dead standing vs live wood - Woodworking Talk - Woodworkers Forum
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post #1 of 23 Old 12-09-2009, 10:47 AM Thread Starter
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dead standing vs live wood

Here is my question.
If someone is just looking to get a bit of project lumber and can afford to be picky about what they mill, is it better to cut a live tree and mill it, dry it, then use? Or is it just as effective to cut a standing dead tree that, to me, seems like it has already been air dried? Are there any drawbacks to using this naturally dried wood that would make using green wood a much better option? Does anything need to be done to the already dead wood before it can be used in projects?
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post #2 of 23 Old 12-09-2009, 11:11 AM
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You won't know the condition of the standing dead tree till you drop it. It could be pretty well rotten inside.
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post #3 of 23 Old 12-09-2009, 11:20 AM
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And it depends on what killed it...bugs ? Could be ate up. A log is not going to dry like you think standing, not for YEARS. Having said that from a forestry/safety standpoint might as well cut the dead ones first. If they look sound, take them to the mill. If not felling them still gives the other trees room to grow and it will eventually fall, might as well make it a controlled fall instead some accident waiting to happen.

Last edited by Daren; 12-09-2009 at 11:22 AM.
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post #4 of 23 Old 12-10-2009, 02:22 PM
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Unless it just died a week ago, a standing dead tree at best will have a pretty bad crack in it. At worst it will have multiple cracks that spiral and it will have bugs rot. I am saying I would take the live tree frist every time. The wood will be better on average. That said some good lumber can be gotten out of dead trees just on average you will get more and better out of live. In the industry dead trees bring a lot less ( like a third of live) when sold then live trees. Dead trees are salvage, live trees are logging. As has been said a dead standing tree will not be dry enough to use as lumber as soon as sawed it may be no dryer depending how long it has been dead and how it has been sheltered since dying.
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post #5 of 23 Old 12-10-2009, 03:17 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks for the information all, those are just the kind of facts I was looking for.
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post #6 of 23 Old 12-18-2009, 11:59 AM
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I have harvested hundreds of dead trees and its amazing how many provided great lumber. I am talking hardwoods. Pine on the other hand wont last long standing dead from what I have seen.

As far as cracks in standing dead, I have not expereinced that to often in our area, and again I am talking about hardwoods.

Dead trees are going to be harder on the blades than green logs but in some cases its a wash since the bark on the dead trees is gone.
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post #7 of 23 Old 12-20-2009, 03:15 PM
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I will not deny that you can get good lumber out of a dead tree just that on average a live tree will be better. They are all dead once they are cut down. They all start to deteriorate as soon as they are dead. Best deal is to cut them the day they were felled. Then there is no time for bugs or decay to take hold. Almost every dead tree I have ever sawed had some kind of crack in it from partially drying out. The longer they have been dead the worse the crack.
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post #8 of 23 Old 12-20-2009, 04:42 PM
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My experience is not similar to yours DRB. But probably because of the particular types of species that tend to die here prematurely. I can only think of a few. Red Oak being the hardest hit. Oak Wilt here is widespread. The red oaks dry quite weel, and also spalt very well standing dead. They don't crack very badly either, if at all. Punkiness and rot are the major defects found in them once they are left too long, but finding and milling spalted red oak around here is as easy as falling off a log.

White Oak is a different story of course. When it is left standing dead it reacts just as you say since it is so resistant to rot. The only other species apart from oaks that come to mind, that die prematurely here are Honeylocust, some Elms (Dutch Elm disease is not real bad in my area), and Boxelder. But the Boxelder isn't dying prematurely, it's just a short-lived tree. Our Honelylocust starts to get heart rot in the 14" - 16"+ range for what reason I do not know. But even though it is one of the more durable species in North America if harvested healthy, when it dies it rots quickly. You won't hardly find any usable standing dead Honeylocust around here. When it dies it goes from healthy to bug food in less than two seasons.

