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What can be done? Here, nothing other than replanting. There will always be a few teenage boys who do things like this. I think the Forest Service can be faulted for not closing the area but this would have been hugely controversial. It's hindsight. Many of the other fires were caused by lightning strikes.
There is a bigger and more fundamental issue and the solution is beyond dispute. Forest fire is a healthy and natural part of forest life here. Experts study old growth forests and they see that there were several natural, low intensity forest fires every decade. It can literally be seen in the trees and we can see the positive impact thereafter. These fires remove brush and the "ladder fuels" that allow the fire to climb to the tops of the biggest trees and they thin the forest. A century of putting out forest fires and not removing the overstocked trees and brush mechanically has created a situation in which the fires are so hot and intense that everything is destroyed. You go to ponderosa pine forests in eastern Oregon where the brush has been removed and then "controlled burns" have been conducted at optimum times in late spring and just marvel at the health of the forest. Contrary to what many environmentalists believe, this is what a natural forest looks like, not the overgrown tangle you see in many pictures. I have seen old pictures of untouched forests in Oregon and they don't look anything like the ones we admire today.
I owned 40 acres of second-growth douglas-fir in southern Oregon that was tangled and choked. The trees were way overstocked so they couldn't grow well and were susceptible to disease. A forest fire would have moved through at unbelievable speed. I did a lot myself and hired fire crews on standby to do the rest. You just wouldn't believe what happened. The remaining trees were "released" and they starting growing vigorously. Forest health improved dramatically.
The people at the Forest Service understand this and they do as much of it as their budget allows, but it is a pittance compared to what is necessary. We are willing to pay thousands of workers to fight forest fires but not to clear brush and remove ladder fuels in our national forests so fires can be beneficial. This is what our Congress has done. Tragic. I so wish we would take care of our national forests.
Update: Read this to be utterly disgusted. Two fires have merged and the total is now 31,000 acres.
Why do you have to remove so much material? A slab like this will almost inevitably twist and cup. Across its width you have vertical grain changing to flat sawn and back to vertical grain. It basically has to cup. The wild grain pattern associated with the huge knots almost guarantees that the slab will be "wonky." That is its beauty. During the course of this project I came to understand that there is an entirely different aesthetic at work here. The cracks and knots are part of the tree's story.
I elected to use Arm-R-Seal to finish the slab, brushing it on the bark and using a cloth on the top. I didn't want the "plasticky" look that you often see, the result of a thick hard finish. Here is the result:
I am very pleased with the result. It is unique and has character. This is about as rustic as you can get short of just using the rough sawn slab as is. It's certainly not for everyone. Welcoming cracks, pitch pockets and knots is kinda weird I admit.
I got the ultimate compliment from the cable guy as I was applying the finish. He admired it and said, "It looks like it belongs in a brewpub." As it happens, I am a big fan of brewpubs and knew exactly what he meant. Douglas-fir is our state tree, it played a central role in our history, it is fundamental to the beauty of our landscape and we like to keep it close. Same with draft beer. You can travel the world but you won't find a beer better than an Oregon IPA made with our own Cascade hops. This table is going to see a lot of it.
A fan named Brent Diskin tweeted a graphic image combining this familiar event with the eclipse. Here it is:
Maybe you have to be a Timbers fan to like this a lot, but I think it's great. I am sure it is destined to become a t-shirt and I want one.
The technique I settled on worked fairly well. Using long winding sticks, I got the ends of the slab in the same plane using both hand planes and my Makita power planer. Then I used a 8' long straightedge and the same tools to connect the ends along the sides. This left me with a rectangle around the edges of the slab that was in the same plane. Finally I just used a straightedge side to side along the length. It worked.
That left me with a slab that was quite flat but with a lot of cracks and knots and substantial tearout. This is the point at which you want to use epoxy to fill in the cracks and knots. I chose to use T-88 epoxy, which I had on hand, because it disappears under varnish and dries very slowly. The problem I encountered is that it dried so slowly that it got absorbed and the level would drop below the surface. In places it ran completely through the slab onto the floor. To remedy this, I taped the cracks and knots on the bottom and overfilled the cracks and knots. This worked but made for a lot of work subsequently levelling the epoxy but the epoxy would still soak in so much that I had trouble maintaining the level. Finally I mixed fine sawdust into the epoxy and this solved the problem. I am not sure how else to do it. I think a faster setting epoxy might be better.
