Sunday, June 15, 2014

A Camphor Laurel Adventure.

While picking up some nice WA Blackbutt timber recently from Derek Doak The Timber Bloke, I came away with a bonus - a big chunk of Camphor Laurel. Thanks, Derek!

The two crotch sections about to be cut from the log.
The crotch from the end of the log Derek would be able to use. The next crotch in was less useful to him to recover timber, as it was a bit complicated being a four way fork. I reckoned it would be worth seeing what I could recover from this big crotch, even if it was only spoon material!
Big and VERY heavy - loaded by the forklift.
Normally, for green woodworking, we want nice straight grained log sections. These are more likely to split evenly. This big piece of Camphor Laurel was anything but straight! It was going to be a gamble, and a bit of an adventure...

I had to use levers to manoeuvre the stump off the back of the ute. THUMP! 
Once off the back of the ute, the big chunk was sitting in my driveway. Totally unmovable, it was time to make it much smaller.

Picking a line to cleave the log in two. Pencil line through the pith.
The other end of the chunk had a 20 inch (500mm) diameter.
The three branches were primarily coming off one side, so my aim was to cleave off the clear section. This guided my choice of a line - which had to pass through the pith (the very centre of the tree). The pith would also fork at least three times, as it goes up the centre of each of the branches too. We need to miss those forks in the pith in the process. Well, that's the plan, anyway!

Too big for the froe, this job calls for a line of wedges to be driven in with a sledge hammer.
The split develops...
As the split developed, I removed some of the bark with a hatchet in order to follow the split. It wasn't looking like we'd be getting a clean separation - there were interlocking fibres going everywhere. More pounding on the wedges followed.

Running out of wedge length on the end, it was time to follow the split down the sides.
As the split formed and gradually opened as it spread down the log with the aid of side wedges, it was becoming apparent that the interlocking fibres were preventing a clean split. Not a good sign, these fibres were stopping the log from cleaving apart. These would need to be cut. With little room to get the hatchet in there between the wedges, I used a nice sharp firmer chisel to chop through the bridging fibres. A tedious job, the popping sounds coming from the log were encouraging.
In the absence of a big slick, I used a firmer chisel to chop off some of the fibres bridging the split. 
Resisting all the way, this was how the split emerged at the other end.

The big crowbar helped finish the separation. A nasty separation. Not clean at all!
A good view of the wild fibres. No wonder it took a huge effort to cleave the back off this big chunk!
As the forming split had indicated, the section was twisted as well as wild. This is evident in the photo above. While I did successfully cleave the back off the beast, this big twist and wild interlocking grain was going to really limit what we could do with the whole log. Time to see if we can successfully cleave in two the good flitch I had removed.

A line picked to cleave the good section in two. Note the wild twisting grain.

Even with the "good" section cleaved in two, it still wasn't looking good.
Decision time...
It was clear that I would gain little benefit from trying to keep breaking the material down in this manner. So to maximise this gnarly big chunk of Camphor Laurel, it was clear the best use would be to use the chainsaw to create a range of bowl blanks and spoon blanks. Time to plug in the trusty electric chainsaw. The two long "clean" pieces I had riven from the back of the chunk were twisted, so first I would cut these in half lengthwise...

The first of many bowl blanks. Thanks, trusty chainsaw.
A bit more work with the chainsaw would create a nice stack of bowl blanks.

Eight big bowl blanks and a couple of chunks to offer up a number of spoon blanks.
The important thing about the bowl blanks is that there needs to be no pith running along or through the blank, as this is were splitting will take place in the finished bowl. I was pretty happy to be able to successfully obtain 8 bowl blanks from a big chunk with 3 side forks!

This was the first time I have tried to cleave a big piece of green Camphor Laurel. Was the interlocking grain and it's unfriendly nature normal for this tree species? I don't know...
I knew the big chunk would be tricky, due to the forks in it. While I won't be making stools from this log, I have obtained a pile of very nice bowl blanks! They will be very handy for the workshop I have coming up in 2 weeks. I put the bowl blanks in plastic bags to retain the moisture content.
Thanks again, Derek.

Wow. The over-powering smell of camphor in my front yard is amazing, hours later!

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