Come to think of it, the only species I can think of around here that tends to crack as it dries standing, is White Oak.
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post #9 of 23 Old 12-20-2009, 07:57 PM
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From what I have seen freezing weather causes cracks in dead trees. It will crack live trees as well just seems to get the dead trees sooner. Doubt you have cold soaks of near 0 F in Texas like we would get in Northern Ohio where I came from. Seems most trees dead more then one winter would have a bad crack in them. Any spiral at all in the grain and it would ruin a lot of lumber. In the north woods of Michigan I have heard trees cracking while deer hunting. It can sounds like a rifle shot when a big tree lets loose and cracks because of frost. We are talking as cold as 10 below for days.
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post #10 of 23 Old 12-20-2009, 08:21 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DRB View Post
Doubt you have cold soaks of near 0 F in Texas like we would get in Northern Ohio where I came from.
I live in north central Texas and not only does it get cold, it's a wet cold. We see zero sometimes but usually mid to upper teens is the lowest it gets in the winter. The winters don't start as early, or stay as late in the season as up north, but yes it gets very cold here.
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post #11 of 23 Old 12-21-2009, 02:03 AM
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Timber checks because of drying not freezing. Many mills keep harvested timber in ponds or under sprinklers to keep this from happening because green wet timber saws better.

Checking in a spiral only occurs in trees that grow in a spiral like spruce. The geography and subjection to wind effect the severety of twist in trees with spiral growth patterns. Trees protected from constant winds will grow taller, faster, resulting in less spiral growth. The spiral checking of standing dead is what makes sawing lumber difficult in such trees.

Trees subjected to fire can stand dead for many years without checking or rotting. I have harvested some that were burned 35 years previously. The wood was solid with some weathering on the exterior and very hard to cut.
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post #12 of 23 Old 11-02-2013, 12:28 AM
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I planted three Pin Oak Trees 30 years ago and two of them died at the same time last year. Someone told me it was due to a blight. This week we felled the two dead trees that were about 30 inches in average diameter. The trunks provided about twelve nice 36 inch long sections. The center of the tree trunk's wood looks just fine. The trunk of the tree still has all its bark on it with no cracks or bugs. The sapwood looks fine and the core is clean and very hard.

My question is: Will this material make good lumber for me to use in my woodworking shop to make furniture?

I plan to split the 36" long sections of the trunk in half using an axe, a maul, and hammer and wedges. Then I plan to use a froe to section each half of it, then a broad axe or hatchet to very roughly shape it into planks that I can use. After that I plan to seal the end grain with latex paint, or whatever is best, and set it aside in a controlled environment for three months. I then plan to true it up using a Scrub Plane and a #5 Jack plane to get it shaped as a useable board and put it away for three more months. Then I will take each piece of approximately 5/4 x 10 x 36 and finish truing it up using a #6 Fore plane and #7 or #8 Jointer plane followed by a #4 Smoothing plane.

Will this material from the dead tree hold up over time as I work with it or does the fact that it was standing dead for one year make a difference in the quality of the finished product?
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post #13 of 23 Old 11-02-2013, 12:57 AM
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i use the dead standing trees and peoples unwanted treees that are being removed. i dont go cut trees for fun. ive got some good wood from dead trees and some crap from them too
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post #14 of 23 Old 11-02-2013, 11:53 AM
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This is an old thread but still pertinent, nonetheless.

Standing dead trees can indeed make some nice lumber. It just depends on what killed them. I've harvested and sawed several thousand bf of standing dead Walnut, Red Oak and Post Oak. Most of it rendered good lumber, some of it was firewood.

Ring shake can be prevalent in some dead trees. Bacterial infection makes the rings separate and the wood is not usable.

Don't count on the standing dead trees to be air dried. As Daren wrote, they will take many years to dry in the log/tree, if they ever do. Most will rot before they dry below 20% MC.

Ideally, trees are cut live, sawn right away and then the lumber is dried. That prevents staining of the lumber from moisture and less degrade. However, I like the thought of salvaging lumber from trees that would otherwise rot. For my needs (hobbiest woodworker) it sure is better than cutting down a living, healthy tree.
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post #15 of 23 Old 11-02-2013, 12:09 PM
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i just sawed up some dead pine this morning and it was beautiful.
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post #16 of 23 Old 11-02-2013, 04:23 PM
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I have had pretty good luck with dead standing trees. Of course some will have severe cracking, but you can see that before felling. Some may be rotten, but knocking on it with a stick will let you know if it is. It'll either bonk if rotten, or ping if solid. If it's solid, not cracked badly, and old enough that the bark has fallen off, it'll most likely make very nice lumber.
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post #17 of 23 Old 11-02-2013, 04:54 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Paul Allison View Post
I planted three Pin Oak Trees 30 years ago and two of them died at the same time last year. Someone told me it was due to a blight. This week we felled the two dead trees that were about 30 inches in average diameter. The trunks provided about twelve nice 36 inch long sections. The center of the tree trunk's wood looks just fine. The trunk of the tree still has all its bark on it with no cracks or bugs. The sapwood looks fine and the core is clean and very hard.