As I wrote earlier, I couldn't figure out a good way to deal with all the tearout. The hand tool that worked best was a cabinet scraper but it took forever because of the depth of the tearout. I finally gave up and turned to a belt sander, which I haven't used in years. I got better at it eventually and, by keeping it moving, I was able to smooth the slab without introducing too must unevenness. I started with the bottom, so I am hopeful that I can do better on the top. What I may do is use the belt sander to get as close as possible and then spend a lot of time with the cabinet scraper. If you know of a better way, I 'd like to hear it. As I have told you, a plane, no matter how sharp, will simply not work because of the soft douglas-fir and the swirling grain.
The epoxy fill actually turned out much better than I expected. Especially with the sawdust, it blends in quite well and looks good.
I had turned the heavy slab over to the rough side, so I decided to work on it first and got an unpleasant surprise. The now much dryer slab was decidedly more prone to tearout. Cracks had open up and these tended to widen with anything but straight on planing. With all of the twists and turns in the grain, especially around the big knots, planing with the grain was impossible. I sharpened my planes very carefully but nothing I tried could avoid deep tearout. Finally I just let it tearout and then used a belt sander for final surfacing. Not very satisfying, but it worked. I was able to avoid all but one dip with the belt sander. The slab is currently 2 3/8" thick so I have removed 3/4" of material!
Douglas-fir is obviously not the ideal species to make a table slab from because it is so soft and prone to tearout. However, this is what we wanted--it is after all the Oregon state tree--so we just have to accept its challenges. I've come to understand that a 37" wide live edge douglas-fir slab with lots of knots in it isn't going to resemble fine furniture and that this is part of its aesthetic. Now that I look at these slabs in pubs and restaurants more closely, I see that they are all that way.
I almost went over to the dark side. Surfacing this slab clearly showed why the standard way is attractive. If you build rails along the sides of the slab and then make a sled for a powered router to ride in across the slab, you can get a flat slab with little or no tearout and not a whole lot of hard work. I didn't do this, but it was at the cost of many hours of hard work and a slab that isn't perfectly flat, although it's close. Once I get this side done, I have to turn the slab over and do the other side again.
This project has turned out to be far more challenging than I thought it would be. Just about everything I thought would work didn't. Looking back, I should have done more research. So, in the interest of saving you from my fate, I am going to go over some things I learned in the next few posts.
I paid $30. Online prices are all over, so I don't know whether this is a good deal or not, but I am pleased to have the set.
An interesting and puzzling, to me at least, sidenote is where the 32 1/2 comes from. The bits are graduated from 1/4" to 1" by sixteenths and, if you add up the thirteen bits, the sum is 130/16. Dividing the numerator and denominator by 4 yields (32 1/2)/4. Odd.
The next test I conducted was to see if they would bore a hole in 5/4 dry white oak. The Stanley and Russell Jennings bits did fine but the Stanley stalled. Looking at it, it appeared that the threads on the snail clogged up. I then used a trick that Bob Rozaieski shared. I bored a hole in the alder just to the depth of the lead screw and covered the threads on the lead screw with green honing compound. Then I threaded it into the hole and worked it back and forth several dozen times. I re-attempted to bore a hole with the bit and it worked fine. Clearly the snail needs to be clean and polished to do its job well.
So what's up? It's not clear to me whether one design is superior to the other. I cannot provide a technical explanation of the relative merits of double threaded and single threaded snails on auger bits. The most important thing seems to be to make sure they are tuned-up very well. Looking back, I think the problem I had with the Irwin pattern bits in hardwood was a result of maintenance not design.
He cuts the slabs on a chainsaw mill on steroids: 23 hp and a 6' cutting width.
Finally, I found the one I wanted, 3" thick, 37" wide and 11' long.
