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Hazelwood Tornado Hits Home (My Old One)

It feels like Deja Vu all over again. After spending weeks cleaning up from the last tornado that hit North County in 2010 and still milling logs from it, I felt right at home when I went to visit our last house in Hazelwood, MO. On April 10 a tornado rolled through town and right across our old street, Woodcrest Lane.

I didn’t know anything about it until later that night because our power was out in our new house in St. Charles. I called my ex-neighbor (Alan Orban) after I heard it hit Hazelwood and asked if there was any damage around him. When I asked, I didn’t realize it went through his yard. He told me about the damage ant that trees were down, but it still wasn’t clear that the tornado went right through our yards.

It became very clear the next morning when I saw the TV news reports and aerial photos that included our houses. It became even more clear when I went by in person and could see the very obvious path that the tornado took right down our driveway and across the street. Most of the big trees that were in the path are down or need to come down, leaving a clear view of the sky that we have never seen. Woodcrest Lane has a nice country lane kind of feel with large trees and, in some cases, lots of trees. It still does, but a section about 5 lots wide (one acre each) is now a lot more wide-open-prairie like.

The damage on the street seems to mostly involve trees and trees that fell on structures, compared to houses being ripped apart from the winds themselves. In a few spots further down the line some roofs were blown off, but no structures where leveled. The tornado was officially classed as an F2 and stayed on the ground for a couple of miles. Amazingly, there were no serious injuries.

After we found out it was a tornado, I was specifically instructed by my boss not to go and get trees. I was told that I have more than enough paying work to keep me busy, and I don’t need to be chasing trees. I agreed, but mostly because I know every tree in the path of the tornado, and there isn’t anything I couldn’t live without.

Here is the channel 5 video:

Screen Shot 2013-04-15 at 1.34.13 AM

Here are the photos that I took during my visit:

The Shop and Sawmill Fire Story: Long Version

Holy smoke! (From the neighbor's phone just before the fire was put out.)

Now that I have the new shop/lumber store up and running in St. Charles I am getting new customers that don’t know me yet. I tell them about milling local trees, building wine cellars, the story of how I ended up in St. Charles and the fire that prompted my move. For those of you that haven’t heard it, here is the “long version” of my fire story.

My shop, since I have been woodworking full-time, was always in a building behind our house in Hazelwood. While we lived in that house I always paid to rent other property for the sawmill. The shop and the sawmill were always in separate locations (I now recommend this). In August of 2010, we moved to St. Charles to a house that didn’t have room for a shop, so I decided to move my shop to the sawmill property. The building that I moved into wasn’t great, but I worked on it when I could, and I made it into a feasible shop.

I set up and used my sawmill in front of the shop. Between the two was my scrap pile. This setup worked great. Sawmill scrap and shop scrap would meet in the middle, easily chucked into a pile that I would move with the Bobcat when necessary.

Just before the fire, I was working on the “Augusta Project”, milling a lot of cedar. My Bobcat was out in Augusta so the scrap pile didn’t get moved. Cedar is really lightweight, so I was able to heave the scraps up higher than normal, and the pile grew. I impressed myself with how much wood I cut and how high the stack got. On both ends of the mill I had lumber stacked with sticks in between each row to allow air movement for drying and, as the firemen pointed out, for burning. They said it was nice how I had a little wood, then a little air, then a little wood, then a little more air, and then more and more wood.

The day of the fire was a Saturday that I had set aside to repair my sawmill. I met my ex-neighbor Alan at his house and he welded some new parts for me early in the morning, then I headed to the mill to install them. Everything went great and I had the new parts installed in no time. I had some extra time and thought to myself, “Boy, that went well, why not try to make the new parts look just a little better and do a little grinding and painting before I leave?” (I didn’t say anything to myself about burning down the place.)

I grabbed my grinder and started cleaning up the welds. They were looking good, but then something caught my attention. A couple of spots in the sawdust surrounding the sawmill were smoldering and not going out. It had been dry for a while and the wind was strong that day. Normally the sawdust and scrap pile would be wet from being on the ground and being sawn from wet wood, and they wouldn’t even think about catching on fire. The bonus, in this case, was that cedar is a very dry wood and burns like it has gas in it.

