Milling the Pecan Tree

wood mizer1

My friend Sean Gavin mills logs on site with his portable Wood-Mizer

I spent an action-packed weekend milling my first tree, a mature pecan (Carya Illinoensis) that grew in the sandy soil of a nearby horse pasture. The tree was beginning to die and had been dropping large branches, threatening the safety of the horses. The property owner decided to take the tree down and I worked with my friend Kevin Paul, a local arborist, to devise a cutting strategy to optimize the wood for on-site milling. I then hired Sean Gavin’s portable mill and worked closely with Sean and a few friends milling sections of the trunk and large diameter branches to my specifications.

pecan tree

Kevin felled the pecan tree into a neighboring pasture for ease of access

Belonging to the hickory family, pecan is notoriously hard, even when green, and the cutting was tough on Sean’s blades. To make matters worse, we hit pockets of nails embedded in the main trunk on several occasions, probably the remains of a treehouse early in the life of the sixty year old tree. Despite the challenges we managed to mill well over one thousand board feet of wood in two short days, and I have a goodly stockpile of pecan wood ready to sticker up in the barn to dry.

loader2

We brought in the heavy guns to load the main trunk, weighing about 6000 pounds

I plan to use the smaller branch stock for a project I’m developing for Shed in Healdsburg, and will save the large slabs for future experiments in furniture-making. Measuring up to 16′ long and 2.5″ thick, the large slabs will take over two years to air-dry, which will give me ample time to develop a new line of tables and other furnishings that take advantage of the material’s inherent attributes. Like most hickories, pecan has a pale, creamy sapwood with streaks of honey and light brown, and a dark brown heartwood. Known for its extreme hardness, strength and durability, pecan is prized for making utilitarian items like tool handles, baseball bats, crates and pallets.

pecan log1

the upper trunk, boule cut to 2.5″ slabs

pecan grain1

dark brown heartwood contrasts with the tree’s pale sapwood

The process of milling and curing my own material brings me one step closer to realizing my dream of managing a true, artisan scale, craft production, optimizing the capabilities of our rural studio compound. The next step will be to develop a marketing strategy to sell my wares in sync with the Deep Craft ethos. What’s most exciting to me is the challenge of reverse-engineering ‘design’ around the constraints of scale, site and local relationships, and enjoying every step of the process.

pecan leaf

leaf and fruit of the pecan tree (Carya Illinoensis)


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