Milling the Valley Oak

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Shawn trims the ends of the felled trunk before quartering the log.

I met my friend Shawn Gavin at the old Felta School near Healdsburg the other day to mill a Valley Oak. I had purchased the log from the school after it was felled for safety concerns last September, and have been eager to see what the wood looks like. I plan to make a batch of my Deep Deck from the wood after it air dries for about a year, having successfully prototyped a small production run in American Elm. The plan is to make different versions of the deck in different woods from locally-grown, hand-milled logs, each tree telling a different story whose provenance is reflected in each series of decks.

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Section of an oak showing medullary rays.

The Valley Oak (Quercus lobata) is a true white oak native to California’s hot interior valleys. Like its eastern cousin Quercus alba, the Valley Oak has large medullary rays that make an interesting pattern while adding strength to the wood when it is ‘quarter sawn’ from the log. The medullary rays radiate from the center of the tree to the sapwood to carry nutrients, so they run across the wood’s annular rings. When boards are cut from the log with the annular rings perpendicular to the face, they are called ‘quarter sawn’, and the medullary rays, or ‘silver rays’ are exposed. If the milled boards are carefully stickered in stacks with good air circulation, the grain orientation and slow curing will add to the strength and stability of the wood, ideal for my innovative Deep Deck design.

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The ends are trimmed and sealed with wax.

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The log is cut in half lengthwise along the log’s primary ‘heart shake’.

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The quarters are cut perpendicular to the heart shake, along the center of the tree.

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Quarters are loaded onto the mill to be squared and milled into boards cut perpendicular to the annular rings.

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Milling goes fast with Shawn’s expertise and hydraulic Wood-Mizer. The two of us processed a 4’d x 10’l log into about 1100 board feet of quarter-sawn lumber in just 13 hours, including loading and delivering the material to the wowhaus studio.

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Even when rough-cut, the medullary rays are visible, so characteristic of quarter-sawn white oak.


2 replies on “Milling the Valley Oak”

  1. Great job Scott. Out little school district is so happy to know that our historic oak will live on.

    We look forward to memorializing it with the round that was saved. a great project to look forward to.

    Kind regards,

    Quincey

  2. Thanks Quincey, it has been a pleasure. I’m so glad you thought to contact me when the log was made available and look forward to working together to make the memorial. Scott

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