Ax Men’s Shelby Stanga Gets An Early Birthday Present

After the drought last summer all of the local rivers were very low. The Missouri River, right across the street from my shop, was lower than I had ever seen it. It was a trickle compared to its normal self. This big and forbidding river had become almost friendly with giant sandbars and never-ending chances to explore.

This is a photo of the Missouri River when it was low and we were exploring with Grandma and Grandpa.

This is a photo of the Missouri River when it was low and we were exploring with Grandma and Grandpa Wunder. Usually it is all water from just beyond the bench to the far tree line. My 40lb. bow couldn’t even make it to the water from here.

The more I explored, the more I found. I found a lot of cool driftwood pieces and lots of logs. At first, I blew of the logs that I saw, assuming that they were probably cottonwood or some other quick-to-rot species. But, then I thought a little more and wondered, “What if they aren’t all cottonwood or rotten?” So, I started taking a little closer look.

It didn’t take long to find a walnut that was solid and then a nice maple, but both of those were in Frontier Park in downtown St. Charles and there was no real way to get to them, so I let them go. Besides the fact that I couldn’t get to them, I didn’t need to get to them. I had a big supply of logs and plenty of paying jobs to do otherwise. I didn’t need to chase river logs. But, as you might have guessed, logic doesn’t rule in my world.

I began small and started bringing back driftwood pieces to the shop. I looked at the bigger logs, most of which were cottonwood, but didn’t pursue them. I didn’t see any that were easy to get out. Nothing was sitting right next to a boat ramp, and I wasn’t in a hurry to go out on the river in the middle of winter. I can swim, but that doesn’t make a difference if the water is freezing cold. I kept bringing back pieces I could carry, and I was fine… until I found one particular walnut log.

This log sucked me in. It was literally right across the street from the shop, big, and walnut, with the coolest exterior. The outside was so cool that, no matter what wood it was, I would have made it into mantels or something else that I could leave unpeeled. I had to have it, or at least cut into it, and then decide if I had to have it.

The main thing that had kept me from doing this sooner was getting the log. None of the others I found were easy to get to or get out, and this one was no different. It was far from the road and, at this point, far from the river. I decided I was going to go old school on this one and mill it in place with my chainsaw. If anything good came out of it I was sure I could find someone or several someones to help me carry it out (I have a lot of wood-loving friends that I can pay in wood).

The plan I hatched was military inspired. I went in quick and light with only my chainsaw, a few wedges, a hammer, and extra gas and oil. I didn’t plan to stay long. After all, this wasn’t making me any money, and I had other paying jobs to do. In and out was the mantra. I limited my stay to one sharp chain and only one sharp chain – the one on the saw. I knew it wouldn’t last too long since I was going to cut dirty roots from a muddy tree at the bottom of a sandy river. I would’ve been happy with the chain staying sharp for just one full tank of gas. I figured by that time I would know if I wanted to come back. And, if I did, I could make more formal plans.

I picked a nice sunny, slightly warm morning and launched my attack. I sharpened the chain on my saw, packed my saw bag, checked the battery on my camera and headed in. I started with the root section and made a couple of small cuts, just to make sure it was walnut and see how things looked. I worked my way back and forth and up and down the tree making cuts to assess the situation and try not to screw things up.

The entire tree, including the root section, was pretty accessible even though it was wedged between two piles. Even so, in order to get to the main root section, I had to cut off the tap root. I wouldn’t normally do anything with the tap root, but this tree was big and so was the tap root. This seemed like a fine place to start milling and finish off my chain.

After it was all said and done I ended up with six chunks from the tap root that we hauled back. You can tell from the video commentary that I wasn’t too impressed with them, but the rest of the log looked great. I left the tree in three sections (two nine-foot long logs and the root section) and packed out.

Click the photo above to see a video of the Missouri River walnut milling.

Click the photo above to see a video of the Missouri
River walnut milling.

I spent the next few days working on my paying jobs, telling friends about the log and planning the next big milling session. Then it began to precipitate, and precipitate, and you guessed it, snow. I kept thinking that we should have tied up the logs, but we didn’t. I knew the river would eventually go back to normal levels, I just didn’t think it would all happen in a few days. Now the river is back to its normal width, and it just snowed another foot.