Problem was, my pickup bed is only 6' long, just over 7' with the tailgate down and we had to go home on an interstate, but what the heck. I hadn't really thought through what we would do when we got home with an approximately 300 lb. slab, so here's what we did. We backed right up to my workbench:
Then we rolled if off on dowels:
I cut off 3' so the tabletop will be 8' long. Never having tried to flatten anything anywhere near this big, I started with a scrub plane but it was just way too much for me, so I turned to some power tools:
This picture doesn't convey how massive the slab is, so remember that you are looking at 24 sq. ft.! It also doesn't reveal all the swirling grain around the knots, which is really beautiful. I removed 3/8" of material, partly because it took me a while to figure out what I should be doing, so I am thinking that the final table top will end up around 2 3/8" thick. It's not perfectly flat, but is within 1/32". This is what I hope is the bottom of the table, but I don't know for sure because the slab is so heavy I can't turn it over to find out. For that I am going to have to round up the neighbors. Barely noticeable in the picture is that I sealed the end grain with paraffin by melting it and painting it on, which seems to be working.
This slab had been drying for over a year and feels quite dry, but it has a ways to go. My plan is to flatten both sides and then let it dry in the garage for the summer months before resuming work on it in the fall. That probably means I will have to do some more flattening but I have plenty of material. I just felt like doing some work on it now.
The bark is all there and I have decided to keep it, so it's going to be challenging to figure out a way to finish it. I put spray polyurethane on the bark of the alder coffee table I made and it is holding up, but the bark on this table will have a lot more contact with people and chairs. The good news is that this bark is a lot stronger and more stable than the alder bark. Over the summer I am going to try some experiments on scrap pieces of bark. One thought I had is to thin epoxy and paint it on. I've read that you can heat it up or dilute it with alcohol to thin it.
Polishing the sides of your scrapers to a mirror finish can be very useful, because that way you can use one of your finely honed plane blades to shave right in your workshop without needing a shaving mirror. Which brings me to another subject. I am happy if I can get my plane blades and chisels sharp enough that they will shave hair off my arm, which you don't need a mirror for. I know that some woodworkers think this is not good enough and that the hair should "jump" or "fly" off your arm. I once accidentally got one of my plane blades this sharp and it scared me. I was afraid that a blade this sharp would make the shavings jump off the workpiece and hit me in the face or eye, and I don't wear a face shield when planing. That could cause a lost time injury.
A while after the scraper class I took a class on sharpening plane blades and chisels taught by a foreman at a local high-end woodworking business. He does all the sharpening for his crew. One of the things he did was prepare a new chisel. He flattened the back on a belt sander, went to a grinder to create the bevel he wanted and finished off on a diamond plate, all freehand. The entire process took less than 5 minutes. This class was at the opposite end of the spectrum from the scraping class; it emphasized the practical and wasted no time. I don't recall a single jig. We all left with tools that weren't great but were usably sharp. I do considerably better than this now, but it was a good starting point.
We all have to decide where we want to be on this spectrum. Experiences like this turned me into a rather slovenly woodworker. As a result, I don't flatten the backs of my chisels all the way to the handle, I use the dastardly "ruler trick" on my plane blades, I can't see my reflection in the sides of my scrapers ... I could go on, but you get the idea.
In case you're wondering, I did eventually learn to sharpen and use scrapers. When enough time had passed after the class for my inferiority complex to die down, I spent a few minutes watching Youtube videos, gave it a shot, then another and another, each time trying to figure out why things got better, or didn't. Eventually I got the hang of it. I really like scrapers now. They usually make shavings but they aren't usable as shaving mirrors. That's the way I like it.
There are woodworkers that are really into sharpening. For some, it seems to be almost a meditative experience. There is nothing at all wrong with this and I am in awe of them, in fact somewhat envious. Really. I wish I could lose myself in sharpening the way they do. Instead, I ask myself whether the extra sharpness results in better woodworking. How long do these superior edges stay sharper in practice? I suspect not very long, but I don't know.
Calculus taught me to see processes in optimization terms. As your tools get sharper your woodworking gets better, first rapidly, then more slowly. You reach a point where extra effort isn't worth it. That's my mental model, which has its own limitations.
As for classes, what you learn in classes is partly a function of the skill of the instructor as a woodworker and partly a function of his or her skill as an instructor. This will sound arrogant, but I could teach a much much better class on sharpening and using scrapers than the one I took, even though I don't have near the skill with them.