January 11, 2008

New Tabletops from a Fallen Sycamore Tree

About three years ago, a beautiful sycamore tree on my property, approximately 150 years old, was hit by lightning. The rather bad strike caused a crack along the entire length of the tree's trunk. I called my good friend and arborist Ralph Robbins, who is the founder and vice president of SavATree, a wonderful tree-service company. Ralph explained to me that when a tree is hit by lightning, the tremendous heat causes all the sap to turn into steam, shocking the entire system. Trees can survive a lightning strike, so we decided to help the sycamore as much as possible. Ralph had it treated with a special stimulating fertilizer followed by regular feedings. Unfortunately, the lovely old sycamore was too compromised to make it and was recently cut down.

But, what to do with all that wood? Sycamore is a very dense, hard wood, and I thought the large round cross sections would make gorgeous tabletops. Ralph said he had an idea. SavATree had been looking into buying something called an Alaskan mill, a large kind of chain saw used to mill logs into planks and slabs. This would be a good experiment for his company. So the other day, the process began. A total of a dozen rounds were sawed, and they are now drying indoors before they will be taken to a wood mill for sanding, staining, and finishing. I can't wait to see and to also show you what the finished tabletops will look like.

This is a photo of the sycamore's sister tree, which was planted across the field. It, too, was hit by lightning in the same storm:


You can see the crack caused by the lightning. So far this tree seems to be surviving:


One of my owl houses is perched on this tree:


Large sections of sycamore trunk:


Here’s Ralph pointing to the crack caused by the lightning:


Dane Buell, director of safety and training at SavATree, driving a lifting machine called a MultiOne:


Lifting a round of sycamore that weighs about 2,500 pounds:


Jonathan Meres, certified arborist, displaying the Alaskan mill:


Jonathan and Dane smoothing out the top:


Adjusting the cutting guide to a five-inch thickness:


Sawing through for the first tabletop:


A view of the sawed cross section:


Dane thinks this unusual marking may have been caused by a nail hammered into the tree trunk many years ago. The red oval shape is actually part of the wood grain: