I suppose this could be the beginning of a motivational blog related to looking past the defects in people and finding the inner beauty. And for those who would like to use this as an analogy on your own social media sites, feel free. Since I’m a woodworker however, I’ll leave those musings to others and I’ll stay focused on wood.
I am currently in possession several large slabs of black walnut that were harvested from the Boy Scout camp here in Metamora. These have aged outdoors for a number of years. Unfortunately they were left uncovered and were not stickered properly for even drying. I don’t know how many years precisely that they have been laying on the ground but have been led to believe it’s about three. As a result, when I first saw these, the outside appearance was almost sickening. These are massive boards up to 16 feel long and 20+ inches wide at their greatest width. But they are significantly weathered grey, cracked, warped, chipped and covered in dirt. The cracks are significant and run the length of most of the boards. But since these unusually wide slabs that need to be cut down to fit into milling machinery anyway this wasn't as much of a concern as the overall quality. Given how much I like walnut, I decided to take a chance that the underlying wood still held value and purchased them last summer.
This weekend I started the work of milling some of these huge boards for an upcoming project. Before these can be used they must be stabilized indoors for a few weeks and the tension in the wood needs to be released to start that process. So I cut the boards so that they are over-sized for this project and began to run them through my planner. (Have I mentioned how much I love my DeWalt 735?!) The boards were originally flat-cut from the log with a portable saw mill. This typically results in boards that are relatively consistent in thickness. But these boards, likely due to a mill that was out of tune combined with the aforementioned weathering, had significant variation in thickness over their length. As a result the planning would require many more passes than usual to get flat, even boards.
The first image below shows the first board after half a dozen passes. This is the exciting part of the process where the beautiful walnut color starts to reveal itself. Because of the extreme high spot on this board, the color only comes through a bit at a time.. I was lucky not to find any nails in these boards and after a few hours I had the lumber prepared to start drying in the shop. The second image shows these milled boards next to others yet to be processed for a before and after type comparison. The difference is amazing and one of the things I like best about woodworking.
The beautiful thing about walnut is that if you can find it where it has been air dried, like these, the colors inside are fantastic! Kiln drying produces a more grey and homogenous color whereas air drying allows the natural steaks of vibrant green, red, black and purple to appear. The final image below is a detail from one board from this weekend's work. There are no stains or dyes on this wood and I only wiped it with mineral spirits to mimic what it will look like when clear coated with a sealant. This specimen is really spectacular and has a three dimensional depth to it that I'm afraid doesn't show well here.
I’m going to have to set this piece aside for something really special.