Hey Irene! Thanks for the Walnut, Now Leave Us Alone!

We've been very busy stacking walnut!

On Saturday August 27, 2011 Hurricane Irene hit the Virginia Peninsula with the kind of ferocity that will make her hard to forget.  Colonial Williamsburg’s structures withstood the storm quite well, but the same cannot be said for the area’s trees, among them several good-sized walnuts.  We certainly don’t celebrate destructive storms as a chance for “free” wood, but rather understand that we’ve been presented with an opportunity to make good things out of a bad situation.  In January , after months of a coordinated effort among our landscape crew, tree crews, outside sawyers and shop master Mack Headley, several Irene walnut logs were sawn into boards.  All of that work was done with the equipment and techniques of the present century.  This is not to say that we have stepped “out of bounds” in our pursuit of historical accuracy.  An eighteenth century cabinetmaker was the consumer, not the creator, processor, or mover of raw materials.   The boards were delivered to us just last week and now our work begins in earnest.

The images below offer a glimpse at how we’ve commenced that work…

The downside of a storm.  This view from the footbridge behind the shop should give you a sense of Irene’s mess-making.  
Walnut delivered.

The upside. Last week several rough sawn walnut logs were delivered to the field on our shop's west end. Dead stacked, unsorted, and messy in every way, these boards will keep us busy for the next couple of weeks.

Here's some of our bounty up close. Looks very promising (various thicknesses, good wide boards, and some nice crotch sections)...too bad we have to season it at least a year for every inch of thickness!

6"x6"boards over brick footers provide the foundations for our new stacks. The inch thick cypress boards pictured above will be employed as a shingling system on top of the stacked walnut. Cypress's resistance to decay makes it an ideal choice for this job.

Cypress stickers ready for use.

The surfaces of these boards were soaked and covered in a thick slurry of wet saw dust. We've been laying them out in order to let them dry so they can then be swept clean, inspected, and sorted. (FYI: The area pictured above between the wood and the shop entrance is where Anthony Hay's house stood in the 18th century.)

Unfortunately, we've found some nasty pockets of carpenter ant infestation. These will be cut out and the boards treated with boric acid before they are integrated into our stacks. So far this has been limited to only a few boards.

Here's our first stack! We've got 4/4 stuff in widths up to 26". Notice that we've constructed the stack as an inverted wedge: each layer overhangs the layer below by a little bit and provides protection from the elements. The cypress on top overhangs everything and should shed rain water away from the walnut below (the first picture above gives a closer look at this arrangement).


Here's where we stand now. Stack no.2 about a third of the way done with 8/4 stuff in various lengths and widths. There's still a long way to go: maybe one or even two more stacks. The future looks pretty bright for this stuff, as long as we're diligent in keeping everything well maintained. One thing's for sure: the amount of labor already invested in this material should dispel the notion that Irene gave this to us for free!

We’ll keep you posted on our progress and try to pull some period documents together concerning the seasoning of wood.

Bill Pavlak.

In answer to an anticipated question: “No, you can’t have any of this wood!”

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7 Responses to Hey Irene! Thanks for the Walnut, Now Leave Us Alone!

  1. Steve Kirincich says:

    Good luck. I have heard some bad stories regarding storm-felled wood.

  2. Be sure to paint the ends, or to tack a strip of wood across the ends… it would be a shame to lose inches of wood due to splitting.

    • James, we have been sealing the ends of the boards, though some splitting is inevitable. We’ve also scribed lines across the width of a few random boards so we can accurately gauge how much this stuff is shrinking.

  3. Matthew Dunne says:

    Very cool–that looks like some beautiful wood.

    I really enjoy the blog. One request: right now on my computer, the picture captions are in light gray–very hard to read against the white background. Could you change that to something with more contrast?


  4. Salko says:

    Walnut never worked with it looks like beautiful timber you guys are so lucky in the states to have such timber available to you.

  5. Pingback: My, what big feet you have… | Anthony Hay's, Cabinetmaker

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