Quarter Sawing


Its a fairly simple matter for me to saw through and through, making nice 4/4 and 6/4 flatsawn  boards, but what about the coveted vertical grain? There are multiple approaches to getting the best yield of vertical grain boards from a log, I take the most straight forward.

My maebiki-oga looks especially nice in the light of this photo, really taking some character from the polishing of use.


This log is a bit small to make it worth quartering, but the huge spiraling split that’s down to the heart of the log fits rather nicely into a single quarter. There’s some serious twist in this log, but that’s really common with the winds we get up here. If I ever find a good stand of straight timber, my god, that would be heaven. Its not like the blue stain pine you find on the open market comes from better quality trees in Colorado, the stuff for sale in Sears Trostel, Fort Collins, CO is comparatively worse, and suffers greatly from what I see as poor drying conditions.

I take quarter-sawn literally. For some it has come to mean vertical grain orientation, where the annular growth rings are at an angle greater than 60 degrees from the face of the board. If you’ve been a woodworker long enough, you’ve probably come across the illustrations of various grain orientations relative to board placement in the log, or the different styles of milling logs. By directly quartering I am able to take boards off the faces of the quarters, alternately, until there’s nothing left. The best vertical grain, and the widest boards come off first, and then the angle of the annular growth rings relative to the face of the board starts to drop. Its not the best way to saw if you want perfect vertical grain on every board, but it wastes a lot less material than radial sawn.

One interesting variation of radial sawing that I would like to try is radially sawing a log for capboard siding, which removes the associated waste problem while producing a high grade product. For some reason I see a lot of wood siding products on the market these days that are flat sawn, actually re-sawn from dimensional stock. It would be a good use for some of these smaller logs that I come across, 10-12″ diameter, which would leave you with 5-6″ wide capboard with a live natural edge, very cool look.


Quartering the log went relatively fast with only two cuts to saw down.


And now we introduce the band saw. If I had a decent saw with a thin kerf compared to my maebiki-oga that was a bit smaller you’d probably be seeing photos of me sawing by hand. As it is I am simply not going to be sharpening after every board cut, too much frustration over poor quality steel. I’m on the lookout for good rip saws, but I want to pay for it with the proceeds of lumber that I sell, which will take a while…

The roller feed tables are really important. Actually I have only one at the moment, I’m using a camera tripod on the far left to support the quarter as the cut is started.


I tried to take my boards off with a fence on the saw table, but it tended to accumulate deviation from cut to cut, and was simply too difficult to use with only one person moving the quarter against the fence. Plus these quarters had several days to relax and warp a bit. Snapping a fresh straight line for every board and cutting freehand without a fence turned out to be much more accurate. I am really loving my ink line, finally getting the hang of it. Such beautiful dark lines! They are a pleasure to the eye.

I’m using a 1/2″, 3TPI bandsaw blade. My bandsaw has 13″ resaw capacity, but the 1HP motor makes me think that I want to not push the limits of the table’s capacity. This pine is quite soft though, and the saw handled it really well.



Don’t worry, I turned the saw off to take this picture. My mantra was, “Don’t cut your fingers off!”. The closest I’ve ever come to losing a finger was with a bandsaw, nearly cut the tip of my thumb off, but that was when I was a teenager and I like to think I’ve learned a thing or two from the experience.

I was worried that I would have to be reaching around the blade to wedge open the cut, but all the boards warped away from the quarter during the cut. I’m cutting all 4/4, just seemed the most useful size for me right now.  With 6/4 slabs and vertical grain 4/4 boards I’ll be able to make shoji!


If it wasn’t for grain runout from the twist in the log these boards would be really top quality. I suppose the sawyers around here would quarter saw blue stain pine if you asked them to, but I’ve never seen it for sale. For this 5″ x 8′ board, even at $3.00 bf this is only a ten dollar board once its seasoned. The flat sawn stuff sells for about $2.50 bf at the moment.


Your boards loose width with every one that you take off, eventually you are left with 1×1″ square, perfect for cutting stickers to air dry the lumber. If you’re building industrial size stacks of softwood to dry you want your stickers to be wider to help bear the weight, but I’m not planning on going that big. There’s really very little waste sawing in this manner.


All of the boards laid out so you can see what comes from one small log. Not too shabby, though the splitting ruined one of the quarters. Big timber, here I come!

Traditional Domestic Architecture of Japan


Its funny, I had just been talking about needing a book with decent photos of traditional Japanese construction. My mother was up at the Library today, evidently there was a deal on books, $5 and you could fill a bag. She comes back with a couple sacks, among them “Old Barn Plans” by Richard Rawson, “The Timber Framing Book” By Stewart Elliott and Eugenie Wallas, and “Traditional Domestic Architecture of Japan” by Teji Itoh.  It deals mainly with the country home in Japan known as a minka. Its certainly not a timber framer’s book, but has a lot of great detail concerning the cultural and material influences that shaped the dwelling for rural Japanese.


