In Search of White Oak

This post should more accurately be titled: In search of high quality, long lengths of clear white oak that meets Coast Guard specifications,  but that just didn’t sound very snappy.

In the course of our current restoration efforts we have met many very generous individuals who have been willing to donate the white oak trees growing on their properties.  I can’t thank these potential donors enough to consider cutting down  trees that have been growing in their yards for generations, so that we can a few pieces of  planking out of them to kept our old ship afloat. Their gesture speaks to individual generosity and the affection people hold for  Mayflower II.

I have had a chance to view white oak trees from Plymouth to Virginia and can tell you that the kind of white oak necessary to use as planking on a wooden vessel is rare indeed.

High quality white oak stock

High quality white oak stock

The picture above was taken a few days ago in the ship yard. These planks were delivered as part of six that came in earlier in the week. They are three inches thick, about thirty  feet long, twenty four inches or more wide at the big end and the first knot appears about twenty six feet up the plank. Knots must be sound, i.e. no rot or checks, and smaller than one and half inches in diameter. Also the planks must be sawn away from the heart wood or center of the tree. The center is weak and will crack if included in planking. The diameter of a tree that can produce this kind of plank is  in the three to four foot diameter range.  Commonly the trees that produce this type of plank grow in a forest environment where the trees are competing for light and air so they shoot up before  any branches (that will result in knots) develop .

Trees that show no branches in the lower section may still not be suitable.

Virginia white oak

Virginia white oak

Tony Macedo (lead shipwright at Fairhaven shipyard) and myself flew to Richmond, Virginia recently to look at a pile of white oak logs a local sawyer had available. He had a log set up on the saw for us to see as he cut into it. Unfortunately, sawing into the log revealed a number of small knots , some of which were partially rotten. Had the planks been wider we could work around the knots but the finished dimensions of the planks are about eight inches wide so there is not a lot of extra room when you exclude the sapwood on either side of the plank. (Sap wood is weak and rots very quickly.)

old oak at Framingham State University.

Old oak at Framingham State University.

This tree was slated to be removed to make way for a building expansion project on the University campus. Whether we could use the wood or not the tree was going to come down. The University very generously arranged to have a tree removal company come in with a crane and an expert crew carefully cut the tree to save the sections that we can use for Mayflower II restoration work.

The resulting timbers are not suitable for planking but will be very useful for frame stock as well as structural knees. Knees are angled pieces of wood, made from sections of the tree with large branches. The grain runs at the same angle as the branch resulting in a very strong support timber.

Here is selection of  photos detailing the process of cutting up the tree:

Setting up the crane in the muddy grass.

Setting up the crane in the muddy grass.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The tree is topped.

The tree is topped.

The arborist working from a sling off the crane.

The arborist working from a sling off the crane.

 

Just the best bits left now.

Just the best bits left now.

 

Some of the limbs were rotten in the center.

Some of the limbs were rotten in the center.

The usable sections loaded on a truck for transportation to Plymouth.

The usable sections loaded on a truck for transportation to Plymouth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How they would have removed the tree had we not asked them to save some sections.

How they would have removed the tree had we not asked them to save some sections.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leaves from a white oak tree.

Leaves from a white oak tree.

 

Leaves from a red oak tree
Leaves from a red oak tree

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By the way here are some shots of what White Oak (left) and Red Oak (center) look like. Note the white oak has rounded lobes while the red oak has pointy lobes.

Finally here is a shot of what all this wood search business is about:

A finished plank ready for installation.

A finished plank ready for installation.

Finally, finally, here is a reminder of why we are repairing the ship:Sailing002blued

 

 

 

8 Comments

  1. David

    Visited Fairhaven recently …
    Looks like mucho work left to complete.
    Hope to visit again soon and grab some updated ‘work’ photos.

  2. David

    Visited Fairhaven recently …
    Looks like mucho work left to complete.
    Hope to visit again soon and grab some updated ‘work’ photos.

  3. Have you tried, Cross saw mill , Iron City , Georgia?
    We had beautiful oak delivered from Steve Cross.
    Alot of oak was culled out because it was too narrow for our sawn framing on the San Salvardor(1542 Spainish Galleon)
    It maybe available still?
    Hope this helps!
    Frank Townsend
    San Diego Maritime Museum

  4. Have you tried, Cross saw mill , Iron City , Georgia?
    We had beautiful oak delivered from Steve Cross.
    Alot of oak was culled out because it was too narrow for our sawn framing on the San Salvardor(1542 Spainish Galleon)
    It maybe available still?
    Hope this helps!
    Frank Townsend
    San Diego Maritime Museum

  5. Jim and Elaine Giurleo

    Hi,
    We have a white oak in our yard in Westwood, MA that may give you a few planks. If you’re interested, please let us know by e-mail, and we’ll send along a picture.
    Jim and Elaine

  6. Jim and Elaine Giurleo

    Hi,
    We have a white oak in our yard in Westwood, MA that may give you a few planks. If you’re interested, please let us know by e-mail, and we’ll send along a picture.
    Jim and Elaine

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