As written by Scott’s “lovely wife”, Chris….
As with all families, many of our discussions revolve around trees. Wait, is that only in our house? Well, if you’re married to a “tree guy” like I am, many discussion do revolve around trees. One recurring conversation is about sweetgum trees. I love them! Yes, I’ve had sweetgum trees in our yard and know of the sweet gum balls. But my gosh, they are beautiful trees.
First, a bit about sweetgum trees for the uninitiated. They are native to the U.S. and Missouri. They are hardy, low-maintenance trees that currently have no major problems with disease. They are often planted in open areas, and make fantastic shade trees. They have beautiful dark green star shaped leaves. They flower in April-May and often drop little green “broccoli tops”. If you’ve seen them on the ground, you know what I’m talking about. They are most famous for their fruit which matures in the fall but doesn’t fall until winter or late winter. These seeds are the infamous spike balls that everyone hates. Yes, they are nearly indestructible and yes, they are hard to clean up and yes, they seem to fall over a period of months, so that you never get them all cleaned up.
But here’s why they are so magnificent. They are beautiful trees. They are large and green in the summer and provide wonderful shade, which is much needed in the heat of Missouri’s summers. Then, in the fall, they become amazing trees with the prettiest color changes to red, yellow, orange and even purple. Even Scott thinks they have the widest range of colors in the fall. To me they are the quintessential fall color. It actually pains me not to have one in our current yard, but there are many in our neighborhood, and I can’t wait each year to see them dazzle in the late autumn sun.
Now, if you’re a “tree guy” like Scott, they have no value. I know, how can that be, right? Well, he doesn’t seem fazed by their fall beauty and only focuses on their shortcomings. Obviously, the balls are an eyesore and backsore (get it? from raking and raking and raking). But, he values trees with great wood. Which, apparently, sweet gums around here don’t have, but according to my internet research, the wood has historically been used for cabinetry.
So….here’s Scott’s point of view, straight from the horse’s mouth/keyboard:
Why do I hate sweetgum trees and why don’t I mill them? Let me count the ways.
Way #1: Dumb, good-for-nothing spike balls. You can’t eat them, they drop continuously from fall through spring, and they are a pain to walk on. People complain about falling walnuts, but spike balls kick walnuts’ butts.
Way #2: They are messy in the spring too, dropping what we refer to as “broccoli tops”. The broccoli tops are the beginning of the reproductive cycle to make the dumb spike balls previously mentioned. Good-for-nothing broccoli tops, making more good-for-nothing spike balls, which make more good-for-nothing sweetgum trees. Don’t need any of ‘em.
Way #3: Open-grown, sweetgum trees are silly with branches. A long, clear sweetgum log might make 9’, with most of them barely making 7’. They can grow much taller and straighter in the woods, but the yard trees are short and stubby. And, there are almost no sweet gums in the woods around St. Louis, so the available logs are always the short and stubby variety.
Way #4: No customer has ever asked for sweetgum lumber or a beautiful sweetgum dining room table. Well, at least none of my customers have ever asked for sweetgum, so I have little reason to mill it. There are just too many better choices.
Way #5: Wicked crooked lumber. Sweetgum heartwood lumber dries alright (so, I hear), but the sapwood does not. Unfortunately, for the sweetgum trees and local sawyers, the short and stubby, open-grown trees are almost all sapwood, with only a hint of heartwood. This makes for some of the most crooked lumber imaginable. I got my introduction to the twisting of sweetgum, when I milled and dried some 4/4 sweetgum for flooring and all of the boards twisted, with some of them twisting almost 45 degrees. And, those were on the bottom of a stack with wood on them as high as the Bobcat could reach. Boards 6” wide and less, lifted up thousands of pounds. Incredible and noteworthy, but not in a good way.
I say, if a tree doesn’t produce something edible or at least some decent lumber, then we don’t need it. Trim it low and plant something else instead. We can get our firewood from other trees.
Recently, I finally upgraded my Powermatic 180 planer to a spiral cutterhead, and I am here to tell you how much I love it. And yes, I do want to marry it.
