Tag Archive | Woodworking

Super Glue is Super in the Woodshop

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.


A kit like this from FastCap is a great place to start.


Plenty of companies, like this one from Mohawk, offer kits that include different viscosities and activators.


The Stick Fast line, available at Rockler, offers many choices, including activators.


Titebond’s Instant Bond is available at Woodcraft and features a full line of viscosities and activators.


Brands like Loctite are commonly available at many hardware stores and perform just as well, though their activators will not be as easy to find.


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.


How to Fold Up a Bandsaw Blade

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.

It all starts with a pair of gloves and holding the blade with the teeth facing up.

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 first learning to coil a bandsaw blade, you can cheat by using the ground to help you get started.

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.

As the front of the blade starts to fold down and towards you, twist your wrists and push towards the inside of the the loop.


When your hands move to the inside of the loop, the back of the blade (closest to you) will curve down.


After a certain point the blade will jump into three loops and stay there. Now you’ve got it!


How Much is Your Log Worth?

How much is your log worth? The short answer is probably not as much as you had hoped, but you’re not here for the short answer, so I’ll give you the long one.

First off, you need a bit of background of where I come from on this subject. I mill, sell and work with lumber from mostly suburban settings with lots of yard trees salvaged from tree services and a decent number of logs from wooded settings, usually where a building is about to be erected. This means my log supply can range from barely usable to awesomely perfect and all with lots of wacky and wild in between. I normally pay nothing for my logs and only buy a couple of logs per year, which I just can’t live without. I mostly don’t pay for logs because I mostly don’t have to. There are lots of logs available to me, especially if I am willing to pick them up.

Since I work in an area with a large population (St. Louis and St. Charles, MO), I often get requests from homeowners looking to make money from their logs, especially after hearing age-old stories of walnut logs selling for thousands and thousands of dollars. These consistent requests and a recent article in the Missouri Conservationist magazine (click here to read the article) about Missouri hardwoods prompted me to put into writing what I have repeated probably hundreds of times.

  1. A log is worth as much as someone is willing to pay. This sounds like a smartass answer, but it isn’t. If you don’t know where to sell your logs or you can’t find someone in your area willing to pay, they aren’t worth much. And, if you can’t get your logs to the buyer they are worth even less. Especially, if you only have one tree, expect no excitement from someone who normally purchases logs. You won’t get a larger purchaser, like a big sawmill, to come out for less than a truckload.
  2. Your log probably isn’t as great as you think it is. You would be amazed by how many people call me and tell me about a walnut tree in their yard that is at least 40 years old or about the tree which has its first branch at 5′ from the ground. A walnut tree is a baby at 40 years old and is obviously a short, branchy yard tree with not much of a log if there are branches 5′ from the ground. A good tree, one worth really talking about, will have at least 10′ of branchless trunk, if not 14′ or 16′ or more. Just because it is a walnut tree, doesn’t mean it is a good walnut tree.

    This walnut tree was about 90 years old and produced a very nice stem. The bottom log has about 250 bf. in it and would fetch about $500 dollars delivered to a sawmill. The top log in the pile and the second log up in the tree has about 200 bf. in it and would be worth about $175.


  3. Most high-dollar logs are veneer-quality logs. Almost all of the stories of logs selling for high prices are for veneer-quality logs. And, almost all of the logs out there are not veneer-quality logs. Veneer logs look like they came from the “log factory” and are perfect in every way; no signs of knots, straight, round, good color, good growth ring spacing, centered pith, no bird peck, no shake, no metal, fresh, and hopefully, big. I only get a few veneer quality trees out of hundreds per year and they almost never come out of yards. They are usually hidden somewhere in the woods.

    White oak logs don’t get much better than this 16′ long x 30″ diameter example. Yet, the veneer buyer wasn’t interested in purchasing it because the color was not good.


  4. Yard trees have metal in them. This is no myth. Whether you remember doing it or not, there is a good chance your yard tree has metal in it. Metal, like nails, hooks, wires and chains mess up saw blades and make a mess by staining the wood. I expect trees I pick up to have metal in them, and I will work around it, but remember, I don’t pay for trees. Larger operations have no reason to buy logs with metal in them, especially if the next log truck in the gate is full of logs without metal.

    Bottom logs have the most valuable wood and the most metal, like this electrical conduit with wires.


  5. You don’t know what you don’t know. If you are reading this, it is most likely because you don’t sell logs on a regular basis (or, you just want to see if I know what I am talking about). Without doing this consistently, you can’t know enough about your logs to properly sell them. You can’t get it in front of the right people at the right time and present them with something they can’t live without, and you definitely can’t defend your product. You will be at the mercy of the buyer. They will know after the first thing out of your mouth that you do not know what you are doing, and even if they are fair, they will never overpay.