Needless to say, that log is gone. It is somewhere downstream for someone else to find. I was telling a friend of mine about it and how the log was in New Orleans now and how someone was just going find an awesome piece of ready-to-go walnut, when he mentioned Shelby Stanga. We both watch Ax Men and love Shelby Stanga. I think Shelby should have his own show, so I can see more of him and the logs that he pulls out of the Louisiana swamps and Lake Pontchartrain. Anyway, we both laughed and thought about how funny it would be if Shelby found that walnut and it ended up on our favorite show with our favorite logger. Well, if I can’t have it, I would want Shelby to have it. Happy Birthday Shelby!


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About wunderwoods

Hi! My name is Scott Wunder and I am the owner of WunderWoods Custom Woodworking. We build wine cellars, built-ins and furniture from local woods, here in St. Louis, MO. Recently, I finished a three-year term as the President of the St. Louis Woodworkers Guild, which had me writing a monthly article for our newsletter. I love to write, especially about wood, and found that I still had more to say. Every day I run into something wood related that I realize some of my customers don't know and this seems like a great forum for sharing what I have learned (instead of telling the same story to each person). The main thing to remember is that I try to keep it light and as my wife always reminds people that have just met me, "He is joking."

7 responses to “Ax Men’s Shelby Stanga Gets An Early Birthday Present”

  1. Matt says :

    After all of that you lost the logs? WTF I’m sure your wife is just peachy about that. Sounds like a Scott adventure. It’s the journey, not the destination.

    • wunderwoods says :

      I lost the logs. I am hoping that maybe the root chunk is still there wedged in the piles, even though I pretty much cut it out. I will tell you though, that river is large my friend and that isn’t the only walnut out there. The next one will be right next to the boat ramp.

  2. Wes Fordyce says :

    How could you tell it was a walnut before you cut it?

    • wunderwoods says :

      Since I only take free logs, a lot of the logs I pick up have been laying around for awhile. I have gotten good at figuring out what they are in various states of decay and have always made a game of it. In this case, there were a few characteristics that narrowed it down to walnut. First off, it wasn’t an oak or ash. Those are very open-grained and this was not. That took out a big chunk of choices right there. The next obvious ones to consider on the river are bottomland trees like cottonwood, sycamore and silver maple. This log was really old, but really solid. Any of those trees would have had rot issues somewhere along the log and this one did not. Sycamore was also ruled out because the grain was pretty straight and sycamore is always obviously not straight. That left me with only two choices; cherry or walnut. Both are highly rot resistant and are similar in grain. I have found a lot of logs like this in both cherry and walnut that were done on the outside, but still completely solid throughout. Plus, I like to think positively and tell myself that it is one of those two. The thing that nailed it down for me was the terrain of the surface of the log. The ripples were exaggerated from the water running over them for so long, but I have seen walnuts with a similar structure below the bark. Especially in summer, the bark falls off and exposes the waviness. This tree also had the shape I would expect from a walnut that grew to a large size close to a river. It was fairly clear at the bottom, but quickly started to show knots and branches in the second log, indicating that it grew in a somewhat open spot. It didn’t take long for me to be able to imagine it standing along the river at the bottom of a pasture in a thin line of trees and whispering, “I’m a walnut.”

  3. thekiltedwoodworker says :

    LOL. Seriously? That’s the end of your story?


    Sorry. That totally sucks, man. I would have bought all of it, you know. Just that log, though, nothing else. It looked like it had some amazing character.

    Full retail price, too.


    • wunderwoods says :

      Everyone is willing to pay full retail for stuff I don’t have. Maybe I’ll find one even better if and when the river goes back down. Then I’ll be sure to give you a call.

      • thekiltedwoodworker says :

        You know all I really want is some 5″ thick SYP that’s wide enough I only have to glue up two or three pieces at the most for a bench top, right? I’ll settle for fir. Or Hemlock.

        Just stop selling it out from under me. 🙂

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