As soon as I saw smoldering sawdust I stopped grinding. After all, everything I was doing was cosmetic, I didn’t have to grind anything. First, I stepped on the smoldering spots to put them out, which may have been my most costly move. Then, I reconsidered and decided to shovel out the sawdust and spread it on the driveway, away from danger. I would have doused the whole place with water, but I don’t have running water at the sawmill, so that wasn’t possible. I did have a water jug with me, that I poured on the questionable areas, but it must have just angered the fire gods (should I capitalize that?). I continued shoveling the sawdust and looking for smoke. After finding no more signs of fire, I cleaned up and put away my tools, checked again for signs of fire, and started to leave.

I got up the road a bit and realized that I didn’t really have anywhere to be and that it made sense for me to go back and make sure the place wasn’t going to burn down. Understand, that this was a big move for me. I am normally very cavalier about such things, but I thought I had better check, just to make sure. I told myself that I was going to stay until I didn’t see any signs of fire for at least one hour, which I did.

After one hour of doing odd cleaning jobs and checking in on the potential fire area, I left. I don’t know exactly what time I got home, but I know it was before lunch at 12:30 p.m. The fire department was called by the neighbors that night at midnight, about twelve hours after I left. I wasn’t there when the fire started, but my best guess is that one of those first couple of sparks that I tried to snuff out with my shoes got buried, smoldered quietly all day, and then finally made it to the surface where it flamed up. Since it was late and the building was well hidden from the road, the fire had a chance to really get going before the fire trucks arrived. The firemen said they could see the flames above the trees about a mile away (literally). Needless to say, the building and everything inside was completely destroyed.

Leading up to the fire plenty of visitors to the sawmill joked about lighting that pile of scrap and how great it would burn. Looking back, I should have taken it as a serious warning.

The New Shop: 1735 S. River Rd., St. Charles, MO 63303

New shop view from inside
(more photos at bottom of post)

So, I have decided to let the cat out of the bag and tell everyone that I officially have a new shop, even though it is not official. The lease paperwork has not been completed, but I figure if the owners are opening the place up and helping me move in, that they won’t be in a hurry to turn around and kick me out. For the past week, I have been moving in tools and hooking them up, and I have been dying to show my (my wife would put “little” right here) wood friends what’s going on.

First off, appreciate the fact that, as my dad pointed out, this will be the cleanest that you will ever see my shop. He recommended that I get some pictures of it, before I start my “work”.

With that said, “Let the tour begin.”

The new location is large for me, about 25′ x 200′ or 5,000 sq. ft. of well-lit, semi-climate-controlled, smooth-concrete-floor, easy-access space. I am used to about 1,000 sq. ft. of dimly-lit, no-climate-controlled, wavy-concrete-floor, muddy-access space for the shop and lumber, so this is huge. It is also in a great location for me and, hopefully, my customers. The location should be good for my customers because it is easy to access from I-70 or the Page extension just across either of the bridges into St. Charles. The location is good for me because it is only a couple of miles from our new house (we moved to St. Charles in 2010). The shop address is 1735 S. River Road, St. Charles, MO 63303.

Since all of my tools are burnt beyond recognition or at the scrapyard, “moving” didn’t take long. I basically, drove my pickup truck to the shop and unloaded the tools that were still in the cab. Then, with just a trip of tools out of my garage at home and the moving was done. I have been acquiring though. I focused on the tools that I use the most often as the first to bring in to the shop. Lucky for me, I stumbled on a shop that was going out of business and had tools for sale. I found the business last fall, when I still had a shop, so I didn’t pursue the tools. But, since I showed such good hustle and quickly burned down my shop, the tools that I was interested in were still available.

The two main acquisitions for me were the jointer and planer. I need those tools almost every day and they need to be tough enough to pound through some lumber. The jointer is older than my last one, which I didn’t think was possible, but it is in better shape. My last one was abused by folks before me, and then I crashed it pretty hard one day when a blade came out and abruptly stopped the cutterhead (my fault, I put the gib in backwards). The new one is a 12″ wide American, before it became Yates-American, which is a well-known industrial woodworking machinery company. It is very straight and has an easily adjustable tilt on the outfeed table, which is a dramatic improvement over others that I have seen. The planer is a Powermatic 180 from the real Powermatic in Tennessee, not the new fake imported Grizzly/Sunhill/Northtech/Powermatic that we are forced to purchase these days. It is 18″ wide, which is a slight downgrade from my 20″ fake Powermatic, but it has a lot more power at 7hp. The coolest thing is the factory sticker on front that says,”Do not remove more than 1/2″ of thickness at a time.” That’s not a planer, that’s a chipper!

