When I started my Windsor chair, I had resigned myself to the fact that I would not be able to get suitable spindle stock here on the island. My plan was to get as much done as I could before Thanksgiving, and when I visited my family in central Georgia on the fourth Thursday in November, I would snag some straight-grained red oak from my grandparent’s firewood stash.
After finishing up my shavehorse, though, I was eager to put it to use, so I decided to see what I could do with the wood on hand. Ideally, spindles are riven while green and fresh from a ring-porous hardwood like red oak, white oak, ash, or hickory. None of which grow with decent form or any sort of abundance on our coastal Florida island. I do, however, have a small stash of air-dried, quartersawn post oak (a species of white oak). I decided to rive out a few pieces to see if it could be worked dry.
It was an unmitigated disaster. The dry stock ran out while splitting. The splits could not be controlled like they can in green stock. I did manage to get two blanks that had promise, but the wood was rock-hard and even my well-sharpened drawknife would barely budge in the tenacious grain. Finally, I tried popping the blanks on my lathe, which yielded even worse results. Disgusted, I threw the stock into my scrap pile and once again accepted that the spindles would have to wait.
Today, though, I had a bit of a revelation. My wife is down to three weeks until her due date, so each week I take her to her doctor’s appointment and watch the kids for a half hour or so. Right across the street from the doctor’s office is a big sign for “FIREWOOD”.
I figured that they would mostly have live oak, which doesn’t interest me for spindle stock – too hard, and rarely straight-grained. But today I decided it was worth a closer inspection. We walked across the road and passed a mountain of split oak.
I noticed that much of the oak was actually laurel oak, a species of red oak, which should be a fine choice…if only there was some wood long enough and straight enough.
I walked up to two young fellows and introduced myself.
“I have a bit of an odd request,” I said. “I’m a woodworker, and I’m building a chair. I need some straight-grained oak, and I was wondering if you would mind if I looked through your piles to see if I could find something I can use?”
One of them laughed and told me that he’s had much stranger requests. “Last week I had a fellow come by and say that he needed a piece of wood that couldn’t be split. Said he was trying to toughen his daughter up for wrestlin’ and he need something she could just pound on.” We shared a laugh and he welcomed to have a look around.
With that invitation, I spent the next 20 minutes searching the piles for stock that might be suitable. The main problem I found was that the vast majority of the wood was cut too short for spindles. I would prefer to start with 24″ stock, but I can probably make do with 20-21″. Most of the firewood was cut to 16-18″. Of the few pieces that were long enough for my purposes, even fewer had grain that was even remotely straight enough to use. But I picked around and finally had a small armload of wood that I hope I’ll be able to use. I even picked up a short length of hickory for a hatchet handle.
I fished a crumpled $10 bill from my pocket and handed it to the fellow. He shook my hand and thanked me and welcomed me back any time if I needed more wood. I might do just that.