CSI: Wood Victim

This is a story of betrayal and deception. And it could happen to you.

I rarely am seduced by wood but the Douglas fir plank pictured below has a lot in common with Benjamin Franklin–I traded a piece of paper with Ben’s picture on it for this board.


It was an eight foot long S4S  two by six and finished out at 1-1/2″ thick. With my discount it cost me $82 bucks–now this board has something in common with George Washington too.  Not bad for a board with secret.

A friendly clerk took it into a back room and hacked it into 24″ lengths, a free service that allows the boards to fit in my car and are just big enough so Louie dog would not declare them chew toys–my life gets complicated at times.

Back at the shop and with one board firmly clamped in a vise, I took a swipe with a bench plane and the surface was like….(insert cliche here)…glass! All I needed was one more pass to clean up the entire edge.

Yikes–the last pass created ridges that any experienced woodworker would recognize as a nicked iron x 100. Out comes the iron and I thought to myself, this iron has to be defective because there is no way Douglas Fir is more abrasive than teak (which everybody knows is a hybrid wood made of stone and some kind of petrified brown grass.) Furthermore the nicks were HUGE.

The iron checked out to be hardened (a file skipped across a corner) so I sharpened it and went back to work. One pass, and it was awesome… the second pass was trash. Great. Now I have a mystery to solve. It would have been more fun if I had a hot assistant (As Seen On TV!) to help guide my thoughts.

I needed more wood, a different species of course (quick learner here)  because I was running out of time. While I was perusing the lumber stash, Carl, my favorite resource for obscure wood knowledge ambled by and we started our ritual chit chat. When I mentioned my experience with the Douglas Fir his eyes went straight to floor– looked like Louie dog when caught chewing one of my shoes…

“Oh, somebody should have told you about that wood.”

“What about it?” I asked.

“We got a really good deal on that stuff–the timber crews had to get special carbide tipped chainsaws to cut the trees. We don’t know how to work it without wrecking tools.” After a few awkward seconds of silence, Carl asks,

“You want some more?”

“No.” I replied. “Where did it come from?”

“Off the side of Mt. St. Helens–the profit margin is awesome–can’t believe nobody wants it but us!”

I did a little further research and learned that the pyroclastic flow of pumice and rocks and steam and mud was traveling around 400 miles per hour when this tree got in the way. Unbelievably, the finer particles penetrated the entire tree.

“Thanks Carl–see you in a couple of weeks.”

Case solved.


4 comments on this post:

  1. Interesting story John. I can’t imagine how that happens. Also, are these all the trees that were flattened when she blew? If so, how did they keep the lumber fresh after almost 20 years? Finally, that seems like some big premium just for real estate! $13 a bd/ft for doug fir wow!!!

  2. Fascinating – I forwarded this to a woodworking friend on the east coast, and he immediately wanted to know what finish you were going to use on this wood! I suggested that since you are both a tool afflictionado and a world-class woodworker I’d bet the board was exchanged back for your Ben Franklin and the wood is being finished with an oil leaking from some vehicle blocked up in the back of the lumber yard. Curious minds want to know!

    Trust you’re having fun teaching at Marc Adams’ school these next two weeks. Wish I was there!

  3. Ron-

    I am not finishing this wood. It is for sale.
    Interested? (I am trusting you have never heard of P.T. Barnum…)

    The oil/truck grease approach does interest me–and perhaps others–since it is free.


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