Harvesting a silver maple tree

I am a member of the Dallas Area Woodturners (DAW) club and being in a large metropolitan area we get a good number of calls from folks announcing that they have free wood available from urban tree harvesting. The club webpage and Facebook page are good contact points for folks to find one of the club board members. Then our communication director sends out an email containing all the particulars of the free wood or urban tree harvest to all club members.

In late March, one such email hit my inbox. There was a silver maple tree that was being taken down in Bedford, TX. From where I live it is about a 45 minute drive one way. I contacted the tree owner directly and he sent an image of the tree and what was already on the ground. I believe the tree was suffering from the start of a disease and some root rot so it was necessary to take it down. You can see in the photo above that more than 90% of this large silver maple has no buds or green and yet in the background every other tree is flourishing – this is a sure sign that this tree was not healthy.

The arborist crew that took the tree down did an excellent job. There was no damage to any fencing or structures and all the wood was cut clean and square. This helps so that the woodturner has a easy time with milling decisions. Most pieces were cut to a manageable size. When harvesting for turning it is important to cut the length at least as long as the log is in diameter plus a few inches. If the log will be left longer then use multiples of the diameter plus a few inches for the length to cut. This allows for bowl blank that has the diameter as large a possible from the log. It may be the case where a woodturner will use the log for some other type of turning such as a box, spindle of other project but harvesting the log for the largest possible turning gives plenty of options when milling the logs.

I was able to obtain some nice healthy large logs and thank goodness there was help in loading them. Thanks again to the arborist crew. It always good to keep friendly with local tree trimmers and arborists.

Once I got them home I backed up into the driveway and then got to painting the ends with AnchorSeal. This is a wax emulsion product that goes on the end of the log like paint and seals the end grain. Of course you can use any paint you have lying around but the wax emulsion is a better sealer for this application. This action of sealing the end grain helps reduce the moisture loss significantly.

As the wood dries the majority (90% likely) of the water escapes through the end grain and as it does the end grain cracks radially. As woodturners, until we are ready to put the wood on the lathe, we want to control the drying process so we use Anchorseal ans an end grain sealer. Our club (Dallas Area Woodturners) buys a 55 gallon drum and then bottles it in 1 gallon jugs and sells to club members at cost. This is a great benefit for clubs to offer their members.

Once I was ready (recovered actually, boy those logs are heavy) to prepare the logs for turning I went out and chainsawed the logs to bowl blanks. I have a Poulon Electric chainsaw with a 18″ bar. I have used all manner of chainsaws in my life and at this point I only own this one. I like that I can use it with out having to worry if I have gas; also I can use it in my shop with out the exhaust bothering me. However, it requires electricity and therefore is not good off the beaten path. Also the power is sufficiently slow. It will cut but you must take your time. Lastly, the balance is slightly off so I have to always correct my cutting path so I don’t skew off course.

The first step is to layout your cross cut. This is where you should cross cut at a length equal to or slightly longer than the diameter. This will maximize the bowl size yield. Next is to plan and layout your rip cut. I use a folding rule and a marker. I mark both ends to cut through the center or pith. Some say to cut away the pith by cutting on either side of it but I just cut through and get rid of the pith by turning it away. Perhaps laziness or my slow electric chainsaw but it works for me.


When rip cutting the shavings will typically be long and stringy and tend to gather in the chainsaw and clog it up so be sure to check for that. Before I complete the center rip cut I stop and then rip the outer edge parallel from both sides and then finish the center rip cut.





This outside flat allows for a stable bottom when cutting the edges off in the next step and/or at the bandsaw. At this point the bowl blanks are easier to handle so I lift them up to my cutting platform – wait for it … wait for it …. ahhh its just plastic sawhorses and 2x4s. What a let down. Well it works and it is light and portable and knocks down for storage. This is great for a suburban driveway. The top 2x4s are notched to fit the long boards and I move them closer together or further apart depending on the need. Very handy. Also, once I have chewed them up with the chainsaw I just replace them.

Ok, now I layout the largest circle I can with a compass and red marker. I use this reference to lop off the corners of the blank with the chainsaw.



So that is about it. There are four large bowl blanks (these are approx. 15″ x 7″) ready for the band-saw and then the lathe. Well, actually, since I won’t get them all turned right away, I pull out the AnchorSeal and paint all of these blanks and bring them in the shop. That way they won’t dry too fast and crack before I have time to rough turn them.

The extra few inches allows for cutting of the ends which may show early sings of cracking from drying out – more on this later.

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