I bought this machine at auction when I moved into the new shop, after I burned up my last planer in the fire. I’ve had it for about 8 years now, and for most of that time fought with keeping the blades sharp. I was excited when I bought it because it was made in America (not like the ones from Taiwan today), had a strong 7-1/2 horse motor, and I knew it would last the rest of my life. I especially liked the warning sticker on the front, which reminds me not to remove more than 1/2” of thickness at a time (like that is going to happen). The coolness continued with the fact that it had an on-board grinder to sharpen the knives without removing them from the planer. The coolness ended, however, with the blade setup.
A normal planer has three or four long blades, the width of the planer to shave the wood. This particular Powermatic planer, “The Quiet One” was outfitted with 27 short blades, which were placed in a staggered pattern in 9 slots, presumably to not have as much smacking of the blades against the wood and reducing the noise. Instead of three or four hard smacks per revolution, it would be broken down to 9 smaller smacks per revolution, running with more consistency in the noise level. I found this set up to NOT reduce the noise and to make knife setting and resharpening almost impossible, which explains why this design was not long-lived.
The little, 2” long knives, were held in with Allen screws which were supposed to also allow for height adjustment, but they were always jammed with wood and would take an act of God to get them loose. Even after we made a special hook-shaped tool to get them out, it would still take me at least a full day to reset all of the knives, and I still felt like they were subpar. Finally, after the last time resetting the knives, I told myself that once they were ground down enough to need resetting, I was going to replace that cutting head. I hadn’t done it up to that point because I am cheap and the new cutting head was in the $1,500 range, which was $500 more than I paid for the planer.
I ended up buying a Byrd Shelix carbide insert cutterhead. It has around 150 little carbide inserts with four cutting edges on them. When I opened the packaging it was quickly evident why it was so expensive – it was a thing of machining beauty. There are so many little cuts and angles and crazy geometry that it would make your head spin if you really had to figure it out. Even the little inserts have a little bit of bend along the cutting edge to make up for the fact that they are set up at an angle to make a shear cut. Nothing about it is straight or simple.
I had a friend of mine from the St. Louis Woodworkers Guild, former shop teacher Dan Coleman, install it for me. You would know (like I did) after talking to Dan for just a minute about machines and machine setup, that he was the guy to do it. It took him less than a day to dismantle my planer and swap out the new cutting head. I’m sure if I did it alone it would have taken much longer and I still wouldn’t be sure everything was right. After listening to several presentations by Dan about machine maintenance, I was sure it would be done perfectly, which it was.
When we ran the first board through the planer, it was amazing! It was so quiet, I didn’t even think it was cutting the wood! Even now, I need to look at the wood coming out of the planer sometimes just to make sure it is doing anything. The hum of the motor is usually about the same noise level as the actual planing. The funny thing is, going into this, I wasn’t so worried about the noise level, or at least I didn’t think I was. If I just got good planing results without having to fight with those stupid knives, I would have been happy, but the reduction in noise makes it almost unbelievable.
So, “What about the finish quality?,” you ask. Also, AHH-MAZING! Since the cutters are set at an angle and designed to make a shear cut, there is almost no tearout like normal planer blades, which hit the wood straight on and lift out chunks of wood while they are cutting. Even difficult-to-plane species, like hard maple, come through almost entirely unscathed. Now, I feel confident sticking boards in the planer, knowing they will come out the other side with the surface fully intact and not blown to bits. This speeds things up in the shop because we don’t need to spend so much time at the wide belt sander cleaning up after the planer.
Since the cutterhead was switched out, I have had a chance to test out the resharpening process, and it is so easy. Twice, I have rotated just a few of the carbide teeth, which got damaged by hitting a nail in the wood, and I had it back up and running, with a perfect finish, in just a few minutes. I have rotated all of the teeth once so far, and that was done in about an hour. The teeth loosen and rotate easily and fall right into perfect position – it is super simple. The sharpening process has gone from something I hated with every bit of my being to something I don’t even think about – a 100% non-issue. It just works, and works better than I could have ever imagined. I can’t believe I waited so stinkin’ long to do it.
Post by Chris Wunder (Scott’s lovely wife)
Here’s a great example of wood and metal together to create a unique bar table.
Spalted maple isn’t exactly the first choice for many, but the look is very distinctive. If you aren’t familiar with spalted wood, let me enlighten you. Spalted wood is the unique color and dark lines that occur from fungal growth in wood. Simply put, it has a little rot in it. Surprising to some, this look is sought after and makes the wood more valuable. Spalting occurs in trees (or parts of trees) that have already died.
