Post by Chris Wunder (Scott’s lovely wife)
This spring (March 2019) we completed and installed custom shutters at Lakeside 370 Park in St. Peters. These shutters are made from burr oak that was salvaged during construction at Washington University in St. Louis. A tanquil nature scene (hand drawn by non other than Scott Wunder) featuring local wildlife and fauna was lasered into the wood. The shutters were constructed and installed to be removed in the event of a flood. Who would have guessed that the possibility of a flood would turn into reality so soon after installation? The shutters were removed this summer and safely stored out of harm’s way, when the Mississippi River flooded the park in August.
The counter is silver maple and features a natural live edge. Both silver maple and burr oak are bottomland species which can be found in the park area in the Mississippi River Valleys.
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.
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 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.
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).
I want to have this blog be mostly educational, while at the same time entertaining. This one is more for entertainment.
It started with a call about having a tree milled. I talked to Ron (a first-time customer) on the phone to see what he needed. He said that he had a white oak that was down and another that he was going to have taken down, and that he wanted to find out about milling. We talked about sizes and basic pricing for my services and he agreed to have them milled. Ron told me they were about 30″ in diameter on the phone and didn’t sound at all excited about the size of the trees. In my experience that 30″ tree, especially if the customer isn’t gushing about how big it is, is only about 20″ in diameter. Still a good tree, but not that big.
I thought I would just stop by with my truck and load them up on my way to get another tree, assuming that I could get a couple of logs on my truck and have room for a few more. Well, I found Ron’s house at the end of a narrow lane, and all I could see in the clearing was log. Scratch that, logs – big logs. I knew that I was going to have to regroup after I saw the size of these trees. They weren’t the biggest that I have milled (I included a photo of that one too), but they have the most board feet for two trees. In total, the nine logs scale out (Doyle) to about 2500 board feet. My truck can handle about 900 board feet at a time if they fit perfect, but these were not going to fit perfect (more like just barely). I knew I would be lucky to get two on at a time, so I had to call in some backup. Did I mention that these were big?
Anyway, I have them back at the mill now and have started milling them. Most of them are going to be quartersawn, while the upper logs are going to be cut thicker for slabs to show off the curly lumber around some of the big branches. So far, two of them are milled and they look great. Oh, and big!