Friday, 31 August 2012

Partridge and Pears

I've never had much to do with 10 lords a leaping or 12 drummers drumming, but when it comes to Partridge, I've dealt with plenty. When I helped to run my parents game farm in the sleepy hamlet of Cardinia, we used to breed thousands of the little blighters each year. Chukar Partridge to be exact.

They're quite endearing little birds actually and have plenty of character. Not to mention a tasty wing or two! Our birds were all grown free range and always had a tree to roost in. Mostly thorny Hawthorn though, as there were row after row of Hawthorn hedges throughout the region. But there was not a Pear tree in sight. But despite this I'm confident they didn't ever want for one....

Like most wood workers, as my interest and ability grew, so did my desire to use more exotic and specialist timbers. Amongst the Elm, Ash, Walnut and Tasmanian Pines, fruitwood was always high on the list. Last year I had the opportunity to harvest some very old Elm trees from the historic St. James property in Bannockburn. They had died as a result of rising salt levels in the Moorabool River, along which they had been planted or self seeded well over a hundred years earlier. Sadly, a row of Pear trees succumbed to the same fate.

The owner reliably informed me the Pears were planted some 160 years ago. Mmmmm Pear. This specimen was a standout in the row. In fact I'm sure I've never seen a Pear tree as large before. The bar on the chainsaw is 3 foot, for comparison.  A quick trim of the lower branches to minimise potential damage, splitting and shake in the trunk.

Then a neat scarf as low as I possibly could, to make sure I didn't leave any of this monster behind and to make sure it didn't end up in the drink! Not much fun chain sawing in a river. As you can see it came down cleanly and without issue.

On Wednesday I finally had the opportunity to mill it. Tim McLeod came down at the same time to see the mill in action. It makes for a good day when you have the company of someone who shares as much of a passion for all things timber related as you do. Tim's that guy.

All I can say is wow. The first Pear I've milled and most likely the best I will ever mill too. So good I couldn't bring myself to square the entire log, so one side is still waney. What you can see on the trailer, aside from the small pile of Pin Oak centre left in the photo, is all Pear. The pile front and centre was the butt log from a second tree, full of burl.

These 30mm boards, over 450mm wide and well over 3.2m long are from the tree in the video. They are truly something else. The blotchiness is from the rain, it bucketed down here on Thursday!

Partridge may be in the past now, but I'm looking forward to using this Pear in the not too distant future.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Damn that devil....

It always seems to me that that last 10% of a project seems to take the longest. Whether that be the final glue-up, detailing and painting of a windsor chair or putting the pickets on a new fence, that fine detail is all important. It's the icing on the cake, what the observer's eye is drawn to. You cannot immediately see the dovetails or mortise and tenons on a hand made hall table but your eye would surely be drawn to to a horrid polyurethane finish or a badly rendered detail.

And so it is with the cottage. The fitting of architraves, skirting boards and then peg rail is certainly taking it's time and toll. In keeping with the various rooms in the meeting house at Hancock, each room in the cottage will have a differing colour detail. Mustard, Driftwood, Bayberry Green.  Barn Red even! Sure, they are not my first choices for a home colour scheme, but the cottage is all about reflecting the detail we have seen in Massachusetts and in dozens of reference books. 3 coats per board, that's some dedicated brush work, thank you Lisa!

In the main sitting and dining room we have oiled the Vic Ash boards instead. One reason being that I had selected all of the figured boards from the lot. I couldn't bring myself to paint the fiddleback and quilted boards.

And then there is the turning of the individual pegs. The painted pegs are all Blackwood, the bathroom  pegs are all Huon Pine and the oiled pegs in the main room are English or Desert Ash. They are all through drilled or mortised and then glued and wedged from behind.

 It's something that no-one will ever see, but I know it's been done and done properly. But it's not what lies beneath that I want our future guests to notice. I just want them to appreciate the finished product and enjoy the experience. Notice the detail. And as they say, the devil is in the detail.

Friday, 17 August 2012

"Pardon me, but may I see some more of your crotch?"