This is a good-looking walnut log, but it has a lot of sapwood (white ring on outside), which will make it less valuable. If you don’t sell logs regularly, there is no way you would know that this could be an issue for some buyers.


You can tell from most of these points that I am pretty sure you aren’t going to get rich from your single tree or a couple of logs (especially from me) and you shouldn’t expect to. With that point made, you should know that some do have value if you have a place to sell them and you have a way to get them to a buyer. So, if I haven’t completely dissuaded you from selling your logs, below are some pricing examples that you can expect if you were to sell your logs to a larger operation in the midwest:

Average price, based on 20″ diameter inside the bark on the skinny end x 10′ long = 160 bf.

Red oak $.70 per bf. clear saw log = $112, $1.00 per bf. veneer log= $160

White oak $.85 per bf. clear saw log = $136, $1.50 per bf. veneer log= $240

Walnut $1.70 per bf. clear saw log = $272, $3.50 per bf. veneer log= $560

Cherry $.90 per bf. clear saw log = $144, $1.40 per bf. veneer log= $224

Hard Maple $.75 per bf. clear saw log = $120, $1.25 per bf. veneer log= $200


This mix of 10′ x 20″ black oak, white oak and post oak trees from a homebuilding site would sell for about $75-$100 each, delivered to a local sawmill.

Now, obviously prices will range from mill to mill, based on what wood is available in the area, what is selling well and if the mill specializes in any products or species. The above prices should just serve as a guidepost in determining if bothering to sell your logs is worthwhile. Most of the logs in the pricing example above would not cover the price of trucking on their own, so marketing one log most likely doesn’t make sense, unless you can haul it yourself.

However, you can see that if a landowner were to have a large number of trees, the money could start to add up. $112 for a red oak log doesn’t sound like much, but it starts to sound like something when there is a semi truckload of $112 logs. This is what most large timber sales are based on; a large number of logs sold at a fair price and not necessarily getting rich on one tree.

Usually, the phone calls I answer are about a single “big” walnut tree which will cost a homeowner lots of money to remove because it is large and right up against the house. They see a big log worth big money. However, the removal costs also jump up with the increase in tree size, negating any benefit of a larger tree. Their hope is that I will be excited enough about their tree to cut it down (safely, I presume) in trade for the wood, but the math doesn’t work out. A tree which costs $3,000 to remove probably won’t have $3,000 worth of logs in it, no matter if it is walnut or not.

Remember, the bottom line is that logs do have some value, but if you can’t do all of the work like cutting, hauling and selling yourself there is almost no way to make money on a single tree. Unless, of course, you just happen to have a tree like the ones below that I couldn’t live without.

This 11′ x 42″ diameter walnut took two forklifts to move and was one of only two trees which I purchased last year. I paid $950 for this log and it is the largest walnut I have personally processed. This log is potentially worth more money, but it had several obvious signs of metal, so larger mills weren’t interested.


This 15′ x 38″ diameter walnut was the second of only two trees which I purchased within the last year. I paid $700 for the tree and it is the second largest walnut I have ever cut. This tree also had metal in it, which kept the price down.

How to Stop End Checking in Lumber

Lumber is stacked on sticks like this to allow air flow for drying.

End checks are a common problem when drying wood. Sometimes they aren’t too destructive and don’t travel too far, but other times they make the end of the lumber completely unusable or make a nice wide board into two not-so-wide boards. These cracks form on the ends of lumber because the ends are drying out faster and shrinking more than the middle. This happens because water can easily and quickly escape out the end, which is the same way it came in, but water trapped in the middle must travel out sideways to escape, which is a much trickier maneuver.

The secret to keeping lumber from checking on the ends is simple and logical – force the ends to dry out at the same speed as the rest of the board, meaning slow down the drying on the ends. Unfortunately, there is no single, 100% effective, way to do this.

The default method for beginners is to paint the ends with latex paint. Latex paint will not stop end checking because it it just too permeable. It will make you feel good, like you are doing something useful, but that’s about it.

Beyond latex paint is wax and unlike latex paint, wax is waterproof. If applied in a thick cohesive film, wax forms a perfect barrier to keep water from moving out of the end of a board. The biggest problem with wax is application. It is just hard to get hot wax on to the end of a lot of lumber in a timely fashion.

