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From a 1.4 ton oak burr


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I’ve enjoyed seeing all the wonderful slabs posted on the forum by numerous millers over the years, but I’ve been curious about what they were subsequently used for. So I thought others might be interested to see what I make from the milled slabs from a large oak burr, about 70” long by 40” diameter weighing 1.4t and this thread will gradually record the projects as I make them. All for my own/family use and it will take a while to work my way through the slabs, so I hope you can be patient.


The following link goes to a thread on the milling part of the forum about this oak burr I bought from another arbtalk member in 2013 which I then had milled, followed by drying at home.


First project, still being worked on and hopefully finished by Christmas, is a small table, using the only piece with a natural edge on both sides for the top which is about 40” x 24” x 2” thick. At 22” high it’s higher than most ‘coffee tables’ but we wanted to be able to sit in a comfy chair or settee, watching telly, while eating our tea. Just what we used to tell our children they couldn’t do, but they have long since left home.


I wanted a fairly quick project and took inspiration from George Nakashima’s designs which tend to have fairly simple supports, but quite stylish. First picture below is from ‘The soul of a tree’ about Nakashima, showing his Minguren 2 design. I adapted this to use two small slabs forming a T as sketched below. But soon realised neither of the selected pieces of timber was long enough for the spine support and the table, perhaps not surprisingly, lacked stability. Also, both slabs had quite wide sapwood on the outside and most visible edges. It seemed a shame to hide the best looking areas of burry heartwood underneath the top.


Quite happy to incorporate the sapwood as the slabs were painted with borax soon after starting the air drying. They are now so dry I doubt anything would have survived and the finished furniture will be used indoors and completely coated with oil finishes. I also like the contrasting colours of heartwood and sapwood.


Took a while to think through what options were possible, but I eventually settled on the revised design sketched below, which resolved my concerns but at the expense of more work. Before cutting the slabs, I wanted to check the design would have adequate stability, so I placed the top on blocks of wood on the floor corresponding to the proposed positions for the legs and it was fine. Both slabs were cut in two and flipped, so the sapwood is now in the middle under the table. The slab for the spine support is also lengthened by having two rails joining the two pieces cut from the selected slab. See pictures below.


Still a fair amount of work to be done to get this finished by Christmas. Legs need the shaping finished, resin bronze filling, gluing together, sanding and oiling. Also need to finalise how to attach the top. Final photos below shows a trial with it all precariously balanced to check how it’s looking so far. A bit different to past projects I’ve done, but happy to keep going in this direction. Although I’ve been thinking about cutting a 13” diameter hole through the cross slabs and a 13” x 5” oval hole through the larger slab on the spine support. Just to make the base a bit less ‘solid’. Hopefully gluing up tomorrow but if you’ve an opinion about this design modification in the meantime, I’d be interested to hear.






IMG_1539 cropped C.jpg

Design sketches.jpg







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8 hours ago, gobbypunk said:

Nice and totally different legs /base how long did it take

Hi Mark


It's probably been 2 to 3 days so far for the base, but hard to judge as I rarely spend all day in the workshop with one thing and another. Also, working on a new (for me) design adds time, plus making jigs for the router for the first time used. For instance, photo below shows a leg to rail joint which is a mortice with curved corners which exactly matches the rail cross section, rather than a traditional mortice and tenon with shoulders. Probably widely used, but I first saw it in a video about Sam Maloof and used it before on a project with numerous joints. Was it worth the time making the jig for just 4 joints on this project? It does give the benefit of real accuracy and I've got it for the future, so long as I don't lose it like the one made before........!


The top has needed a couple of days work in addition. Spent at least half a day just picking the bark off the natural edges and smoothing it off, just a wee bit. I don't often have a natural edge, but if I do, I prefer to really clean it up and retain the character of all the knobbly bits. But not everyone likes that style and it's certainly quicker to just round over the edges.





Edited by ucoulddoit
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  • 2 weeks later...

