Words and Images from Ed Felker

The Black Walnut Project, Part One


Earlier this summer, our area was hit with a colossal storm system called a derecho, a “widespread, long-lived, straight-line windstorm,” according to Wikipedia. Nobody knew the word until that night, or, more accurately, a week later when the power came back on and people started watching the news again.

The storm, which packed a punch of 90mph winds, knocked down, uprooted and broke so many large diameter trees on our property I was positive a tornado had come through. Most of them were deep in the woods way down the slope to the river, not even practical to haul as firewood up to the house. But one tree, a beautiful black walnut tree that was probably over 70 feet tall, broke in half tantalizingly close to level ground. If I could get the top half, which was still attached if only by a small sliver of bark, to separate completely, it seemed plausible to cut it down, cut it up and try to do something with the wood.

Well as luck would have it, Mother Nature took care of the first hurdle, blowing the top of the tree the rest of the way clear from the trunk in another summer storm.

My friend Ken, who has more experience at scary things like cutting down forty foot walnut trees without killing himself, cut the tree down without killing himself. While this was certainly a success, there was still a lot of hard work left to do. There was the task of getting five thousand pounds of log up a severe slope to get it to level ground where a sawyer with a portable mill could park and mill the logs.

So I cut it into manageable pieces and recruited another friend, Andrew, who has a big, powerful truck and eighty feet of chain, to help me get them up the hill. Here is the first one already at the top before I thought to take a picture.


By the time we got the fifth and last section up, the largest section measuring 10 feet long and just over 24″ in diameter, it finally occurred to me to take a video. This cool log weight calculator puts this log at about 1,750 pounds. The horn beep at the end of the video was Andrew getting jerked into the steering wheel when the log hit that last tree. we had to re-chain it from a different angle to pull it the rest of the way.


It was quite a sense of accomplishment to get a couple tons of wood up that steep hill and onto level ground. We celebrated with beer and barbecue.

The next day I sealed the ends of the logs with Anchorseal. This slows the rate of drying through the ends, and helps stabilize the log so it doesn’t split and crack in the ends from drying too quickly. I have a friend who turns wooden bowls, he is excited to work with some of this pretty wood. As for the rest, I’m going to have it milled. I might kiln dry enough to build a coffee table for the house, then the rest will go into the barn to dry slowly for some future projects!

6 Responses

  1. Bella Remy Photography

    Such fabulous wood. Great job lumbering it safely.

    September 10, 2012 at 6:48 pm

  2. Andrew Jenkins

    This is just cool as hell! I could listen to those chains rattle and that engine roar all day! Makes you feel like a man!

    September 10, 2012 at 7:14 pm

  3. peg

    very nice! can’t wait to see what you end up doing with it all.

    September 10, 2012 at 9:15 pm

  4. Larry Edwards

    Interesting. I have some land in Maine. I believe it has some hickory and black walnut. How much did the sawyer charge to cut the wood up? What sizes did you cut it into?
    How much did the kiln services cost? And how long did it take to kiln dry it ?

    I pretty feel the same way as you do. I don’t harvest any wood for profit. I just like growing them bigger and bigger so all the critters can have a home. But if I see a good oak or hickory tree fall down, I would like to know how much it would all cost to harvest it.

    Regards,
    Larry

    April 10, 2013 at 8:28 pm

    • Larry, first of all, please keep a watch out for an update coming soon, as I will be posting the rest of the story including some beautiful finished products from this tree! As for the sawyer, I found a guy with a portable mill who came to my friend’s house who had so many logs it was a day’s work. Setup was $75, which I split with my friend, and then I think he charged me an hour or two for my logs, at something very reasonable. $25/hour I think? The kiln drying goes by the board foot. I ended up with about 250 board feet I was kiln drying, and it cost $75 to dry and took three weeks in the kiln. We air dried it for a few months before going in the kiln. This, I found, was a very good price for kiln drying. You can and may have to pay more where you live. But I think the key is this. Buy some anchor seal, it’s like a wax paint sealer. If you lose a tree, cut it into manageable chunks and seal the edges. Then you can take your time deciding what to do with it, or waiting till you accumulate enough to make it worth a sawyer’s trip to your place to spend a half day or whatever cutting it up. Oh, we cut everything to 1 1/8″ thick, and the logs sort of dictated the board width. You’ll see, it’s a fun process. But our boards ranged from about 6 to maybe 8.5″ wide, and we had two lengths, 6′ and 8′. Hope that helps!

      April 10, 2013 at 8:41 pm

      • Larry Edwards

        That’s great ! I have been thinking about doing something very similar. Every time I see a tree felled by a storm I check it out to see what type of wood it is. I’m in CT and I see so many trees just going to waste. I would like to get hold of some oak for a project I’m working on. I get high on just from the smell of it.

        Prices for hickory, oak, black walnut are sky high. I never realized oak was close to $4 a foot till I tried to buy some at Home Depot. I’ll keep an eye on your projects. That walnut bowl is too good to use. It ought to be put in a art museum.

        April 10, 2013 at 9:03 pm

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