This poto made me think of you Sebastian, and your hillside that you would see built well. The elevation changes on the left are quite dramatic, held together by what appear to be dry stack stone walls.


How about a cold weather structure? Thatching on the roof and the walls. I live in country that wants to burn, so when you build walls with straw it needs to be covered with adobe, but the lesson is the same, there are models of Japanese architecture for colder climates.


The broad expanse of gable would not look out of place in the mountains of the Midwest, though one usually sees vast expanses of glass in place of the shoji and amado.


I’ve looked at many diagrams for roof architecture, with its hewn natural beams and posts that support the rafters. Somehow a shot looking up into it tells so much more. The photo on the left really encapsulates the design ethos that tugs at the heart of those who love these buildings. The roof is straw, the eaves are fired clay shingle, the structure is wooden, the windows are fiber covered, the walls are clay, the floor is wood, stone, and earth. The are so many places in this world where people build with these same modest materials, and we call them mud huts.


My favorite design element, the heavy overhanging eaves. I can truly imagine living with such a space, enjoying the shade in the summer. The posts that support the outside edge of the roof allow for the wonderful raised veranda. It speaks volumes when a home has its main transit corridors around the outside of the structure and not through its heart.


Before structure comes skill, and a knowledge of the materials. A great way to do that is through hand tools, which never let you forget a knot or wonky grain. Today was the second meetup of the NoCo daiku study group. I’ve been sawing, so it was a great opportunity to examine some traditional techniques. Here Eric is doing a great job of showing how these saws are meant to be pulled to the center.

As it turns out, pipe strapping and some screws make an excellent hold down once the log has been sawn to the point where log dogs don’t hold.


I made a new handle for my maebiki-oga, quite a bit more length than the last one, and with a little bit more leaning back, less perpendicular to the tooth edge. Both the maebiki-oga and the larger madonokos are quite sensitive to how much power is put into the cut. They’re such aggressive saws that its easy to try to bite off more than you can pull back. The length of handle is really a lever. When you’re starting a cut or working through the cross-grain of a knot it helps to hold the saw above the tooth line, let the saw work under its own weight. The more depth of cut, the more power to the tooth edge, and one or both hands can move below the tooth line to let the handle work as a lever.  My previous handle was too short to allow me to use that natural principle of leverage, my wrists suffered as a result, trying to push the saw down in the cut.

Do I need to point out how cool it is that I can cut up logs while seated? It really is a whole body motion, yesterday my thigh was cramping something terrible, couldn’t tell you how exactly it was involved in the sawing motion, but it gets a workout.


Here’s Mr. Hayashi with an absolute monster of a maebiki-oga, long handle to match, with a hand grip that really saves your fingers from doing so much work holding on to the saw as you pull back. Even his foot position is worthy of note. Based on the saw dust streaming from the cut and the amount still stuck in the tooth gullets, he just pulled back with some serious strength.

Sawing Bliss and Big Beautiful Timber


About seven or eight miles further west up into the mountains from me, nestled between two north south ridges, is a nice little stand of trees by an aspen grove. The tree in the photo is midslope, west facing. Its also dead, killed by pine beetle like millions of others for miles around.

I didn’t get this tree today, but marked it “tree” for later felling, thanks to the generosity of some fine neighbors, who are building a new home on the property and will be getting some of the lumber once its sawn. I know its hard to tell the scale of the tree from the photo, I should have been standing next to it, but its about 2′ diameter at the base, massive compared to the stuff I’ve sawn up to now. This is just one of the trees that need to be taken out, there were several others within 50′ of the road that were begging to be turned into beautiful boards, and the stand extended further back by quite a ways from the road.

Did my first honest job of felling a tree today, something not small enough you could push it over, and it felt really great. Getting the tree to fall where I needed it to (and not on me!)


I didn’t want to take all of Janice’s day, so settled on two trees, three lengths of eight foot, that were small enough to get loaded in the truck easily and came on home delighted like a kid with candy. I wish I had a felling axe and a broad axe, maybe someday. Chainsaw screams at you when you use it, but its damn quick. And damn quick to cut off your face if you let it.


The sumitsubo is working much better with the new line. My silk keeps on packing down, I keep on adding more, where does it go…but at least I’ve gotten comfortable keeping the moisture balance right in the ink pot to give clear lines. I use my thumb to press on the silk as I’m drawing the line back. You can see where my thumb goes right afterward to hold the reel in place, with the middle finger to press the string to the mark.


