Crafting a Salad Bowl From a Much Loved 2-Century Old Oak Tree

A recent storm had knocked down the top half of a several hundred-year-old majestic oak tree owned by a couple here in Needham. Due to their great affection for the tree, they reached out to me to discuss how Ganser Artisanry could craft mementos from the wood. I worked with the owners to identify what types of memorable pieces they would like. A big salad bowl was one of the items, and I chose a large branched piece (see 1st photo below) from the collection of wood that should yield good figure in the finished bowl.

Photo #1

In Photo #1 you see the main branch comes from the left and divides into two branches on the right. The log has been cut in half along its length and is lying on the cut face on the bandsaw table ready to have a circle of wood cut out of the center that will be the "blank" for the eventual bowl (next photo).

Photo #2

Photo #2 shows the round bowl blank with its bark on the bottom and the leftover scrap pieces. The blank was about 18" in diameter and almost too heavy to mount on the lathe by hand (it was still loaded with about 80% water). 

In Photo #3, the bowl blank is on the lathe ready to be carved into a rough-shaped bowl.

Photo #3

This is how the blank looks on the lathe. When it is spinning, I will use some hefty chisels to carve out the rough shape. The bark side will become the bottom of the bowl and the 'inside wood' will become the interior of the piece.

After quite a bit of chisel work and the resulting pile of shavings, the shape begins to appear, as seen in Photo #4.

Photo #4

In photo #5, the roughed-out bowl is now ready to set aside for several months of drying and some unavoidable shrinkage and warping.

Photo #5

As you can see, the walls are still quite thick. This ensures there will be enough wood left over after it dries and changes shape to return it to the lathe and carve out the final form. Notice the nice heartwood figure inside and the patch of whiter sapwood from between the two branches.

To avoid drying too fast and the potential cracking of the wood, I pack the roughed-out bowl into paper bags and a cardboard box, along with the moist shavings (see Photo #6).

Photo #6

This way, the evaporation of water from the wood is slowed down by having to pass through the shavings and paper and cardboard before it evaporates away from the whole system. The piece will be weighed weekly to monitor the loose of water. When the bowl approaches constant weight in the shavings-bags-box setup, I will then expose it to open air in a 75-80°F furnace room where it will loose even more water and become a stable piece of wood.

We will be back with the finishing steps in a few months!

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