Not too long ago a very special tree was brought to the timber yard, a local Walnut tree. What was once a common timber, English Walnut has become a rare sighting. It has a beautiful grain, dark and rich colouring which is hard and tough but a pleasure to work with. It was particularly popular for gun stock and carving, as well as mid-twentieth century furniture, along with other exotic timber with similarly dark colouring, like Teak and Rosewood. Nowadays most Walnut is imported from America or Europe, and usually in veneer form.So, when it was time for this tree to be milled, it's no surprise that there was an audience!
The exciting thing about watching timber milling is the story that is gradually revealed. Like a huge book of history. The average age of a tree that is milled at DF Timber is 50 to 250 years old! Everything that surrounds the tree throughout it's life marks and affects it over time. It stores events in its shape, grain and natural character. Once felled and prized open, these events can be seen, sometimes in a poetic flow, other times in sudden and dramatic forms.
Only Huw has the guts to operate the big green timber mill. This beast is loud and scary. It shakes and vibrates like nothing and spits out sawdust and all sorts at quite a force. It can cut a tree up to 4 ft wide and 25 ft in length, not the biggest available commercially, but has served DF Timber very well.
With every tree that is milled there is always the risk of the blade hitting something that is within the timber. Throughout history trees have been convenient fence posts, notice boards, gate posts etc etc. If a blade, like the 120mm wide blade on this big mill, were to hit anything substantial it could be lethal. Everyone is on high alert!
This Walnut tree came from a garden, prime spots for all sorts of metal and stone to get lodged in a crotch or trunk, eventually having the tree grow around it. It was on only cut No.2 that we hit a problem.
Right in the heart of the tree were two huge old nails. Going by the size of the tree, they must have been hammered in at least 100 years ago. For what reason - who knows! I'm sure the guy had no idea he was going to completely mess up our blade, 2011. Metal in trees stains and spreads up and down with the sap, so if you're buying any trees and you know there's going to be metal in it, best not bother.
The Woodmizer can cut far more accurately. Here's George, the resident joiner, checking up on Huw's alignment. A guitar maker had already bought one side of the heartwood. The other side of the heartwood was going to a gun maker. Needless to say, it wasn't long until every part of this tree had been snapped up.
It couldn't be a better day. The sun was so bright and warm, the walnut grain looked absolutely stunning in it's light. By this stage we were all oogling at the colours and sweeping grain marks. It was a little sad to know that it will eventually be cut up into considerably small components, instead of being used for a piece that can show off its entirety. You can't be too precious, I told myself.
I'm so glad I got to see this beautiful wood in this process. Confirmed: Walnut is most definitely my favourite wood.