My question is: Will this material make good lumber for me to use in my woodworking shop to make furniture?

I plan to split the 36" long sections of the trunk in half using an axe, a maul, and hammer and wedges. Then I plan to use a froe to section each half of it, then a broad axe or hatchet to very roughly shape it into planks that I can use. After that I plan to seal the end grain with latex paint, or whatever is best, and set it aside in a controlled environment for three months. I then plan to true it up using a Scrub Plane and a #5 Jack plane to get it shaped as a useable board and put it away for three more months. Then I will take each piece of approximately 5/4 x 10 x 36 and finish truing it up using a #6 Fore plane and #7 or #8 Jointer plane followed by a #4 Smoothing plane.

Will this material from the dead tree hold up over time as I work with it or does the fact that it was standing dead for one year make a difference in the quality of the finished product?

Paul, if you are looking for an answer in regards to stability, yes the lumber will be stable once cured - especially being riven as you plan to do.

From a hand tools perspective - green trees are much easier to work with. You will likely find that you won't be able to switch over to the froe quite as quickly as you have described and will need to use the wedges for a few more splits. You should be able to get down to 1/16th with the wedges. Obviously start the splinting in naturally occurring stress shakes. You will need a LOT of wedges - easily made with a hatchet from the tree's branches but I usually start with one or two iron ones to get the initial split going.

When splitting the log it's easier to work from the sides (both at once) in for the first 1/2 and then leave it on the other while continuing the riving of the top 1/2. Don't forget to cleave the sap wood and heart wood in order to get nice stable lumber.

Also not every board needs to be s4s, it sounds like you are a hand tooler in all regards so that said and historically speaking lumber is not surfaced on all sides. For example; there is no reason a table apron can not be tapered - if the tenons and shoulders are square with the face edge 90 deg to the ground only you will know you didn't surface the back side. I also do very little surfacing / jointing to the bottoms of a table glue-up until after the glue-up. I do a rough jointing of the bottom with a fore plane.

Just things to think about and hopefully make your job a bit easier.

ps - riven lumber is SO nice to work with as there is little grain run out and it and it is far stronger and more stable than the typical flat sawn lumber.
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post #18 of 23 Old 11-02-2013, 11:00 PM
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Dead standing vs. live trees

I live in south western Conn. Between Aug 2011 and Nov 2012 we've had three major storms, including two hurricanes and a freak snow blizzard that dumped 2 feet of wet snow on still fully leafed trees. The devestation was unbelievabel- roads were closed, power off for weeks at a time. The clean up was a major undertaking and storing the debris was a problem.

I accepted a lot of the stuff onto my property, and I have a huge pile of logs- about the size of a two-car garage. Plus, there there are a lot of broken trees on my own property. I rcently bought a bandsaw mill to tackle this pile of lumber. So far I've cut about 2000 bf of wood and there is at least 10x more there.

The bottom line is that even 2+ year old dead logs yields beautiful wood. Yes, there are cracks where the trees broke, but they can be cut out. There is some rot from ground contact, but again- it can be cut out. There is a lot of good lumber to be gotten from dead trees.

Ken
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post #19 of 23 Old 11-03-2013, 12:09 AM
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We have 18,000,000 ha standing dead pine from the Pine Beetle epidemic.
It is not worth the chainsaw gas (even) to cut it down.
You want crappy wood of no commercial value whatsoever?
Fill your boots.
A few dang good fires, allowed to run, would open enough serotinious cones
to give us a good crop in 70-90 years on that land.
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post #20 of 23 Old 11-04-2013, 01:46 PM
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Paul, the species has more to do with the quality of the wood than whether it has been standing dead. In my experience running a sawmill, pin oak is a very brittle wood, and boards will often break apart in the drying process. I suspect riven wood would be a lot more workable than sawn wood. One thing for sure, there can be some beautiful wood inside a pin oak log! Good luck, and let us know how it turns out. Oh, by the way, a product called AnchorSeal by U.C. Coatings is the best I know of for end coating logs. You should be able to find it with a web search.

Nothin' to it. All a fella needs is a little brains and enough muscle to keep 'em off the ground. Norwood MX34 portable sawmill, Ford 8N Tractor, Husqvarna chain saws.
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