Some Spindly Oak.

It has been a while since I wrote about my wood procurement escapade at the local firewood monger. Unfortunately, once I got the wood home I realized that the best stuff was 2″ too short, and the wood that was long enough to yield my 20″ spindles simply had too much defect to be used. So I scratched Plan B and reverted back to my original Plan A, which was to have my Dad (who operates a mobile sawmill in North Georgia) bring me some quality oak of the proper dimensions over Thanksgiving.

He came through with some fine white oak, 25″ long, from some sawmill waste:

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The only problem with the wood was that the the saw cuts did not follow the grain very well, which posed some problems when I tried to split out my spindles. To get even splits, it’s always best to split wood as perfectly into halves as you can. Otherwise, the grain will have a tendency to “run out” to the thinner side. With this stock, I couldn’t avoid splitting the pieces unevenly.

It turned out OK, though. The wood very easy to split radially (perpendicular to the growth rings), even when I was splitting odd-shaped pieces. Runout was more problematic when splitting tangentially (parallel to the growth rings) but I had plenty of stock even after ruining a number of spindle blanks.

I started the larger radial splits with a wedge.

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Once I had some ~1″-thick radial billets, I used the froe to divide them into 1″ x 1″ spindle blanks.


Splitting wood is the easy part. After that, it was on to the shavehorse, where the real work begins. Two sides get shaved smooth and squared up with the drawknife. First the radial side, then the tangential surface. The radial face is much, much easier to shave. Shaving green radial oak feels like planing white pine. It’s incredible.


Then I used a marking gauge to scribe a line 3/4″from the trued-up face, again starting with the radial face.


Soon I had a whole gaggle of roughed-out spindles shaved to 3/4″ square. Notice that none of them – not a-one – is actually straight. Doesn’t matter a bit. The grain is perfectly continuous through the length of the spindles, and the drawkife is the only tool I have that is capable of pulling off this feat. Saws, planes, and lathes need not apply. When I build the chair, I will orient the bend in the same plane to give the back a pleasing curve.

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I quit for the night and popped the blanks into a plastic bag to keep them from drying out once I reached this point, but before I left the shop, I couldn’t help but shave one spindle down to shape. I will tackle the rest of them later this week, then they’ll get a ride in my kiln for about a week until they’re bone dry.


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