maybe too nice to put outside. I will tell you that this one has me baffled, and as of yet, I have no idea why this is. However, my main interest is to spread the word that walnut and cherry are great outdoor choices. Walnut may not be the best because the price is going up, but cherry is becoming an even better choice as its price is on the decline. If you don’t mind a few knots in your outdoor work, common-grade cherry is very affordable. And, if you are doing a high-end outdoor piece clear walnut may make sense. It is more expensive than Ipe (an imported wood great for outdoor work), but it is easier to work with and it just feels right to use an American wood.

Again, the sole reason I know that these woods are durable is from my own experience. If I have a walnut or cherry log and it doesn’t get cut right away, I don’t sweat it. I know that years down the road that logs from these two species will still have solid wood in them, while others have rotted away. The best example I have is from a recent post about a walnut that I found on the Missouri River. It was the driftiest piece of driftwood you will ever find and the inside still looked like new (click here to check out the post and video from the picture above and to see the inside of the log).

Giant Sycamore Almost Crushes Truck

Last week, I was asked to speak at the annual conference for the Midwest Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture (a surprisingly lively bunch). While I was working on my presentation and looking through old photos, I came across photos of the kitchen at our last house and was reminded of a story that I think is worth retelling. The kitchen at our last house was made from quartersawn sycamore and all of it came from one giant log. This is the story of that giant log.

One day I was out looking for logs and stopped by St. Louis Composting, where they see a lot of logs that they turn into mulch. Every time I have been there I can have my pick of logs as long as they are not desirable in any way to anyone else, especially someone who might pay for them. That normally leaves me with short, rotten, crooked, hollow and busted pieces from undesirable species of trees (mostly sweetgum, pin oak and cottonwood). But this day I got lucky. I found a log that looked bad on the outside, but was great on the inside.

It certainly did not look like a log of my dreams, but it caught my attention because it was big. For some reason, probably because it was so big, no one had cut it to firewood length yet. From all aspects it deserved it. The log was old and gray with no bark and plenty of cracks, and it was rotten in spots. Maybe it wasn’t cut up yet because everyone thought it was too rotten or because they somehow knew it was a sycamore and thought it wasn’t good enough for firewood (you would be surprised how snobby people are about their firewood, even when it is free).

No matter what the reason, it was there. It was long too. Big and long, now you really have my attention. The log was 13 feet long and scaled at about 1,000 bd. ft. It was giant.

I knew right away I wanted it. Heck, as long as it wasn’t a cottonwood, pin oak or sweet gum I wanted it. But, I also knew that my crane wouldn’t pick it up. Luckily, they have very big loaders at St. Louis Composting and for $20 they agreed to load it for me. After I paid the loader operator he scurried over with the loader and scooped the log with his bucket. The log didn’t fit in the bucket, but it rested nicely on the front while he maneuvered over to my truck. This guy apparently had a lot of other material to move and was in a hurry. He moved quickly to the side of my truck, but slowed down like I expected when he got close.

What I didn’t expect him to do was to dump the log on my truck from a couple of feet in the air. When he did, I sank to my knees, all the way to my knees, completely in sync with my truck. Both of us quickly squatted to the ground and very slowly bounced back up. “Holy S—,” I thought.  My heart was jumping out of my chest. I couldn’t believe it. Was it this dudes first day? I was sure that my truck was now destroyed, if not permanently disfigured. There was just no way on this great earth of ours that my old 1977 Chevy C60 could take a hit like that. But, somehow it did, and it bounced back.

My first thought (once I could breathe) was to ask for my $20 back, but as far as I could tell nothing was broke. I knew my truck could handle a lot of weight, I just didn’t think it could take it all at once and with such force, but I guess I was wrong. I threw some straps on the log and headed back.

On the way back I was something to see. I felt like the coolest kid in school. I could feel everyone staring at me. Ill-informed do-gooder dads were pointing out my truck to the kids in the back seat and explaining how long it takes a (insert tree name here, as long as it isn’t sycamore, or it won’t be funny) tree to get to that size. Policeman were stopping gawkers at intersections worried that they might be too distracted by looking at my huge log (could have gone so many ways with that one). Other drivers pulled up next to me and yelled, “Did you load that yourself?” By the way, that last one really happened. All was right with the world. At least for a time.

When I got back to the sawmill, I jumped out to open the gate and noticed a smell of something burning… maybe rubber, I thought. I took a walk around my truck and all six of my tires were still good. The smell got stronger when I came back around to the front of the truck, and now smoke was coming out of the front end from under the hood. Quickly, like a really slow jack rabbit, I opened the hood and jumped up on my bumper to see what was burning. To my surprise, it was the battery, but I wasn’t surprised to see why. The battery was now laying on my exhaust  manifold. The truck was bounced so hard that the battery (which was not properly secured) was flung out of the battery tray and onto the exhaust manifold and it was very melty.

That guy at St. Louis Composting with that giant loader managed to dislodge my battery from its cute little tray with one whack. In all of the time I have driven this truck (all without the battery properly secured) it has never popped out of that tray. And, I have hit some big bumps, many of them way too hard and way too fast and the battery has always stayed put. I just wish I had some video of it, so I could see my truck go all the way to the ground and bounce back up and say, “Thank you, Sir. May I have another?”

After it was all said and done, I had a new battery and after even more was said and done I had new kitchen full of cabinets made from one giant sycamore log.

Here I am milling the sycamore on my Lucas sawmill.

Here I am milling the sycamore on my Lucas sawmill.


Cabinets are spalted-quartersawn sycamore, the floor is Ambrosia maple.

