This Week’s Splitting Party

            We had a splitting party yesterday. Those of you who are just joining this blog may not know what that is. I assure you, it is not as the name suggests — a good time. Several times a year, I go to the log concentration yard and select a bunch of veneer grade red oak logs.  We have a truck deliver the logs. (The May 17 class got to see this happen.) Next, Fred, Don, Kevin, and I get together and turn those logs into material for chair backs. Splitting parties are back breaking. I know the other four go home as exhausted as I do. It is a job for young guys, but two us are in our 60s and the other two are in their 50s.

            In spite of our age, less than two hours after we begin, the logs have been turned into piles of two, three, four, and six foot splits, ready for the next step. Those lengths provide us with the lengths we need for all our parts. The process reminds me of when my parents would put down a steer or a pig. In two hours we had only large parts of the carcass, but nothing that looked like the original animal. Even though the heavy work was done, there was still a lot of work ahead cutting the steaks, roasts, and making the hamburger. Two hours after we begin a splitting party, there is nothing left that looks like a log, but there is still lots of work remaining to get the material we need.

            The day got off to a worrisome start. The first log we opened was ugly. This is the risk you run making chair material. A log may look good outside, but have lots of unpleasant surprises inside. We split that wood into pieces anyway. There was some good areas and at some point we will pick through the splits for whatever they will yield.

            While Kevin and Don were splitting the next bolt using Kevin’s tractor and a four foot log splitter, and Fred was bucking the other logs with a chain saw, I started splitting a six footer.  We need six foot splits for c-arms, bow backs, settees, etc. However, these bolts will not fit on the splitter and have to be opened the old fashioned way; the Abe Lincoln way.

            This was one miserable log. I buried two wedges in the end without making much progress. This is usually an ominous sign, signaling something inside is holding the log together. I worked some wedges along the short spilt in the side of the bolt. As I leap frogged the wedges the split grew longer, but only by inches. Finally, I had a split the length of the bolt and we could look down in. A few strips of wood held the two halves together. I snipped these with a hatchet and the bolt fell apart. The wood was beautiful. Why it gave me such a hard time, I do not know. But in the process I thought about a line I use in classes. You work with wood. It has its own nature, and each piece has its own quirks. You have to work with them.

            By 11:00 Fred and Kevin had begun resawing the splits on our Hitachi resaw. This process reduces the oak down to the size we use in chairmaking. It is a noisy, nasty, boring, and repetitive job. It will take several days to work through as much wood as we split yesterday, but we will pick away at it. The splits they did not get done by 4:30 is neatly piled out of the sun.

            During lunch, a truck arrived with a load of pine for seats. (This is not coincidental. We plan things this way.) Don and I laid out the seat blanks and bucked the pine. We then sorted the pieces according to width, grade, and quality. That way, we do not glue up two clear pieces into one exquisite blank and two pieces with knots into another more challenging blank. I began jointing the pile while Don started the glue up. We have enough clamps to glue 15 blanks at a time (three clamps per blank, three glue ups per day.) So, this job too requires several days to complete and we will pick away at it.

            We knocked off around 4:00. Our work creates so much of a mess it takes all four of to clean. We haul barrels of saw dust into the high grass behind the shop where we compost it.  Kevin came back with three ticks on his legs from the first trip and two the second.

            The final step is to go into the air conditioned shop and have a cold beer. I can see why Chris Schwarz likes beer. It does taste good at the end of a hard day. However, I would have preferred a martini, or a shot of single malt scotch.


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            By the way, our October 4 sack back class is full.  I can’t make people wait until next April to get into a sack back class. So, we have scheduled another that will begin Monday, October 18. The two October sack backs bracket peak fall foliage, which typically happens around Columbus Day.  So, if you want to see the foliage in its splendor, arrive before the new October 18 class, and come make a chair after touring the New Hampshire mountains. I grew up in New England, but fall foliage never grows old. It is always spectacular.


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            Today is my son’s first day at work as a congressional page.  We have C-span on hoping we will catch of glimpse of him.


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