Monday, March 12, 2007

The Legend of the Fence Posts

I was beginning to think this really was just a legend. You hear about these stories from time to time about how some old-timer has squirreled away piles of curly and burl redwood and doesn’t know what to do with it. These sorts of legends exists for anybody who is a collector or aficionado of something old or unique. When I was in my 20s I rode a Harley Davidson for a few years. My buddies and me would talk about the legend of the 1940s Knuckle Head Harley that’s been sitting in a barn since the day it was bought. In this fantasy the bike is in pristine condition and the old farmer just wants to get rid of it and he only wants $100 because it may not even run.

My boss at work whom I wrote about last week, the one who helped me do a test on cleaning the tile, has been telling me about these fence posts in his dad’s yard for more than 4 years now. The fence post story comes up from time to time, and each time he says the next time he’s at his father’s place he’ll grab few for me to play around with.

As the legend goes, his father bought the house in 1961 and “almost immediately” tore down the fence because he thought it was ugly. As evidence of the wealth of wood that was around here back then, all of the fence posts were made out of curly redwood, or so my boss said. I always kind of doubted it. I mean, who the hell makes fence posts out of curly redwood?

For those not familiar with it, curly redwood is very similar to tiger maple. I’m not sure if anyone really knows why it happens, but the grain in the wood goes hay-wire from time to time and you end up with a very beautiful wavy pattern in the grain. There is no way of knowing in advance which trees will have this grain. They look normal from the outside, but once you start to mill them you can see the grain.

After his dad tore down the fence more than 35 years ago my boss, who was just a young man at the time, told his dad not to throw away the posts because he was going to use them some day. Some day turned in to more than 35 years and the posts have been piled up in his dad’s back yard ever since. They were left outside in the corner of the yard and in the dirt and have been completely covered over with vines and growth. His dad lives out side of town on something larger than a regular city lot. I’ve never been to the property but I know there’s a barn there and some other out-buildings. It’s not too far of a stretch to imagine that the posts could have been forgotten about.

Anyway, “some day” has arrived. This morning when I got to work he told me he grabbed a few of the posts over the weekend. He brought me in three to play around with.



You can see from the picture that they are very distorted and convoluted pieces of lumber. Curly redwood can be a challenge to work with even when it’s a flat, milled board, but in this condition, this was going to be a challenge. I knew there would be a lot of waste. I told him from the outset we’d be lucky to get a 1X4 from each post.

I started by trying to rip one side flat on the table saw. I could then determine the maximum thickness and rip the other side. After that I worked on it with a hand plane for a few minutes and then ran each side through one pass on the planer (I need a joiner! Grrr!). I then sanded it with the palm sander with 100 grit. This was just a test, so I would spend a little more time with the boards if I wanted to make some cabinets with them. I picture using it for rails and stiles for cabinet doors. Anyway, here’s what I ended up with.



Believe it or not, that board is as flat as a pancake. It’s really amazing wood.



Here’s a close up of the grain. I’m going to take this in to work with me tomorrow and it will blow his mind. He told me there are 30 or 40 posts. {Grin!}

12 comments:

JAXTER said...

That is some beautiful wood - I am sure you will more than do it justice with whatever you build with it.

Patricia W. said...

It looks like satin ribbon. Beautiful!

Janet said...

Absolutely gorgeous!

tarr said...

That is unbelievably beautiful.

Tim said...

Those are going to be beautiful! I have never seen anything like that before. Good Luck in whatever you end up making out of them. Andi from Newborn House.

Kim said...

WOW!!!

StuccoHouse said...

Very cool. I have some tiger maple on the floors in my attic. Lol...I'm thinking for years it must have been considered defective or 3rd class wood. Hard to believe, huh?

Anonymous said...

Have seen many, many fences in SF bay area built with old growth redwood - very tight grain, hard. Remember looking at fences and seeing maybe 1 in 20 of the 1x8's had a curly grain. Some of these fences are probably still standing. Most have blown over - wood was usually thrown away. My dad used to make stuff out of the old boards. Got me into that habit too.

Sam said...

Wow is right. That would make a beautiful window stool in my kitchen. Wow.

d. chedwick bryant said...

This is so cool!

John said...

That is easily some of the most beautiful wood I've seen. Wow.

Joyce C said...

My mind just won't let me see that board as flat. Could you turn it a little and take another photo? Impressive make-over of an ugly duckling -- can't wait to see what you do with it.