Cabinets are spalted-quartersawn sycamore, the floor is Ambrosia maple.


My Bow Is Made Of Catalpa (bean)

Through my sawmilling days, I have cut a lot of Osage Orange for guys that build bows. I would supply some guys with pieces to make self bows, which are bows made from a single piece of wood and others with strips of wood that they laminated together to make the bow. I gravitated to the wood for the laminated bows because it didn’t have to be as perfect as the wood for self bows and Osage doesn’t yield much perfect wood. I was often surprised by the pieces that were still deemed acceptable despite their flaws. Apparently, the laminated bows are much more forgiving.

Knowing this, and being part idiot, I decided my first bow should be a self bow. I wasn’t going to make anything special, just something we could call a bow and shoot like in the movie “Brave”. Mira, my six-year-old daughter was excited to make a bow just like Merida’s, and I was glad to have an excuse to make one. I have fond memories of shooting my dad’s bow from when he was a kid. Hopefully, Mira would share my joy.

The experience started out with a trip to the library, where we picked up a few books about archery. It didn’t take Mira long to gravitate to a Native American (the book from the 1980’s said Indian) book about bow making. She quickly found the style she wanted, along with the appropriates decorations. She had a vision. I read the book and learned how a self bow should be cut from the tree and realized that a good bow stave could be cut out of slabs from the sawmill. I thought, “I have a sawmill…  and slabs.” Wahla!

The following Saturday we headed up to the sawmill. It is never as fun for Mira as I think it should be, so I quickly picked out some slabs (two cherry and one ash) and headed home. The book that I read said that the wood for the bow wasn’t critical and Indians made bows out of many different kinds of woods, not only Osage and Hickory. Mira and I decided on cherry as the main wood, and I grabbed the ash as a backup. I didn’t expect much from the ash because it is the first to get borers that would make it worthless for a bow, but I didn’t see any outward signs of problems on any of the slabs.

On Sunday we set up in the garage and I started marking wood, cutting staves and trying to hustle so Mira wouldn’t lose interest. The saw was loud and dusty and lacked much enjoyment for Mira, who spent most of the time covering her ears with my radio earmuffs (love those things, by the way). While I got in to it, Mira pulled out a long Catalpa bean that she had grabbed off of tree in grandma’s neighborhood. It was shaped a little like a bow, so she informed me that it was going to be her bow. I wasn’t happy that I had already lost her, but helped her on the Catalpa bow while mine took shape.

Mira taking a test shot.

Mira got out the ribbon and made a handle and added tassles on the end, just like the book. Meanwhile, I tried to string mine up – Snap! It broke on the end, exposing a rotten area that had no business being in a bow. After that, I strung up Mira’s catalpa bean with some fishing line and she got to work looking for an arrow. I stopped working on mine and helped her with a stick that needed to be whittled and have a nock carved in the end. We set up some cans for target practice, and from more than 1/2 yard away Mira started knocking them off – her bow worked!

Now, I was excited. I checked over my next stave carefully and started to cut. Everything went great. I cut it out with a jigsaw to rough the shape and went to string it up – Snap again! By then Mira was ready for a real arrow, and I was ready to move on. We took Mira’s arrow with no feathers and started working on the flecthings. Lucky for us, Mira collects feathers, and I had read the chapter on arrow making. I never expected to make our own arrow, but that ended up being the easy part. Just rip a feather down the middle, cut it to size leaving tabs on the ends and stick them on. We didn’t even bother gluing them and just used tape. It worked great.

After the original bow finally broke (thanks grandpa!), we grabbed some more beans and made enough bows for the kids in the neighborhood. The bows don’t shoot very far, but they shoot further than mine ever did.

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).

How Big Do (American Black) Cherry Trees Get?

I was meeting with a customer last week and we were going over the details of the job and discussing the wood that I was going to use for their bookshelves – cherry, as you might have guessed. I was going on about how much I like cherry and was making sure to plug the fact that I mill my own trees. During our discussion, which was mostly me talking and him nodding, he asked,”Well, how big do cherry trees get?” I knew then that he was wondering what I was wondering when I started cutting trees. How do you get big boards from such little orchard trees? I explained to him that it wasn’t the type of cherry tree he was picturing. It was an American Black Cherry, which grows in the forest, mixed with other hardwoods. His next question was, “But, it doesn’t have cherries does it?” As a matter of fact it does. They aren’t big and they are in a cluster that looks like grapes, but they are fruit that birds love to eat, and they are definitely cherries. Then I thought and quickly asked, “Are you ready to be shocked? I bet that you have one right here in your yard and don’t even know it.” I wasn’t going too far out on a limb because I had just driven down a long gravel drive with upland hardwoods to get to his house. I hadn’t specifically spotted a cherry tree, but I could smell them (not literally).

As we talked more, our discussion went back and forth from the piece of furniture that I am going to make to the wood that I am going to use, and we talked more about  how big the cherry trees get. I explained that they get big like any hardwood lumber tree, but are on the smaller end of the scale overall. An average log size in this area is about 14″-15″ in diameter, inside the bark, on the skinny end. However, it isn’t uncommon for them to be larger. The main problem with larger and older logs is that they tend to have punky/rotten areas in the center of the log, so many bigger logs don’t get milled. For fun (as always) and to prove that they get bigger than orchard trees, I thought I would share a few photos of my larger finds. Notice that we are not phased at all by the size of the larger logs. It’s routine for us.

By the way, as I left his property, I saw a couple of small cherry trees and I am sure that there are more.

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