Monday, December 19, 2016

Departing Gifts from a Silky Oak Tree.

This is a story which is still being written.
It starts with a few logs, fresh from a tree. Please join me as the story unfolds.

My neighbours recently decided to have a Silky Oak (Grevillea robusta) tree removed from their back yard. The top of the tree was dying, and the termites had moved in. When the arborists were cutting down the tree, they also found there was a bee hive inside it. 
The last piece is cut from the tree. 
It was a tragedy to see almost all of this tree going into the chipper. However, the Arborists let me take as much as I wanted, so I picked a few pieces I wanted, and wheeled them back home on my fridge trolley. After sealing the ends, I stacked the pieces under the Mulberry Tree in my front yard.

The bunch of logs sections, waiting for me under the weeping mulberry in my front yard.  

To help preserve the logs, the ends are sealed, to slow down the rate of drying. 

I normally seal the ends with my favourite glue, Titebone III. As a waterproof PVA, it seals the timber well despite the moisture content. It also dries clear, enabling me to "read" the end of the log when planning how to open up the log.

This log was destined to become a bunch of stool legs.

1. Making some stool legs.
Later in the day, I pulled out a log section to break down. My aim was to create some stool legs from this piece. The following shows how I tacked the process:

Picking the first cleft line - splitting the log in half.

As the pic above shows, a line is chosen for the first cleaving, to split the log section in half. This decision is made weighing up the termite damage, any knots or branch buds evident in the bark, etc. The line must pass through the pith, the very centre of the tree, which we always exclude from what we are making, as it will most often be a source of splitting otherwise.    
Each section is then split in half.

After the log is halved, each half is halved again. As before, the cleaving line goes from the pith towards the bark. Initially, wedges are used. Once the sections are small enough, a Froe is used.
The log is now split into four quarters.

From halves to quarters.

Each quarter is split in half, creating the 8 sections. 

From quarters to eights.  With this log, hopefully we will get 8 stools legs, one from each of the cleft sections. 

Each of the eight sections now can be reduced down to make a leg blank.

The grain will tend to run out if the mass on each side of the froe is unequal, as can be seen in the pic above. Sometimes an axe will be the best tool for the job.

The side-axe can be very useful for facing off the pieces into the desired dimensions. 

The Drawknife and Shaving Horse quickly create the cylinders for the legs.

It's great to be on a shaving horse with a sharp draw knife and lovely wood like this!

This beautiful Drawknife was patented in 1895, for the folding design including the way it folds over the blade, protecting the cutting edge of the tool.

The eight roughed-out cylinder legs. Destined to become part of some stools in due course.

These legs have been roughed out first, to help speed up the loss of moisture. The seat top is still in the log form, keeping more moist. When the stool is made, we want the tenons on the legs to be lower in moisture content than the material in the seat top. This will ensure the joints will lock up tighter as the material dries, for we want toe hole diameter in the seat mortises to reduce as the seat material shrinks. If the tenons on the legs are drier, they will shrink less than the seat top mortises, thereby ensuring the joints tighten as the whole thing dries. Fantastic. The Wisdom of the Ages. 

2. Making Spoons and Spreaders.
There was a smaller log section, about 9 inches long. I thought I would try this material for spoon carving. So I split out a few pieces ready for spoon making. The first time I have worked with this tree species, the Silky Oak (Grevillea Robusta) wood from this tree appears to be easy to split, probably due to the prominent medullary rays. 
I used classic green woodworking techniques, with axe and knives, to craft a spoon and a spreader for my neighbours, who happily allowed me to have access to the wood from the tree in their back yard while the arborists were removing it. 

Wood, Bark, Spoon and Spreader, all from the same section of tree.

How's this pattern in the Silky Oak? Amazing medullary rays.

Having delivered the "Thankyou" spoon and spreader to my neighbours, in appreciation for the log sections derived from their tree. I thought it was time to mess around with some more of this delightful material. Time for some more spoons!

How about a nice new eating spoon for my morning muesli?

My new eating spoon starts to take shape.

It is a very restful thing, carving a spoon... 

I love finials on spoons. They give them a real lift!

The wood was green. In other words, very high in moisture content. Traditionally in woodcraft, wood was worked green when it was soft and relatively easy to work. That was certainly the case for what I have done thus far with the Silky Oak. Once carved green, it needs to dry out. the spoon can be left to dry out over a week or two, depending on a number of variables. However, in order to speed up the process, I  used the microwave oven to reduce the time it would take, from days to minutes. Once dry, it is possible to finish the spoon with sanding and coating with Orange Oil. The Oil helps to slow the final drying and protects the spoon - as well as making it look good.
Side profile of my new eating spoon.

Nice spoon, lovely grain.

Rear view of the spoon.
Yes, that is a spoon I am very happy with.
I am surprised by how lovely this wood is to carve! Nice.
Planning a couple of spreaders...
Spreaders are often a by-product of spoon making, as we can utilise the smaller sections cleft from the log which are too small for spoons but just ideal for spreaders. 

Now for the knife-work.

A couple of completed Silky Oak  Spreaders.
There will be many more things made from this tree. I have given many pieces away to other spoon carvers, especially several members of the Women Working With Wood (W4) association. I have several other spoons "on the go", and the seat material for the stools. Just gotta get around to it!

Wood is a beautiful gift from the Trees. With so many trees going the way of the Chipper here in Perth, it is a tragedy that we don't honour those trees by utilising at least some of the wood on offer. Why remove or prune a tree and then go and buy a plastic spoon or spatula, or one of those nasty cheap and soul-less implements imported by the big supermarket chains? It makes no sense.

Want to learn how to make spoons using Green Wood, fresh from the tree? I periodically run workshops, sharing the joy of spoon carving. Check out the Upcoming Workshops" link near the top of my blog to see what is coming up!

Happy Spoon Carving!

Thankyou, Silky Oak.  You live on in a growing array of beautiful household implements...     


  1. would you please tell me about oak wood for carving wood? I heard that oak is not good for carving wood. is it right?

    1. Gidday, Nancy. Silky Oak is not an Oak. When the Colonialists arrived in Australia, they named things from the prism of what they new from England. Silky Oak as a timber is a name given to the wood about 7 different tree species. It was given the "Oak" name due to the predominant visible medullary rays in the timber. Ditto for Sheoak - not a true oak, but many different species of Allocasuarina. Wonderful medullary rays visible in the timber, though!
      I am sorry, but I have no experience of working with any true oaks. Very hard to find here in Western Australia.
      Google the legendary Peter Follansbee in New England. He does a lot of 17th Century style carving in green Oak. I hope this helps.

  2. I am in a similar situation, managed to get one decent piece and a whole lot of firewood size chunks of Silky Oak from a neighbor. As I am faced with a limited amount of a precious resource, how particular do I need to be in discarding the sapwood? I will be working it all green, draw knife, pole lathe etc.

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