Eat your heart out chalk line! Sumisashi for marking the end of the log after trimming with my madonoko which leaves a nice smooth surface. The ink line throws very well into the hollows, and did the best job I’ve ever seen on the oblique surface for the outside boards. You have to pull the line waaaay back compared to marking with an ink line on flat boards in the shop, give it enough energy to push into all the hollows.  You also can’t mess about with snapping the line, you’re ink will dry and not give a good line. It still misses small spots, but I use the sumisashi freehand to finish the line or go over any spots that are not dark enough.


Can you figure out from the picture what he’s doing? Even the best sumitsubo technique will leave gaps in the cut line mark, especially logs with heavy curve and irregular surfaces. Some of the fun stuff to saw though! You need an accurate way of sighting in the line to mark it with a brush where the line won’t reach. One of those things you could wonder about for a long time and not figure out, in “Reading Trees”  by Iichi Hayashi.

Thanks for reading, the sawing continues after the maebiki-oga gets a fresh sharpening.

Sawing Happiness


You can probably surmise a good deal about my personality based on the fact that I love to saw so much. Functionally I have a high tolerance for stuff others might perceive as tedious. Its not because I’m a patient man, its just a matter of love and concentration.

One of the gentlemen that joined the daiku meetup group I started happens to be a Japanese Tea Ceremony practitioner, and has built several tea rooms in Colorado, but lacks the hand  tools to study the joinery aspect of the craft. Buying tools…it happens in fits does it not? I found myself red eyed last night looking at Yahoo Japan auctions. The prices make you feel like, buy now! And then you remember the shipping and service fee, bummer.

Yesterday I did a hard quench test on some of the saw plate I’ve been working with over the past couple months, and it hardened quite successfully with water. I polished and drew the temper to a straw yellow, way harder than any western saw you’ll find. I tried cutting some teeth with my yasuri, it felt familiar. I set the teeth with my hammer. Then I took a pair of pliers and bent the tooth the other way – SNAP! Steel hard enough to make acceptable edge wear character.

I’m getting way off topic though. The photo above is a little sawing exercise. Wedges are something I use constantly, sawing, leveling, carpentry. So it helps to have good stock on hand. Normally I cut these with my bandsaw, but what the heck, how about with good old ryoba 210mm?


You can gang cut all of one side at a time to minimize changing sides so many times. God I love this BF vise.


Cut lots, because the tool gnomes that live in your wood shed like to sneak in and steal them at night…seriously, where do all these wedges disappear to? This is a good use of construction lumber off-cuts, and you can practice cutting to a line many times while actually making something useful.


I was in Sears Trostel Lumber, Fort Collins, the other day. Here you can see a live edged slab of Siberian elm, don’t dare look at the price.


Same thing for this crotch slab of walnut that you have to sell your first born child to afford. The funny thing is that this is not a great piece of lumber, its just the way it is cut, and the fact that it was carefully dried that makes it so valuable. Of course, almost nobody buys stuff like this, you gotta know what you’re doing with it, but still…gets you in the mood to saw some lumber.


I changed out my old silk line for a thicker one. In this case I overcame the defects of the previous line by plying this one together from the original, plus as much twist as I could dump into it on my spinning wheel. That’s twist in the singles, when its plied together it gains balance and doesn’t bind up on you in use. In any case this new line is much better for marking logs. Thicker, way way more storage of energy, holds more ink, and marks a cleaner line. I also had to seal the inside of my sumitsubo with epoxy to keep the wood from sucking all the moisture from my ink.


I spent some time yesterday playing with ideas about quarter sawing on a small scale, sort of modeling out the work holding for when I get bigger material.


Nice little level for dropping your lines and center lining. I actually have two of these so they can be checked against each other.


I also put way more set into the rip teeth on this 240mm ryoba. The plate is .020″ and I pushed the set out to .035 kerf as measured by feeler gauge, much smoother cut surfaces resulted, much less binding on the plate. Its stupid to try to use a very fine kerf if you end up with heavy steps in the saw surface that requires planing off a bunch of material to flatten. Its much faster to just increase the saw set and take the material off at the saw. An interesting thing that a heavier set can actually save against waste of wood.

In any case, though these disposable saws can be re-sharpened (I know I’ve got a hell of a lot of practice doing just that) they’re basically mush. No spine at all, you can really feel it when they start to dull. Good for cutting your teeth, so to speak, but I’m ready for a better saw. Several better saws, in fact.

I just met another neighbor with many beetle kill trees for the asking, I’ll be heading over today to check it out. Keeping my fingers crossed for big trees. Happy sawing!