You know the words from that old John Denver song, “Some days are diamonds, some days are stones. Sometimes the hard times won’t leave me alone.” I’ve had my share of stones and hard times, but Monday this week was a gem. We were like the ants in the ants and cricket fable. We were getting ready for winter and part of our preparation was to hold our last splitting party of the year.
I buy our logs at a local concentration yard. I begin the process by calling up the manager to make sure he has a good supply of red oak logs on hand. If he is not going to be present when I visit, he will arrange selection of logs for me to choose from. He places the logs all parallel, with one end raised on a junk log. That way I can walk around the logs and see under them as well. Being able to see whole logs makes choosing them a lot less risky.
I felt like a kid in a toy store. I wanted all the logs. There wasn’t a bad one in the lot. However, I only needed a limited amount: enough to get use through the last classes of the year; enough to put aside for sales; and enough to provide for the first class of 2010. I chose the best, but hated to leave others behind. The quality was that high.
This Monday, when it came time to split the logs, the joy continued. We cut the first bolt to six feet. There are good reasons why. The November 2 class is a settee. Each student needs two six foot blanks; one for the arm and one for the bow. The second class that month is the Balloon backs. In this class, each student makes two chairs and needs two six foot pieces. The first class of 2010 is the Tete-a-Tete, and you guessed it – each student will need two six foot pieces. That is why we started with a six footer; to make sure we had all we needed. If the log contained any unpleasant surprises, we could still cut six foot bolts off the others.
The log opened hard; a lot harder than I expected from such a straight piece. This always makes me worry, as a large encased knot or other blemish could be holding it together. It took a lot of wedges and a lot of hammering, but we won. The log was perfect and a beautiful thing to behold. The grain was as straight as an arrow. Only a group of chairmakers would understand why we paused and spent ten minutes admiring the sight. (Okay. Don, Fred, and I are old. While we really were admiring the log, we were also catching our breath after swinging that eight pound maul for 15 minutes.)
The other logs opened just as straight and clean as the first. Even their hearts were straight. This is unusual, as the heart represents the tree as a sapling, and few saplings are perfect. We usually cleave off the heart and throw it into the firewood pile. Not this time. Most of it was good enough for bending stock.
It took about 90 minutes to rive all the logs and split of the butts into firewood. By 10:30 we were ready to cut bending stock on our band resaw. Fred and Kevin usually do this work and they got right to it. Meanwhile, Don and I set to another task. There was a lot of 4 foot stuff left over from our spring splitting party. We decided to make it into arms and bows to put aside for winter catalog sales. We need to keep these parts in inventory as we sell a lot of pre-bent arm and bows pairs to chairmakers who do not have the capability to bend their own wood.
The left over stock we worked was the dregs. Setting up a class, we go through the stock and choose the best pieces. When someone orders bending stock, we again select the best pieces. By the time we get around to the next bending party, the old stock has been pretty well picked over and only dubious wood remains.
To stay out of Fred’s way, Don and I pulled the planer out into the parking lot and went to work. Monday was a beautiful fall day. The air was dry and the sun was warm. I suggested that Don pitch (pass the wood through the planer) and I would catch (pass the pieces back to him.) I felt pretty self satisfied with my cleverness. Don had to do all the thinking as to how the pieces should be placed to pass through the machine. All I did was stand facing the sun, enjoying its light and warmth while I daydreamed.
As we worked we had the steamer running. We paused from time to time to bend a batch of parts. Nothing beats a good bending day and this one was perfect. There was not a cloud in the sky. The air was warm and dry. When we make up parts from the dregs we expect a high failure rate. After all, it is lesser quality stock. Monday afternoon, Don and I bent 33 pieces. Not a single one broke. We had a small delam in one arm and in one bow. Both will be easily fixed and will end up in sack back chairs. Three arms rolled up slightly, but will be perfect after drying in a vise for a week. Like I said at the beginning, some days are diamonds.
The wood was not only of questionable quality; it was also five months old. We had left it standing in a corner all that time and it was completely air dried. Our success bending it puts the lie to the old chestnut about needing to keep the wood wet. It should be a lesson to the guys who wrap their wood in plastic, or store it under water. A good bending day is far more important than moisture content.
A day this perfect could only end one way, with a perfect beer. We each had a bottle from a selection Glenn Carter had brought us from a micro brewery near him up in
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