Saturday, May 26, 2007

Homemade Spalted Maple Boards

I bought a Powermatic 14" band saw a few weeks ago. It took a while for the 6" riser block to come from Amazon, and then I had to get a 3/4 inch Timberwolf blade, and then get it replaced because the weld was slightly off (more than acceptable), and finally, last night, I got to do some meaningful work with the saw. I ripped a log that I had salvaged from a neighbor's dying red maple (Acer rubrum) into 1 1/4" boards. I managed to get some really sweet boards out of it. They're now in the basement drying.

It wasn't all good times though. It took me a while just to get up the nerve to even rip the log, because it had rather large holes from some kind of wood boring insect, and I did not want to be the idiot that let loose a termite infestation into his own house. But I could see by the end grain that there was some stunning spalting to be had, and after some careful consideration, and preparation of the work area with a clean canvas to catch any falling insects, and a large can of Raid, and a respirator, I started into it.

I started by cutting it in half lengthwise as well as I could - it was a very irregular log - so I could quarter saw half of it, and flat saw the other half. I anxiously parted the freshly halved log, and to my great relief, I didn't see any signs of termites, or any insect. So, I started flat sawing one of the halves. . .

After the first cut of the half, I parted the cut to reveal something black wiggling in the wood. My stomach sank, and I got a sick nervousness that can only be brought on by seeing something totally foul, ugly, crawly, and disgusting in front of you. Luckily, I had that can of Raid on hand just in case, and I happened to saw into the hole at an angle, so whatever it was, it was not able to get out. I had control of the situation. I got a pair of needle nose pliers, and started slowly widening the hole, so I could get a better look at the wriggling mass. . .

To make a long story short, I pulled the thing out, dropped it on the canvas, and doused it heavily with Raid. It promptly died. There were many more, and it turned out that about half of the log was infested with what I later identified as Pigeon Horntail Wasps (Tremex Columba), and their larva and pupae. That's a type of wood wasp that infests dead or dying wood. Nothing to be afraid of. They do not harm humans, or finished wood, but it was definitely disturbing for a person with an aversion to unidentified creepy crawlies.

I can only hope that the boards I have drying in the basement now are free of the horntails, but if not, they are harmless to finished wood and humans, so it's OK.

Here are some pictures of the harvested boards. Note the incredible color variation, and almost pixelated effect of the spalting on the one board I have in my hand. Here are also some pictures of one of the hibernating wasps I extracted. Many more were either sawed in half, or left in wood and taken to the dumpster. I can't wait for this wood to dry so I can plane it, sand it, and make something with it!

All in all, I have to say, the Timberwolf blade lives up to the billing. I am very pleased with it, however I'm not quite as pleased with my saw, because it took some serious manipulation to get the blade guides properly aligned to take the 3/4" blade, which eventually resulted in manually machining the trunnion bracket with a file, even though it's supposed to be able to handle 3/4" blades out of the box. I've read forum posts by other people complaining of the same thing. I guess quality control in consumer-model band saws is just not what you might think it should be. It's definitely a tool you have to be willing to get in and make serious adjustments to, in order to get it to do what you want.

Now that I have it set up, I could really not be much happier, because I can rip my own small logs from fallen trees. It's a good feeling, both in terms of self-sufficiency, and environmentalism. Plus, I know there will be an unending supply of logs, since I live a couple blocks away from a large park, and terrible storms blow through St. Louis every summer, like the derecho that tore through here last summer, peeling half my roof back, and leaving most of the city w/out power for several days. It got up to 102 degrees the day after the power went out. It sucked, but I was lucky. It could've been much worse, and my insurance paid for the roof. Anyway, Tower Grove Park was in terrible shape. There were fallen trees everywhere. It took them weeks to get it cleaned up.

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