Anchorseal is an industry standard for green wood sealing of logs and lumber. (Click on the photo to visit UC Coatings website for Anchorseal)

The application issue has been addressed by the kids at UC Coatings, who make a product called Anchorseal. Anchorseal is a wax and water emulsion made exclusively for coating the ends of logs and lumber to help prevent end checking. Anchorseal works just as stated, but it isn’t perfect.

First, Anchorseal isn’t cheap. A five gallon bucket goes for about $95. It costs enough that I thoroughly consider whether the wood deserves it. I usually save it for only the best lumber and the species most prone to checking, like white oak. Second, it still takes time to apply, and it is pretty messy. I know several guys that won’t use it in their operations because it gets on the floor and makes everything so slippery that it can be difficult to stand up. Third, using Anchorseal doesn’t guarantee that your wood won’t split. While it will greatly reduce the overall number of end checks, it isn’t uncommon to still get one or two big checks in wide boards. Many pieces of lumber have flaws in them and will split during the drying process no matter how much you try to stop them. Fourth, it must be applied to freshly sawn lumber before the end checks have started to develop for maximum effectiveness.

You can tell from my four points above that I don’t use Anchorseal very often. But, there are places that I will use it, and one is on high-quality, especially thick, flat-sawn white oak. Again, it may not stop all end checking, but it is a great tool to help prevent much of it. On many other species, like poplar, maple, and even walnut, I feel like I usually get by with minimal losses not using Anchorseal. It should be noted that my customers are usually shopping for small quantities of lumber, so they can decide on a board by board basis if an end check is problematic for them. For operations sending out large amounts of lumber to customers that are not picking through each board, using Anchorseal makes the most sense to help produce the greatest amount of useable lumber out of each bunk. At the very least, sealing the ends of the lumber lets your customer know that you did try to prevent end checking.

Fluted sticks are commonly used in the industry to promote drying and reduce sticker stain, but do nothing to reduce end checks.

My greatest gains fighting off end checking have occurred in my sticker selection and placement. While many strides have been made in the industry to produce fluted sticks that reduce sticker stain, very few people have given much thought to using stacking sticks to help reduce end checking.

Awhile back, while at a friend’s sawmill, he casually mentioned how he noticed that lumber will split on the ends, back to the first stick. He was mad that his guys where producing lumber piles that weren’t so neatly stacked, but I focused on the end checking. After that, I paid more attention to my own stacking and changed how I stacked lumber.

Place wide, solid sticks on the very end of lumber stacks to reduce end checking.

The main difference was that I started using the sticks on the ends of the lumber to reduce end checking. I focused on getting the sticks out to the end of the lumber, and I also made sure the end sticks were solid sticks, which help hold in moisture, even on sticker stain prone woods like maple. Since the ends dry out quickly, they don’t sticker stain, and even if they did the loss on the end of the lumber would be minimal. Beyond using solid sticks, I also use wider sticks on the ends, up to 3″ wide. The extra width helps hold in even more moisture and still doesn’t risk staining the ends.

In my opinion, focusing on placing wide, solid sticks at the ends of the boards is as effective as end sealing, especially in relation to cost and time savings. Again, this isn’t a perfect method, but you would be amazed at how well it works to reduce end checking. And, if you have some especially prized lumber, you can rest easy knowing that you can always add AnchorSeal to the mix to double your chances of check-free lumber.


Don’t Screw (up) Your Wood Top

Recently, I got a question from a customer regarding a crack forming in his solid wood countertop. He built the top out of flat sawn white oak lumber and he wanted to figure out what caused the crack and hopefully, how he could repair it. Luckily, the repair is simple (just some glue and clamps), but he really needed to address the cause of the problem or the countertop would most likely crack again.

This countertop split in the back corner because it was screwed firmly in place and couldn’t move.

This view from inside the cabinet shows how the top was attached with no room for movement.

When he sent me photos of the crack, he also sent me photos of the how he attached it to the cabinets, which was very helpful. The vintage metal cabinets have a bracket in each corner with a hole just large enough for a screw, but not large enough to allow for any movement in the top. In this case, the wood was stuck in place and had no choice but to split when it shrunk in width.

I recommended to simply make the holes in the metal bracket bigger and to add a washer or use a large-headed screw to allow the top to move side to side while still being held down. The secret is to tighten the screws just enough to hold the top in place, but loose enough to allow it to move if the wood starts to pull.

This particular solution was pretty simple, but only because I have seen it many times before, and I knew what caused it. Without understanding how wood moves, the diagnosis wouldn’t be so apparent. Even though most people don’t worry about wood movement as much as I do, I always try to get them to understand the most basic premise, which is that wood moves more in width than it does in length, and you need to allow for that movement.