Here metal legs are used for the industrial feel. The cross piece of wood adds a great amount of stability, and the turnbuckles bring the stability home, while enforcing the industrial element.
Post by Chris Wunder (Scott’s lovely wife)
This spring (March 2019) we completed and installed custom shutters at Lakeside 370 Park in St. Peters. These shutters are made from burr oak that was salvaged during construction at Washington University in St. Louis. A tanquil nature scene (hand drawn by non other than Scott Wunder) featuring local wildlife and fauna was lasered into the wood. The shutters were constructed and installed to be removed in the event of a flood. Who would have guessed that the possibility of a flood would turn into reality so soon after installation? The shutters were removed this summer and safely stored out of harm’s way, when the Mississippi River flooded the park in August.
The counter is silver maple and features a natural live edge. Both silver maple and burr oak are bottomland species which can be found in the park area in the Mississippi River Valleys.
Post by Chris Wunder (Scott’s lovely wife)
Recently, a customer who visited the shop said they weren’t sure if WunderWoods was still in business because the most recent blog post was from 2018. Scott’s always busy, but lately just hasn’t found the time to write one of his informational pieces. So, I’ve decided to help out with some posts. I’m sure I won’t have the humor that Scott does, or the helpful how-to information that he provides, but I will highlight projects happening in the shop. So here’s my first post!
If you’ve seen any custom wood projects in the last few years you know that live edge slabs are all the rage. Here’s a few pictures of our most recent live edge projects. From corporate offices to laid back bedrooms, live edge wood is everywhere. If you’d like more information on what we offer in the way of finished or unfinished slabs, please click on the “Live Edge Slabs” in the upper left hand corner of our website.
I started milling lumber about 25 years ago with a chainsaw mill, which is just a chainsaw with an attachment to control the depth of cut. The simple device allowed me to consistently cut accurate lumber with a minimal arsenal of equipment. It was a great way for a guy who knew nothing about trees or logs or sawmilling to learn about producing lumber. And, even today, I still use a chainsaw mill (Lucas mill) to cut the live edge slabs which we sell at WunderWoods.
Customers are regularly impressed with the quality of the cut from the chainsaw mill, imagining that the chainsaw will necessarily make a terrible cut with a nasty surface finish, which it does not. As a matter of fact, the quality of the cut from a chainsaw mill is better than the bandsaw – it’s very flat and absent of dips and doodles (scientific term) associated with thin bandsaw blades. Don’t get me wrong, bandsaws can and do, cut just as well, but when they start to get dull or otherwise less than perfect, they will cut anything but flat. A chainsaw cut will remain flat as the chain dulls, it will just cut slower.
A chainsaw mill is commonly referred to as an “Alaskan mill” because of the brand name “Alaskan mill” attachment made by Grandberg International, the same way you might call any facial tissue a Kleenex, but it doesn’t need to be this exact type. As far as I am concerned, any mill which uses a chainsaw chain and bar is a chainsaw mill, no matter the setup.
The Alaskan mill is a simple metal frame, which attaches to the chainsaw bar and can be adjusted to change the depth of cut. It is so simple, in fact, that you could easily build one yourself. They have never been too expensive, so I think most people just opt to buy one. You have to set up two rails (many use a ladder) on top of the log to guide the first cut, but after that the Alaskan mill just rides on the previous cut. I am a fan of the Alaskan mill for its simplicity, and I have a warm place in my heart because it was my first mill. If you didn’t own a chainsaw and decided that you wanted to cut some lumber, you could be making your own lumber for about $500, for a small chainsaw and the Alaskan mill attachment.
I started with the Alaskan mill after reading an article about a father and son using one to cut logs in the woods. I thought it would be cool to cut my own lumber with a chainsaw, and I didn’t want to invest too much in the beginning because I didn’t have a source of logs. Plus, I didn’t own any land, wasn’t friends with any tree service guys and really had never even used a chainsaw before, so I wasn’t sure if it would take. The Alaskan mill promised me the ability to cut lumber anywhere and be able to do it with no heavy equipment – a small pickup truck was more than enough to get milling.