Managed to finish this in time for Christmas. The design is at odds with the intuition built up over a working life as a structural engineer so it's been a bit of an experiment and challenge for me, but quite happy with the final result. Would certainly look at the Nakashima designs again for inspiration whereas before I wasn't sure about using his ideas. Since starting the thread I googled minguren 2 and found auction results for his original tables at about £60k!!!!


Good to have been able to make this using slabs of timber, worked almost entirely using hand held power tools. I only used the planer / thicknesser for the two small rails which could easily have been made with hand tools.



IMG_1556 cropped C.jpg




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  • 5 months later...
Posted (edited)

This is the second project using some more of the burr oak planks. It’s a desk for my son and making the top from two largish slabs might be of interest.


First picture are the two planks chosen for the top. Nice planks, but I had a shape in mind for the desk top and simply edge joining the two planks wasn’t what I wanted to achieve. The burr is great, but I felt losing some of it would overall be better. Following pics are the trial and error process using paper templates and chalk to find what might work. Took quite a while but found a solution that’s was obvious once found!


Then onto initial flattening and thicknessing the planks with a router, further trial fitting to find the best match for the joints and final flattening of the planks once glued together, using a very sharp jack plane and a random orbit sander. I made the edge joints using a router with a kitchen worktop bit and running on a sheet of mdf on top of the burr oak. So, the slightly rough surfaces on the planks at this stage, pre gluing together, weren’t an issue as the router ran smoothly on the mdf which also acted as the guide template for both the straight and curved joints. The curved joint was quite a challenge, but the finished joint is barely visible as shown in the close up pic. Final picture is the top with a coat of oil. Still need to cut a hole for the computer cables and managed to find a bronze ‘desk cable grommet’ for these to match the resin bronze filler used to fill holes in the burrs.


Progressing now with the legs, frame and drawers which are way too complicated and just as well it’s a present, not a piece to sell.
















Edited by ucoulddoit
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Posted (edited)
10 hours ago, peds said:

That's beautiful. Great stuff.

Thanks. I’m really pleased how it’s turned out and good to do it with not much more than a router, hand plane and sander, and mainly working outside in the garden.


I was set on having a slightly concave front edge, but that was at odds with the convex natural edges. So the initial idea was to add a triangular piece both sides, which led onto the single piece across the front with the curved joint to the main slab behind to keep it’s basic shape. The curved joint further back on the initial design spoilt matching the grain, so that was changed to a traditional straight book match. Took a while to work it all out though, and quite conscious it would be easy to spoil two great slabs.



Edited by ucoulddoit
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  • 2 months later...

The desk project is now complete, having taken about 9 months from initial sketches to delivery. This thread is about timber from a large oak burr and as the frame used timber from another oak tree, I wasn’t going to show the finished project. But it’s pretty quiet on the woodcraft forum, so here’s a few pics. Also, some notes about the design of the frame and milling the oak for the frame. Good to have used timber milled 10 to 12 years ago instead of just daydreaming about using it! Very pleased with the final outcome and so is my son.


I particularly enjoyed seeing how the design evolved through a process of ‘form follows function’, rather than starting out with a fixed idea about the final appearance or using a standard design. Having said that, I’ve no doubt a search on google would bring up desks with some similarities, so I’m not claiming this is an original or innovative design. But my starting point was a blank sheet of paper and then used what’s in my head and that contributed to the fun of making this project. After making stuff in my spare time for over half a century, I look back and wish I’d been encouraged to be more interested about design earlier. So, happy to pass on these thoughts as others might be interested to hear how the design developed. Quite a long post though……


First pics are the finished desk.




Then three sketches showing how the design of the frame evolved. Can’t find my initial hand drawn sketches unfortunately, but it was a lengthy design process and at times it seemed as though the design was taking almost as long to finalise as it took to actually make it!