In woodworking in general, this disparity in movement is referred to as a “cross-grain situation”, when two pieces of wood come together with grain perpendicular to each other, then they want to pull in opposite directions. It happens all of the time in furniture construction, and it must be addressed to avoid catastrophic failures. In the example above, the setup was the same as a cross grain situation because the metal cabinet will not change in any dimension, while the wood moves in width.

When attaching wood tops of any kind, whether it be a wood countertop to a cabinet or a table top to a table base, you need to allow the top to move or it can split. The good news is that there is more than one way to attach a top and still make allowances for this movement.

The first and most common way, as mentioned earlier, is to make an oversized or elongated hole and to make up any differences with a washer or large-headed screw. Assume that any problems will be caused by excessive shrinkage and make sure that your holes are big enough and that your screws are placed in the holes so that the top has room to shrink.

It easy to make blocks like this for attaching tops. The screw is firmly in the block, but the lip on the block can slide if the top pulls hard.

Another method, which I like to use on tables, is to make blocks to fit into dados on the insides of the aprons. They don’t take too long to make and can easily be added wherever necessary. The blocks should be made so that tightening up the screws will just pull the top snug, like a perfect fitting tongue and groove joint and placed with a little separation to make sure nothing binds. They work great, and I think they look great too.

When attaching a top with a propensity to move, understand that all of your attachment points don’t have to have play in them. For example, you can firmly attach a countertop to the front of a cabinet as long as you allow the top to move in the back. Or, on table tops, you might choose to firmly attached the top in the middle of the width and allow the outside edges to move. This is perfectly acceptable and keeps the top centered on the base.

The main point to remember through all of this is to allow the wood to move. You can only really cause a problem if you don’t allow it to move. And remember , if you find that it is moving too much for your liking you can always go back and firm things up once you understand the potential problems.

For a more thorough description of wood movement click on these two earlier posts Have Your Heard About Shrinkage? or Why Quartersawn Lumber is so Stable: The 0-1-2 Rule In Action, to read a link on the subject. I think it is probably the most important subject for any woodworker to fully understand.


Multiples Stack Up or Measure Up (you pick)

I am a woodworker, and as a woodworker I live by a certain set of norms which dictate that I be accurate, but not ridiculously accurate. After all, wood changes size all of the time, so there is a limit to how accurate we can be and how much we should really worry about it. For most of us, a few measurements in a job are critical and the rest of the pieces are fit to look good. We may use measurements as a jumping off point, but it isn’t uncommon to trim a bit here and plane a bit there.

When I am in the shop, I always have a tape measure hanging off of my pocket for anything that needs to be measured. I use it a lot, but mostly for rough measurements, like making sure a piece of wood will be big enough for what I have in mind. I also use it for more critical measurements, but I try my best to find ways to not use measurements when things start to get critical. For example, instead of measuring, I will use a scrap piece of wood as a spacer. That way I don’t need to worry every time about reading the tape measure wrong, and I know that all of my spacing will be very consistent.

As much as I try to avoid being fussy about my measurements, sometimes they need to be a little more accurate. One of the tools where accuracy is important is the planer. If I want 1″ thick wood, I want to know that it is 1″. Now, more engineery people might reach for their calipers, but for those of you like me, with only a tape measures on your belt, I have a very accurate way to make perfectly sized parts – just stack them up.

The target for this table saw run was 1″. The samples from the cut were close, especially the one in the middle, but adding all of them up confirms that they are a bit wide.

Here’s the logic. If your measurements are just slightly off, you may not notice it in just one piece, but as you add up the pieces you also add up the differences and they become much more obvious. Just run a scrap piece of wood through the planer, chop it into 3, 4 or 5 pieces, stack them up and measure them. 5 pieces of wood that are 1″ thick should measure 5″ – simple de dimple. If your 1″ thick board isn’t exactly 1″ thick, you will see it, even without calipers, and then you can adjust the thickness.

That’s better! Three pieces measure 3″ wide. The average is 1″. Let’s run some parts!

The beauty of this system is two-fold. First off, you don’t need to worry about having calipers (after all, those are for kids that work at Boeing and have really clean floors). Second, it gives you a more accurate real-world reading of what is coming out of your machine. We all know that a board coming out of the planer has dips and doodles in the wood and can range in thickness depending on the spot that you measure. Adding up several pieces of wood gives you not only a measurement that is accurate, but it is also closer to the average. We are only talking small amounts here, but if you are setting up to plane a bunch of lumber, it is great to know what the bulk of it is going to measure.