The Alaskan mill works just as advertised, but understand that it is not a production machine. The operator is the sole source of power, and as such, it isn’t an easy row to hoe. It would take me most of the day, by myself, to load up equipment, travel, set-up, mill one 20″ diameter x 8′ log, clean-up, load up equipment and lumber, and travel back home. That was fine with me at the time because I was young and I was tickled to end the day with more than 100 board feet of hardwood lumber. Using my simple logic, my equipment would be paid for in just a couple of logs.
Needless to say, this milling thing did take, and I kept on finding more logs and milling them. It didn’t take long for me to feel like I needed more production, so I moved up to a Lucas mill, but funny enough, not with a chainsaw slabbing attachment. I bought it only with the circular saw setup, which appeared to cut much faster. I then moved onto a bandsaw mill, then to a large circular mill, then back to a bandsaw mill, and only then back to the chainsaw mill attachment for the Lucas mill.
I always liked the Lucas mill and once wide, live-edge slabs started coming into style, it just made sense to use the Lucas with the chainsaw slabbing attachment to cut big logs. The mill I use now (a bigger Lucas mill) is a major upgrade to pushing a chainsaw through a log and really makes the process more enjoyable. I still have the noise of the engine and need to sharpen the saw quite often, but the sawdust and fumes aren’t directly in my face and I don’t have to work so hard to push the saw through the cut. The hardest part now is moving the slabs out of the way, since the Lucas mill can cut up to 60″ wide and they get quite heavy.
I was prompted to write this because even though I have upgraded to the Lucas mill for my sawmilling, I still do a lot of work with a chainsaw, and I want to remind or encourage everyone to not forget about their chainsaw as a means of milling. Don’t think that you need a “sawmill” to produce high-quality lumber or that if you have a “sawmill” that you no longer need your chainsaw. You won’t get dazzling production numbers, but you can still be milling at almost any time with just a chainsaw. I am reminded of this all of the time when I see posts from others of the big and beautiful wood they have cut, just by taking their chainsaw mill to the tree.
Even if I am not using it for the actual milling, there are plenty of times where the chainsaw still comes into play, whether freehand or on some type of mill, and I am still amazed by the simplicity of it all. I use the chainsaw to rough mill mantels which we haul out of tough locations by hand and to cut large logs into quarters for further processing on the sawmill.
Every time I do some sort of work with the chainsaw, especially if it is part of the milling process, I always think back to my early days and appreciate what it can do. I think I really like the idea of knowing that if I needed to, maybe if I was stranded on an island full of large trees (and plenty of gas), I could mill everything I needed with just a chainsaw – maybe one with an attachment, but still, just a chainsaw.
Feel free to send me a photo of your chainsaw milling, and I will be glad to post it here with a link. I am sure everyone would love to see what is possible with a chainsaw/chainsaw mill.
I use a lot of tape on a regular basis. Usually it is for regular things which you would guess require tape – normal things like holding parts in place or masking something off before finishing. I always have tape with me, from blue masking tape (my favorite) to electrical tape, and we keep plenty of other tapes in the shop, including packing tape and aluminum foil tape (my second favorite).
No matter which tape you prefer or which of these you have with you, they are all equally good for one thing – cleaning up. That’s right, cleaning up.
You see, I was on an install about 15 years ago which was small (only drilling a few holes), and I brought nothing with me to clean up. Since there was no rug nearby to sweep the dust under, I decided to use some tape like a lint roller to clean up the mess. I simply rolled the tape around my hand, sticky side out, and used it to pick up the dust. And, it worked great!
Now, whenever I don’t have a vacuum or a broom handy, or if I just want to impress the ladies, I reach for the tape and pick up the mess. And, while not perfect for cleaning big messes, tape excels at thoroughly cleaning up small, lightweight messes which are hard to grab and tend to easily fly around or cling with static.
On the job site, I use tape to clean up all kinds of dust and debris. And, at home, we use tape to clean up after doing home repairs and craft projects (it works amazingly well on glitter). My fancy tape clean-up method works so well that I don’t bother to turn the truck around when I realize that I head out without any official cleaning tools.
Next time you find yourself needing to clean up a little mess, don’t go searching for a vacuum either. Just get out the tape and get on to the next job.
Super Glue or cyanoacrylate glue or CA glue (whatever you choose to call it) is some amazing stuff. I have been using it more and more in the shop and seem to find new uses for it every day. When combined with an activator to make this already super glue that much more super, its crazy how fun and helpful it can be. Lately it seems like if something is broken or just not quite right, I’m reaching for the super glue. And, in an age of immediate gratification, it seems to fit right in.
