Picked up a commission recently to build a partition wall in my local pub.
The pub is an oak timber-framed wattle-and-daub building dating to 1790.
The landlord wants the new wall framed and half-panelled in oak, to fit in
with the original timbering. I reckoned that if he wanted air-dried stuff
of those dimensions (5"x 5" stiles, 4" x 4" rails) it would cost him an arm
and a leg. We talked it over and he decided that, since the original would
have been built with green oak, he'd go with that - 13.50 GBP per cu ft
( bd ft for you Yanks!) beats 50.00GBP, after all.
I pointed out that green oak would warp, twist, bow, split and crack, but
he's happy, with that, since that's what the original timbers did.
Finally got the timber delivered Friday from a local sawmill. Beautiful
stuff, but summer-felled wood, so it really is wet. I decided , through a
combination of nostalgia and respect for the place and the timber, that I'd
do the job the old way, so for the last couple of days, I've been working
out in the pub car-park on trestles, hand-sawing out huge tusk tenons and
chopping out 5" x 1 1/4" through mortices in big timber with a F-O big
mallet and chisel.. We've had a heat-wave here in UK and it really has been
glorious weather for working outside.
I've been amazed at the amount of interest it's generated among the
customers ( passed out quite a few business cards!) - the number of people
who've commented that it's good to see a man working in traditional fashion
has been really gratifying. (I forebore to comment that if it wasn't for my
Service Pension, I couldn't afford to do it without power tools!)
It's the first time I've worked green oak. What have I learned? My first
lesson was that my Western hand-saws are useless in timber this wet. 1/2"
into the timber and they bind to the extent that they are almost unusable.
Make no mistake, they're good saws, well-set and sharpened and well-lubed
with candle-wax. My Japanese Ryoba, on the other hand, romped through it
with next to no effort, ripping or cross-cutting, and with a finish and
precision I simply can't achieve with Western saws. Few people over here
outside of the woodworking fraternity have heard of them, so they generated
a lot of interest as well.
Second lesson, although it's one I should have foreseen, is that wet oak and
ferrous tools produce a blue-black stain better than any ink I've seen. I'm
typing this with midnight blue fingers that have been scrubbed and
scotch-brited until the skin goes thin.
Third lesson is that it's good to go back to basics, if you can afford the
time to indulge yourself. There's a lot of therapy in hand-chopping big
mortices. You use up a lot of aggression. Being able to take the time to
talk to interested passers-by and stop occasionally for a well-earned smoke
and a drink, enjoying the sun on your back and the birds singing helps as
Fourth lesson is that green oak cuts like hard cheese, with edge-tools.
Sinking these mortices is a real pleasure, with clean, crisp corners and
Fifth lesson was that I dug out my old wooden jack plane for cleaning up the
timber. I'd forgotten how much lighter, slicker and easier a well-tuned
wooden plane is to use over a Bailey-pattern #5 or #7.
Downsides - well, an 8ft length of 5" x 5" green oak is heavy. Firkin'
heavy. Easy to trap your fingers when you're rolling it around on the
workbench or saw-horses doing your marking out.
The other downside - for the timber, at least - is that it's hot and dry
here at the moment. So I need to get all this timber cleaned up, jointed,
framed and secure before it starts to warp, twist etc. I've given myself
until Wednesday. I'll let you know how it goes.
Frank (Probably the happiest man anywhere at the moment.)