Yes, this has been the resounding question via email over the last couple of weeks. It seems there must not be too many ( if any ) people out there cutting crotch Elm any more. I've had quite a few enquiries about buying, a board, a book matched pair of boards and ....the lot, from several interested parties. As far away as Cairns, where it appears there's not so much as an Elm in sight.

But sadly, as I have replied to all enquiries, it is not for sale, but was posted more so as encouragement for others to hunt for the stuff too, next time they are standing in front of a promising fork in a tree! It's out there guys, you just have to look.

So, in answer to those who have asked what came out of the large flitches of crotch, here is a photo of one side milled. Six boards per side, twelve in total in the set. The other side was just as nice. Each board is well over 800mm long and just on 400 wide. Perhaps, if I find some more I can offer it in the future, stay tuned!

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Another cottage update

I love the digital camera. It gives me the ability to immediately recall that we are indeed making some progress, despite frigid weather and driving rain! So after being forced back inside from another downpour late yesterday, I went back and checked our progress.

Reason being is that I have finally removed the nasty steel and iron front fence from the cottage. I don't know who put the old fence up, but I'm sure he was expecting it to survive a nuclear holocaust as he had planted those skinny steel posts in enough concrete to support the Taj Mahal! After digging around the posts, I pulled them out with the ute and a snatch strap.

With the old fence down and a clear run, ( note the rain in this grainy photo ) the first job was to pull out the old H V Mc Kay cast iron gate I've had stashed away and set out the gate posts. H V Mc Kay, or Sunshine Mc Kay,  at the turn of last century, was the largest company in Australia and it's largest exporter. They even re-named the suburb of Braybrook Junction, Sunshine after the famous company! They made an enormous range of farm machinery, implements and general farm equipment and were famous for their quality, it was the best of its kind. Finding one of their gates in good order is a bonus. But I digress....

After securing the gate with it's hefty cast gate hinges I dug out the remaining post holes and set each of the fence posts, including two smaller gate posts for the pedestrian gate, to the string line. With those set in place ( with a combination of rammed earth and dry concrete mix ) I trimmed them all to height and shaped the tops of the four gate posts. These were based on a photo of a picket fence I have seen at the Pleasant Hill Shaker Village. Co-incidently the original fence posts at the nearby St.Pauls Anglican Church ( the oldest in town ) have this gothic arch like shape.

A few days of rain and a particularly nasty bout of the flu later, the rails have being let into the posts. Dovetailed at the top to tie the gates posts together and stop any movement. I had hoped to get the last rail on and fitted but the aforementioned rain beat me to it. It's a gloomy day here again today, but despite the rain, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, sometimes you just have to remind yourself to look for it.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Have you seen my crotch?


Wednesday I finally had opportunity to clean up the site at Rock House and move the logs to where they are to be milled. As well as the 10 mill-able logs there were 3 tandem trailer loads of firewood and enough kindling to last a decade of winters! In the disc of wood in the front of the pile I counted 126 growth rings.

If your cutting firewood, the fork in a tree usually presents a pain in the preverbial. Won't stack well in the wood pile and won't split like a normal block of wood. But with the right species, the fork means crotch and crotch is anything but a pain in the......crotch.

You may remember from the Rock House post that there were several that I had left to rip down the middle and see what lay within. So, like Forrest Gump's well and truly cliched box of chocolates, I began to split them open and have a look. Some were disappointing and showed not much if any figure, let alone anything resembling crotch. Then a few were quite good. Then the big fella above was last to succumb to the saw.

Last, but by no means least. At nearly 900mm long and over 400mm wide it's a cracker. The crotch pattern runs heavily from one end to the other.

This guy came out of the off cut and seemed less than impressed that I had woken him up. His leg span was much wider than the palm of my hand. Zoom in on the pic. He was that hairy you could have plaited his legs!

Here are a few of the smaller crotch panels straight off the bandsaw this afternoon. At the end of the day, if you take into account the selecting, sawing, milling, trimming, stacking and 'stickering,' there's a lot of extra work in hunting for this stuff. But I see it as a worthy pursuit, an investment in the future.