My first thought is “put a bird on it,” but Reddit user twentyfourfifty had other ideas. In short, he took on the time-consuming job of straightening a severely warped, but beautiful 12.5′ piece of wood, and managing cracks that had formed with handmade Dutchmen (or butterfly joints).
He then sanded and polished it, and mounted it on his living room wall until such a time as he inhabits a space that can accommodate a dining room table fit for a king.
Check out the slideshow with twentyfourfifty’s own comments about the build, followed by an interview where I ask him about the project in more detail.
What were your initial plans when you decided to buy it?
A friend and I bought the three pictured slabs for $500 each with a total delivery charge of $150, bringing the price of my single slab + share of delivery to $575 (my friend took the other two). After seeing some amazing slab tables and learning about the fairly basic simplicity of utilizing a router sled, I began searching Craigslist once a week to see if anything caught my eye. When this particular slab popped up at 800 lbs and over 12 feet long, with visible cracks and tapering to 53” in width towards the base of the trunk, I knew I had to buy first and consider my options and potential consequences at a later date. This was a monster slice of a monster tree. My wife passed on an opportunity to talk me out of it, so done deal. Once it landed in my garage the only initial plans were to build a router sled, attempt to mill it flat, then see where that took me. Admittedly, given the significant warping of the piece and the depth of the cracks down the middle I was slightly concerned I’d be faced with an 800 pound pile of firewood.
Tell me about the router sled you built. Was it something you had done before? Would you refine it in any way if you had to do it again?
I was first introduced to the idea of a router sled by a Nick Offerman article in Fine Woodworking magazine a couple years back. I loved the idea of needing only a router and some plywood to deal with virtually any size of slab (given the time of course). This slab is my second router sled project. The first was used to flatten the top of my laminated maple workbench top, and its design (along with the sled for this slab) is credit Marc Spagnuolo: http://www.thewoodwhisperer.com/videos/flattening-workbenches-and-wide-boards-with-a-router/. While this sled design is not adjustable and as awesome as Nick Offerman’s design, I was very happy with the performance and fast build/assembly time. The one very helpful addition to the sled design was the addition of the small stop blocks on the bottom of each end of the sled (seen here http://i.imgur.com/l8j6EG6.jpg). This prevents the end of the sled from dropping off the rail if you’re not paying close attention to the end of the sled… which would drop the sled and router bit directly into the work piece.
What brought you to finally use the router to level it? Could you have hand-planed it? What other options were not possible because of the size of the piece?
Given the size of the slab, using a router sled was the only option I considered. Given the amount of warping in the piece and the amount of material that would need to be removed to get it flat, even the time required with a router sled was approaching borderline crazy. I would have used the same process for any size of slab given the dead-flat results you can achieve with the sled, although I would have lifted a more manageably sized piece onto my workbench for easier work conditions vs. the floor.
Did you ever get to a point where the plunge was too deep for the router? What did you do about that?
Given the amount of thickness I had to remove to get it flat, I was initially taking off between 3/16” and 1/4″ each pass with a 1 3/4″ wide router bit. With a sharp bit this was no problem with my 3 1/4 HP router. However, Eucalyptus is pretty rough on the bits and as they dulled I had to remove less per pass and slide at a slower rate. I ended up buying two (both of which were sent out to be re-sharpened after the project was complete). The router made it clear when the bit was toast when its 15 amp motor would trip the 20 amp circuit.
The plunge depth on my fixed-base router is limited so I’d make as many passes as I could with the router sled until the router depth was maxed out. I’d then shim the slab up off the floor a bit more and repeat the process. Even though I reduced the slab from 4” in thickness down to 2”, it was so warped the highest-point to lowest-point thickness was probably closer to 6”.
Besides just keeping the cracks in check, what dictated your decisions in terms of the sizes of the Dutchmen and the placement. Did you have aesthetics in mind at all?
The initial placement of the Dutchmen were dictated by the large cracks clean through both ends of the piece. Eucalyptus likes to move so I needed something somewhat structural to attempt to keep things at bay. The large Dutchmen on the ends are 9” tall and 1” deep. The others are 3/8” deep and probably half functional, half decorative. I like visible joinery and seeing how and where different pieces come together, so I wasn’t going to be shy and selected Wenge wood for contrast.
I love the cleat system you made for mounting, but how on earth did you get this 350 lb behemoth onto the wall? How many people did it take? Were there any difficulties, or did it pop on pretty smooth?
I asked a few guys from the office to give me a hand, although a total of six people may have been a bit smoother than four. The four of us were able to slide it along its bottom edge on thick/protective drop cloths to get it from the garage into the house to the mounting wall. We then leaned it against the wall and lifted incrementally. Lift a bit, slide in some spare tires (breathe), lift a bit more, slide in saw horses (breathe), then go for the final push. We lifted up and over the top cleat and it lowered and locked right in, nice and smooth. Snugging up the bottom cleat after hanging and attaching a top sill over the top cleat (further explained in the comments on the “cleats on wall” photo from the slideshow) really locked this thing to the wall. Zero movement. If feels like part of the wall. I even performed a pull up on the slab itself and didn’t die a crushing death.