§ by Joel Hess on November 28th, 2006
The Amana Colonies are a National Historic Landmark located in eastern Iowa. Known for their food and shopping, the colonies are made up of seven villages. The Amana Society, Inc. owns over 26,000 acres of rolling hills and farmland along the Iowa river. This land includes the largest privately owned forest in Iowa and that’s where I found the white Oak log that I’m going to use to build a set of dining room chairs and maybe a rocking chair or two.
As you know, I bought the log from the forestry division of the Amana Shops. I drove up yesterday morning and with the help of Larry Gnewikow and Tim Krauss, I had a tree cut down and dragged to a clearing by 11:00 am. Then for the next two hours or so, I tried to put the lessons I’d learned last spring while attending a ladderback chair class at the John C. Campbell Folk School to good use.
I’ve never tried to split a tree of this size before. In fact, except for chopping firewood, I’ve never really tried to split a tree at all. I brought with me the tool box containing all my tools that I used to build the chair last spring. I also brought along a couple of sledge hammers, two 4-lb. steel wedges, four plastic wedges, and two hard maple splitting wedges that I’d made myself.
The first step in splitting a tree this size (approx. 20″-24″ diameter) is to score a line. Well, actually the first step is to find any splits that happen naturally from the stress of being cut down. As you can see in the photo at left, I neglected to do that and had to redo my score marks after I discovered this stress crack. Trying to fight that crack is next to impossible, so it’s best to take the path of least resistance.
Once I’d completed the scoring I switched to my 12-lb. sledge and started in on the steel wedges. It’s kind of hard to see here, but once the wedges start to take a bite, the tree will split perfectly along the scored line. At least you hope it will! This tree wasn’t perfect, but it is pretty close to veneer grade. This means the bark runs straight up and down, there are no visible knots or branches, and the growth rings should be concentric and start in the exact middle of the trunk.
The split veered off just a bit at the bottom edge (photo above), but that had more to do with my crooked scoring than anything. Once I’d gotten the tree to split across its width, I started to concentrate on splitting it across its length. After about a half hour, I’d managed to get the log split in two.
Eventually, I managed to get one half split into quarters. I used an axe to split the fibrous splinters holding the two sections together. Like I mentioned, it only took me about a half hour to make the first split. The second and third splits took considerably longer! But, all in all, I’m happy with the results of my hard days work. I’ll keep you posted on how the chairs are coming along. -Joel