CA glue, which most everyone knows as super glue, has recently developed quite the following, leading to a wide variety of choices in makers and products. The biggest expansion in product lines has come in the form of different viscosities, from thin to thick, which allow for greater control and the ability to be used in more situations. The thin derivation is great for making repairs where something is cracked but not really in two separate pieces and the thicker varieties are great for gap filling, while the medium is a good, all around, gluing choice.
The other advancement, the one which makes super glue super fun, is the addition of spray activators. An activator will make CA glue set up almost immediately, changing the clear, easily flowing liquid into a hard crystalline structure with great adhesive quality. The activator makes CA glue work the way you have always dreamed for glue to work – you have time to get the loose pieces into position and when they are, just shoot them with activator and there they stay. And, the repairs are incredibly strong.
My first introduction to CA glue in woodworking came in the form of a presentation at the St. Louis Woodworkers Guild. The speaker was discussing building intricate handrails, which were made of many small pieces of wood, connected end grain to end grain, to form the curvy bits at the top and bottom of the stairs. He showed how he was able to use nothing but CA glue in the tightest of spots to produce quick, strong and lasting bonds.
End grain joints are notoriously horrible glue joints in any other world, but in the super glue world the joints held up great. He brought in some samples and glued them right in front of our eyes and in just seconds formed a new piece of wood which no one could break. All he did was put the CA glue on one part and sprayed the other with activator. As soon as the two pieces touched, the bond was complete. On joints which required some open time for alignment, he also had the option to use only the CA glue and not shoot the activator until everything was lined up. The glue closest to the surface would dry immediately to hold everything in place and in a short amount of time the glue on the inside of the joint would harden for a complete bond. It is a real game changer in spots which are traditionally very difficult to connect.
Besides simply holding two things together, CA glue also has many other uses. I commonly use it when I am in the final stages of finishing and find voids which need to be filled. If the voids are big, epoxy is usually the choice, but CA glue works great as a type of clear filler between the epoxy and the final finish stages. I typically use the medium or thick variety and hit it with the activator for a speedy surface fill and repair. Once the CA glue sets up it can be sanded and worked like any other plastic finish and then topcoated without issue.
CA glue is also great as a wood hardener. It isn’t uncommon for me to run into wood that is decayed or starting to decay somewhere (especially in spalted or “character” wood) and needs a little support structurally. By soaking the questionable wood with the thin version of CA glue, I can quickly turn a delicate spot into a spot which is as hard as rock and will stay bonded with the surrounding wood. And, again, it happens almost immediately, even without an activator.
Lastly, CA glue can be a finish all by itself. I don’t personally use it as a finish, since I am not a wood turner (you can find out why by clicking here), but I know plenty of people who do. Usually, it is used for smaller projects like pens and bowls, where less-than-perfect wood is a common choice. I suspect it was first used to simply hold burled wood together and then people started to realize that it filled voids and finished nicely. After that, it was a logical step to start using it as the finish and take advantage of its strength and immediacy.
The big negative for me, when I started using super glue on a regular basis, was the possibility of accidentally glueing myself or getting glued to something else. I think everyone knows that super glue bonds immediately to skin and it seems like everyone is always warning everyone else to not get it on their skin, so I used it with trepidation. However, since using CA glue now, almost every day, I can tell you that it is much less scary.
I have no problem or concerns with using my raw, ungloved finger to wipe up a drip of super glue like I would any other errant liquid. If you do the same, you just need to be smart about it. If you get it on your hand, don’t immediately grab something – it will stick. Just let it dry and you will have no problem. And, if you do stick your fingers together, don’t freak out. Enjoy the moment and look at your fingers in awe and appreciate how good the glue works on your skin. Then, simply wipe the glue with acetone and you will be unstuck. And, even if you get CA glue on your skin and do nothing about it, the glue will start to peel off after a couple of days without causing any pain or damage. It really isn’t as life changing as others might make it out to be. As a matter of fact, I even know a guy (not named here for professional courtesy) who shot CA glue directly in his eye, and though a bit uncomfortable, had no real issues arise from it.