The last major acquisition is an AEM (Timesavers) 37″ wide belt sander. I had a grizzly dual drum sander before, that I found very useful, but not very fast. I was able to consistently get pretty good results, but it was like watching paint dry as for as the speed goes. The other major drawback was that it was only 24″ wide, and I would be left on my own with an orbital sander on larger pieces. At 37″ wide, it will handle cabinet doors and entry doors, as well as most face frames and many table tops. And, with 20 hp it should do the job in a reasonable amount of time. I have jokingly named this machine “The Friendmaker” because I expect a long line of friends to be waiting to use it. Speaking of friends, thanks Martin, Patrick and Dad for helping me move this particular item.

Lastly, I need to thank Mike Willard who is semi-temporarily, quasi-permanently lending me a 5hp older Delta Unisaw. I love older, stronger, heavier tools and this one is right in my wheelhouse. Now I just need to hook it up.

That concludes the tour except for the photos below. Thanks for flying with WunderWoods today. I will be sure to update you when my new location is stocked with wood and tools and “officially” open for business.

Black Friday Blowout Event

Black Friday Blowout took on a whole new meaning this year. Unfortunately, the black was from all of the charcoal that needed to be cleaned up and the blowout was from, well, you know, the blowout. It worked out pretty nice because Friday was like a holiday/workday/freeday, so I didn’t feel so bad about working on the mess. There was no real plan except to pull out the tools that have some scrap value and to get the wood stacked and restacked (the fire department tore the stacks apart to put out the fire). I had help from Chris Law and Mike Stevens (thank you both), as well as Mark Soest who is donating the use of his loader, and we got a lot done. By the end of the day, the wood was stacked, the scrap was loaded, and most of the building was out of the way.

The sawmill can be saved. It got hot, but not as hot as the stuff in the building.

The only large tool that I plan to salvage is my sawmill. It is burned badly, needs a new engine, and it is missing almost everything that melts, but it was on the edge of the fire and didn’t get as hot. All of the other tools were inside the shop and are no longer straight, if they exist at all.

I took advantage of this shopping weekend to purchase my first replacement tools; a 6″ orbital sander, a Fuji hvlp system, and a few clamps. These are tools that I know I want new. Most of the rest, especially the bigger tools, I expect to replace with used equipment. I hope to again stumble on deals like a 12″ Crescent jointer for $300, or a 14″ Delta bandsaw for $25, or a Jet 13″ planer/molder that came with four sets of knives for $300.

I am in need of a 10″ tablesaw, a 20+” planer, a 12+” jointer, and/or Crescent Universal Woodworker (the coolest power tool ever). If you know of any of these available at a reasonable price, I would greatly appreciate a “heads up”.

The plan now is to work out of my garage at home, while I work on putting up a new shop. The concrete pad of the original shop is not in good enough shape for a shop floor, but will work well for parking trucks or lumber, so I am building the new shop adjacent to the pad. Next up is to get the electric back on, since it was roasted too.

I want to thank everyone that has offered their support, help and workshop. It is nice to know that I have so many places in St. Louis that I can stop by and make sawdust. Thanks again! Enjoy the slideshow.

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How to Make Charcoal

This afternoon I got a call from a friend that lives near my sawmill/shop and he asked if I had been up there today. Well, the rest pretty much writes itelf.

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We went up to check out the damage and maybe see if we could salvage anything, but the salvaging didn’t take long. Everything was vaporized, except the heavy iron, which is still pretty dead. I was amazed at how my tool boxes, which had drawers so full that you couldn’t close them, had almost nothing in them. I have saved a couple “C” clamps and a carpenter’s square so far, but that may be it. It was raining (about 12 hours too late), so we just left. Will find out more soon.

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