September 19, 2010

Alex's Pear Tree

Alex is one of my classmates. He sits two benches up from me and is a likeable guy with an easy sense of humor. For four generations, his family owned a pear orchard in Ukiah. They had approximately 30,000 trees on 200 acres. Sadly his family lost the property to the bank in April, and since then a potential new owner bulldozed many of the trees to make way for grapes. Alex was able to grab one of the felled trees, which he brought to school to mill. His great-great grandparents grafted and planted this particular tree nearly 100 years ago.

Pear wood can be an incredibly beautiful wood for making furniture or woodwind instruments. It’s a fine-grained hard wood that ranges in color from salmon to peach. The tree Alex brought in looked from the outside like it might be checked the whole way through—that is, it might have imperfections in the wood that made it less than desirable. But there was only one way to find out—with a chainsaw and an Alaskan mill.

An Alaskan mill is a device that holds a chainsaw horizontally so you can cut a tree into slabs. It was quite a process to get the mill set-up. The log had to be secured and stable and the mill had to have a broad, flat reference that was parallel to the tree. Set-up also involved lots of standing around and contemplation with cigarettes and coffee. After about an hour and a half, Alex and Co. were ready to cut into the tree. As it turns out, the wood is quite pretty. It's nice to know that his family's history will live on in a dovetailed box, a wall cabinet or perhaps a piece of furniture.

See for yourself. Here are a few photos of the affair and video of the first and second passes, if you're really into it. Alex is the one operating the chainsaw.

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