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    Shaken Trees: Ship Building vs. Furniture Building

    One of my hobbies, other than woodworking, is building model ships, especially 18th century sailing ships. As a consequence, this past week I had the opportunity to visit Mystic Seaport (Connecticut) and Boston to see some of these ships in-person. It was a great experience to see and tour the USS Constitution, built in 1797 and still on the Navy's list of commissioned warships! I also had the opportunity to watch as skilled craftsmen were refurbishing the Mayflower II (Mystic Seaport). Although they use modern power tools to cut and milling huge timber slabs, they use the old traditional techniques for shaping, bending and fastening planks to the ship's frame. It was amazing to see how 2.75", quarter-sawn, white oak planks were bent to conform to the ship and held in place with huge wooden treenails (trunnels). The oak planking is steamed for almost three hours (1 hour/inch) prior to bending.

    During the course of watching this work, I asked where they sourced their wood. I was surprised to learn that the white oak and live oak come from the aftermath of various hurricanes the south has experienced over the past decade. I use the word "surprised" because I recall reading posts on this site about "Shaken Tree Defect", which is the result of internal stress experienced by trees shaken and toppled during major storms events. It is my understanding that wood from such trees is often not suitable for making furniture due to the potential for excessive cracking and checking. Given the fact the cracking and checking would also be undesirable defects in a ship's hull, I am left to wonder how they deal with the problem? While I don't know the answer, perhaps they have a good way to cull through potentially problematic timber or the sheer size of the slabs they work with are less prone to problems than the thicknesses typically used by most woodworkers. Whatever the case, for those of you interested in seeing craftsmanship on a large scale, I recommend the trip!

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    Re: Shaken Trees: Ship Building vs. Furniture Building

    That scarf joint (is that right?) is CRAZY knowing the size of that beam!
    Donn, did you ask or do you know what glue they use?
    People are amazed as a shaving rises from the throat of a plane as if itís a spell plucked from a sorcererís hand Ė Paul Sellers

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    Re: Shaken Trees: Ship Building vs. Furniture Building

    Mystic Seaport is a facinating place to spend a day or three. Boston ain't bad either. Last time I was in Boston, many years ago, the Constitution was closed to the public so we didn't get to see all see the details you did.

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    Re: Shaken Trees: Ship Building vs. Furniture Building

    I wonder what "Shamrock" has to say about it - he is right up there isn't he?

    Also our "SubGuy - Zach" can probably weigh-in on this thread?!

    Now I am REALLY curious - how they deal with "Shaken Tree Defect" and unfortunately I didn't really care about it at 8:00 this evening!!
    People are amazed as a shaving rises from the throat of a plane as if itís a spell plucked from a sorcererís hand Ė Paul Sellers

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    Re: Shaken Trees: Ship Building vs. Furniture Building

    Quote Originally Posted by Hmerkle View Post
    That scarf joint (is that right?) is CRAZY knowing the size of that beam!
    Donn, did you ask or do you know what glue they use?
    Hank, I didn't ask about the use of an adhesive, but to the best of my knowledge they don't use any (at least I didn't see any being used). The planks are bent to conform to the ribs, held in place with clamps, holes are drilled into the planks/ribs, and then treenails driven in place and wedged.
    DRW

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    Re: Shaken Trees: Ship Building vs. Furniture Building

    Many years ago (back in the late 70's) I attended a course on Small Boat Building at Mystic Seaport taught by John Gardner who not only was well known as a marine boat builder, he actually served on the Charles W. Morgan which is on exhibit at the Seaport. I learned many of the basics of small boat construction, but sadly never put that knowledge to work. If you ever get a chance to visit their collections, it is worth a long visit.

    By the way, it appears to me that there is an adhesive in the scarf joint in the photo above; it looks like a waterproof resorcinol glue to me which is commonly used in small boat building.
    Every day brings a new adventure -- it is great to be retired!

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    Re: Shaken Trees: Ship Building vs. Furniture Building

    Donn I have been down the seaport road several times in the areas you mention and the Strawberry Banke in NH. I would like to return and see some of the small craft that John Gardner was working back in the 1970 period. I've heard many of the dories he built were used and then returned to the museum for display and education.