When running enough wood through the planer to make thousands of little sticks with thousands of little spaces, as in this wine cellar racking, accurate tool setup is critical and easy to verify by stacking up multiples.

I use this system to double-check measurements on other tools as well. It works great on the table saw to make sure that your 3″ wide board is really 3″. Instead of cutting just one sample board 3″ wide and determining that it looks really close, cut 3 or more and add them up. Assuming that you can do a little simple math, you will be able to tell if the 3″ mark is consistently spitting out 3″ boards and not 2-63/64″ boards.

When using my fancy measuring shortcut, there is one important rule to follow. Make sure the tongue on your tape measure is accurate or don’t use the tongue at all. If you don’t trust the tongue on your tape measure then take a reading starting at the 1″ mark to check the distance and then just subtract 1″ from your reading (and then hope that a holiday is quickly approaching that might lend itself to the arrival of a new tape measure).

Why Not Mill Pin Oak?

On a regular basis, probably at least once a week, someone contacts me looking to have a pin oak milled into lumber. They are excited because they finally got their hands on a truly giant specimen of a tree, and even though it is just a red oak, they are excited to get to work with a hardwood at a reasonable price. Unfortunately, I have to be the bearer of not-so-good news and try to get them to reconsider.

This pin oak is less than 20 years old and is already over 15″ in diameter.

As I mentioned, pin oak is in the red oak family, but that is about the only relationship it has to any decent red oak lumber. Pin oak is not milled and sold commercially under the name red oak, and as far as I know, is only used for low-grade products like pallets and blocking, where the only requirement is that it be made of wood that will stay together. And funny enough, pin oak often falls short of even that low requirement.

The problem is that many pin oak trees suffer from ring shake, which is where the rings of the tree peel apart like an onion, making that section of lumber nearly unusable. The beauty of ring shake is that it can’t be seen from the outside of the log and it won’t always be visible even early in the milling process. Sometimes, it won’t be until the lumber has been fully processed and dried for it to start falling apart. Needless to say this is frustrating, especially if you are counting on that lumber for a project and then end up with no wood to work. Even if the ring shake isn’t bad enough to make the lumber actually break, it very often leaves at least one fancy break line somewhere in a board where you would rather not have it. Again, super frustrating.

So, let’s say you find a pin oak that is solid, with no ring shake, then it is all clear sailing, right? Far from it. You may have lumber, but you probably don’t have great lumber. One of the main attractions for pin oak is the giant size and the promise of a never-ending bunk of lumber comprised of super-wide boards. This, you may indeed have, but it comes at a cost. The cost is that all of the super-wide lumber will have super-wide growth rings, rings that may be up to 1/2″ or more in width. Because the tree grows so fast, putting on up to 1″ in diameter per year, the logs get big in a hurry too. It isn’t uncommon for a 36″ diameter log to have only started growing 45 years ago. It was planted because the trees grow to a large, stately appearance quickly, and that means big, wide growth rings.

Big growth rings mean a coarse textured wood, no matter how you cut it. Whether flatsawn or quartersawn, red oak is already known for its open, in-your-face, grain, and pin oak is ten times worse. Imagine an 8″ wide flat sawn board that may only show a couple of annual rings on the face. It looks more like the cheapest of spiral cut plywood for sheathing the side of your house, instead of quality hardwood lumber for building fine furniture. That same 8″ wide board, if quartersawn, will probably show about 20-25 rings, where a high quality white oak board will show 60-80 rings. The difference is night and day, with the higher growth ring count looking much more refined and not so clunky.

Even if the wood stayed together and for some reason the growth rings weren’t so wide, pin oak would still be far from a great hardwood. The lumber typically also sports bad color, bad smell (commonly referred to as “piss” oak by local tree guys), and many more knots than are outwardly apparent. Since the trees are usually open grown and well pruned, the always straight, always perfectly upright trunks appear to contain up to 30′-40′ of clear lumber. The truth is that the trunks typically contain only 8′ of clear lumber near the ground, with the remainder being full of knots from previously trimmed branches.

Overall, I have nothing good to say about pin oaks, except that they grow big, tall and straight. And, while it may be possible to mill pin oak lumber that meets some minimum requirements (like staying together), the best pin oak is still easily surpassed in quality by almost any other reputable wood. Just know, if you are thinking about paying someone to mill a pin oak tree for you, that I wouldn’t even mill a pin oak if it magically fell on my sawmill. I would take the extra time to get it out of the way, so I could mill something better. It’s just not worth it. Move on.

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