The second sketch, although not a finished design, was along the lines of what I’d decided I wanted the frame to roughly look like with angled legs, rails and drawers plus the overall sizes. I’d deliberately avoided thinking too much about construction details at this stage as I find that can stifle my creativity. I find it’s too easy early on to focus on simplifying the construction of ‘details’ instead of exploring what I can achieve with the overall design, and end up with something a bit different. I find there is almost always a way to solve problems later on, in the context of the overall design, rather than just thinking about the individual details. This sketch was used to create an approximate cutting list so that I could select suitable pieces of air dried oak that needed to be re-sawn into thinner planks, then stored in the workshop for a few months to lower the moisture content to about 10%.


Third sketch was developed several months later, just before making the frame. I’d been conscious that the angled legs, rails, plus drawer carcass would complicate the jointing. Then hit on the idea of making the drawer carcass a separate ‘box’, just sitting on top of the front and back rails, and clear of the legs. That was a real breakthrough and obvious with hindsight, but it took a while to realise it was an option. Fortunately there was enough of the re-sawn oak in suitable sizes.


My son is 6’ 4” tall, so the overall desk height is 31” to match his adjustable desk at work which is set to a comfortable height. That’s higher than a ‘standard desk’ but even so, with the drawers plus a rail underneath the top, it was going to be pretty tight to be able to get leg room. Hence the shape of the front rail, curved on the underside to get a bit more space. That curve, changed my thoughts about the legs, so their shape was changed to also incorporate curves which then became a theme throughout the design. The top already had a curved front edge plus a curved joint.


The wide single rail in the end frames was changed to two narrower rails, placed at levels which ensure the mortices don’t clash with those for the front and back rails, plus the bottom rail has a slight curve too.


The front rail and drawer fronts are concave to match the front edge of the top. The offcut from underneath the front rail became the top part of the drawer fronts which were burr oak offcuts from the top. Almost nothing was wasted. The quartersawn oak for the top part of the drawer fronts are also concave shaped, but outwards, creating space underneath to router a groove for a finger pull to open the drawers, avoiding the need for handles.


So, from the initial ideas in the second sketch, there is a clear logic to the final design in the third sketch which evolved through resolving problems and construction details. I’d say it’s an engineered design which is quite functional in terms of how the desk will be used. Personally, I think the aesthetics of the final design are far better than the second sketch, but that wasn’t something that drove the design forwards. I didn’t start, just thinking about how to make it look good. Also, the final design was relatively easy to construct with minimal waste as already mentioned.


I’m very pleased with the final design, but to be honest, it’s not (quite) perfect to me when I see the finished project! I won’t tell you what I think could be improved and anyway you may have your own thoughts which differ from mine. Maybe I should invest some time in learning 3D computer modelling so that it is easier to visualize a complete design? Anyway, I find that thinking back like that about how a design developed, what wasn’t quite right, what could be improved, helps me when starting on the next and future designs. I daresay some folk can get straight to a final design. I can’t, but fortunately I’ve learnt how to enjoy the process of getting to a final design in a ‘round about way’.


Moving onto the oak for the frame, I started with 80mm quartersawn oak slabs which had been air dried outside for about 10 years. The pics below show the log I bought from a tree surgeon a few miles from home. It was about 30” diameter by 7’ long. He had already cut the bark off the top and sides using a chainsaw freehand, and sold the pieces to a florist for a window display. I was limited to about 6’ length to fit in the back of our estate car and the yellow marks were the cut lines I marked on to shorten it and split it into quarters. He cut it freehand into the four smaller pieces so I could transport it home in the car, over two trips. Then I milled it outside, at the side of the road, using my MS171 (14” bar) in an Alaskan small log mill. Some was milled as per the sketch which yielded almost true quartersawn slabs with lovely ray fleck on the surface, some of which was used for the angled legs with plainer planks for the rails, drawer parts, etc.






Hope you managed to get to the end of this! Next project with the burr oak will hopefully be later this year and probably a large dining table using the best slabs of the burr oak for both the top and frame. They are large enough for a 6’ x 4’ table top with solid burr over the whole area, so looking forwards to sketching some initial ideas.



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