Turning Archive 2004

Pitch Pockets…Bullets…and Slabs

Bob Smalser, Seabeck, WA
>RE: “Big Madrone” Posted Below and at:


One of the lovelies of swing-blade sawmills is that they cut L-shaped sections through the log. That means the log can lay on the ground…it means the mill cuts from top bark to bottom bark without having to make a cant first, which produces more accurate lumber…

…and it means the defects in the log can often be sawed around. For example…

I began this board deck (one horizontal layer of boards…these are 4/4 X 4” CVG flooring stock) on the right of the picture. I made an L-shaped cut in two passes to remove the wane (bark), then another set of cuts to remove a 1X4 board, which took me right to the edge of a pitch pocket. That completed board has been removed, and I merely move the mill horizontally a half inch to cut out the pitch pocket, then begin again to cut a clear board seen along side.

What causes pitch pockets? They are usually windshakes from severe storms…where the tree bent sufficiently to crack the cambium layer beneath the bark…the pitch or resinous sap flowing into the resulting void is a healing action that deters insects. But other injury also causes pitch pockets. Like bullets:

Lead saws like butter without the characteristic “Zing!” of hitting steel or the “Snap!” of a small nail…so out comes the metal detector, which pegs out…and excavation is required:

Bullets don’t damage the carbide saw teeth…but that nail that held up the target 40 years ago certainly will…so out it comes.

With 20 minutes lost, I continue to mill CVG boards by rift sawing. For the entire 1500BF tree that makes 6 nails, one railroad spike, a dozen or so bullets…and retipping two sawblades…and slower sawing speeds…an extra 4-6 hours added to the cost of the wood. Consider that when pondering what your local “urban sawyer” wants for his stock.

When I arrive at the point where I’ll get no more CVG 1X4’s, I can saw a few flatsawn boards…but this Madrone likes to warp when flatsawn and is great wood for turning, so I switch to turning squares for my final dimensional stock.

Instead of cutting up the small remaining slab for firewood, I flip it over flat side down on the bearers and mill it into a live edge flitch that’ll be more useful….with lots of thickness left for flattening should it cup and twist in drying.

Shown here are the previous live-edge fitches waiting to be stacked and stickered along with pith waste to the right that will also be dried and later resawed to produce more stock for turning.

This 240-year-old tree was near the end of its natural life when we harvested it…the least I can do is to insure minimum waste of the resource.

For more on how the sawmill works:


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