I recommend having three viscosities (thin, medium and thick) of CA glue and a spray activator in your shop at all times, ready to go. Purchase it before you need it, then you will have it on hand when the need arises and you can take advantage of the speed it offers. I guarantee that once you start using CA glue in your shop, you will find a million uses for it too.
Whenever I put a new blade on my sawmill, I fold up the old one to send it out for sharpening. I don’t find the process as awesome as I used to, but it still seems to intrigue others that haven’t seen me do it before. And, I must admit, when I know someone is watching that hasn’t seen me fold up a bandsaw blade before, I do it extra fast and super snappy to make it seem even more dazzling. With a quick flick of my wrists, the 50″ diameter loop of bandsaw blade is reduced to three loops at just 17″, making it easier to handle and ship out.
I learned how to coil a bandsaw blade like this pre-YouTube and over the phone from the kids at Wood-Mizer, who supply and sharpen my blades. It took a few tries to do it the first time and many more to get good at it, but I figured if I could learn it over the phone then I could certainly show others how to do it with visuals. The good news is that like learning to ride a bike, once you get it, you’ve got it.
To prepare, put on some gloves (without holes). Start by holding the blade with each of your hands on the outside of the blade, away from your body and parallel to the ground with the teeth facing up. Imagine that you are holding out a large basketball hoop in front of you waiting for someone else to take a shot. From there, whip the portion of the blade furthest from you towards the ground and just as the blade nears the ground give it a quick jerk up, with a snap. This motion will make the blade start to fold in half, with the teeth going away from you. At the same time that the blade starts to fold in half, simply twist both of your wrists towards the inside of the loop. If your timing is right, you will get to a certain point where the blade no longer wants to fight you and then it will just spring into three loops.
When you are first learning this technique you may find it helpful to get a feel for it by cheating a bit. Start just as described above while standing on carpeting or grass or some other surface that is soft and will grab the teeth of the saw blade (I show it in the photos using a piece of lumber). Now, instead of whipping the blade towards the ground, just drop the end furthest away from you to the ground, so that the blade is now perpendicular to the ground. Use the soft and grabby surface to snag the teeth as you start to lift and push the blade up an away from you. Instead of getting the blade to fold in half with a whip motion, you are now going to get it to fold by pushing against the soft floor. As the blade starts to fold in half, with the teeth away from you, roll your wrists to the inside of the loop, just like described above. Using this method, you will be able to feel the exact point where the blade stops fighting you and happily coils into three loops. You should be able to get a feel for it after just a few times with this “cheating” method and then move on to the fancy, snappy method.
When I purchased my 1977 Chevy C-60 in 1998, I was looking for a truck to haul logs for my infant sawmill business and not much more. All I knew was that I didn’t want to spend much money and as long as it ran, I would be a happy owner. I only spent a few thousand dollars to buy it and a few more to make sure it ran and that the crane wouldn’t leak hydraulic fluid everywhere.
Since then, I have used my truck to haul an amazing array of logs, from small firewood pieces to giants which would only fit one wide across the bed. Not that I haven’t busted it along the way, but I have never had a problem with carrying lots of weight. Even when a loader operator dropped a 4’ diameter by 13’ long sycamore log onto the bed from a few feet in the air, it has always bounced back and asked for more.
I bought the truck well-used, so it has never been much of a looker, but it didn’t bother me. And, though I thought I might one day “fix it up”, I never did because I knew I would just mess it up again. After all, I used it as a work truck, not a show truck.
What it lacks in looks it makes up for in versatility and drivability. I feel as comfortable driving that truck as I do any pickup truck and love that I can use the crane to load almost anything. Even if the logs are extra big, I can simply pick up one end of the log at a time and work it on to the bed. I also love that the truck isn’t too big, so I can fit into tight spots and I don’t feel like I am going to destroy the place when I pull in.
My C-60, which is now 40 years old, recently blew the engine. When it happened I had a tough decision to make — put more money in the truck which I loved but was in very rough shape or put the same money towards another truck. I couldn’t decide, so I did both. I purchased the exact same truck, but with only 50,000 miles and in much better shape. (I love farm auctions!) It is a 1977 Chevy C-60, also in its original red, with original everything and only one door ding. I am currently working on moving the bed and crane from my original C-60 to my new C-60 and plan to use it for another 40 years.