    Years later I returned to Mystic to work on the Armistad. It was a long process and I came up to work on several occasions over the 2 year build. During that major project, not an exact replica, we had lots of "donated" wood in the yard. Some of it was just gorgeous but it was storm wood.

    Many inexperienced workers thought wind-shakes in the log were like long cracks in the oak logs. Not so. I think a man in the log business like Scott Smith could tell you a thing or two about the twisting troubles of storm trees but I'll leave that to him.

    From personal experience, I can tell you how heart breaking it is to buy walnut logs from a man and find they were all storm trees. You can make small projects but large furniture pieces will end in a dull aching pain when you see board cracking.

    The only thing that comes to mind that resembles the temptation to fool with shaken trees is flooded cars. You might get lucky but you might have a car that the computer and electrics spent time underwater at some point. It might not show today but down the road you could find yourself more than just frustrated.

    I for one will run from storm wood for use on furniture -- especially projects for customers. I don't like my name on things that come apart for odd reasons.

    Glad you had a good time at Mystic. If you ever go back, slide down to Yale and see their 18th Century furniture collection. It is my favorite.

    later

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    Re: Shaken Trees: Ship Building vs. Furniture Building

    Loved Mystic because of the same reasons Very few folks know how amazing the craftsmanship is to make a wooden ship! Just the "wood" engineering is awesome, special wood for different purposes, grain orientation alone is mind boggling.

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    Re: Shaken Trees: Ship Building vs. Furniture Building

    Well, I know the Constitution has a pond (this was a traditional treatment) for the masts. They are selected and hewn and afterward sunk in the pond for years at a time. I want to say if I remember right, they spend upwards of 10-15 years before they are pulled out of the pond for final shaping and installing. Remember also, these ships are exposed to water constantly when out of the drydock. I would think that in itself would prevent alot of cracking and splitting due to the elasticity and swelling induced by the water. Part of the design figures in the swelling and shrinking in the wood with temperature and moisture. The temperature in NE varies greatly. The Mystic Harbor will freeze over in the colder winters and in summer will get in the upper 70's, lower 80's. The chinking is designed to swell and shrink. The hulls leak as well, especially after a drydocking. I was fortunate enough to know many people that worked on the Morgan Project while I was up there. The conversations over pints were stimulating to say the least.
    And for the glue, they use traditional pitch distillate variations and combinations of modern adhesives depending on the application. You would have to ask what they used for that one. Morgan has a great story worth reading about. I love visiting the Seaport. I lived about 10 min from it.
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    Re: Shaken Trees: Ship Building vs. Furniture Building

    Not sure if this is the answer, but there is a difference between most white oak and live oak. Live oak has cross-linked grain and is probably the toughest of the white oak family. My personal experience was that I used mostly live oak (from trimming the ones on my property, and storm wood after hurricanes) for my fire place wood when I lived in the FL. panhandle. That meant splitting it, and it was about the most cantankerous wood I have ever dealt with when it comes to trying to rive it with a maul and wedge. Anyone who has tried to split sweet gum with an axe has an inkling of what I am trying to describe. Trying to split anything larger than 12" diameter by hand is almost impossible because the wood does not "split", but has to be physically torn apart.

    The nickname "Ol' Ironsides" came not from the hull being iron clad, but from the toughness of the live oak planking used in the hull. Although there are a few stately live oaks left in north Florida, most of them were harvested before and during the civil war for building ships. It was the premium would for keels, and in the case of warships like the Constitution, the entire hull. The areas where these trees were harvested were mainly near the coast due because the best transport was by sea, which also put them growing in areas most subjected to hurricane winds throughout their hundreds-year life (which could be why these trees developed such a tough structure).

    From that, i surmise that live oak may be the exception to the rule when it comes to storm shaken syndrome.

    One of my impressions from visiting the Constitution many years ago was the low overhead clearance below decks, especially the gun deck. Either the sailors were shorter then, (I do realize many of the powder monkeys were but young lads) or they never were able to stand straight up (and I am a few inches shy of 6'). Made me appreciate the term "close quarters".

    Just a thought

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    Last edited by Gofor; 05-19-2018 at 11:11 AM.
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    Re: Shaken Trees: Ship Building vs. Furniture Building

    Quote Originally Posted by danmart77 View Post

    Many inexperienced workers thought wind-shakes in the log were like long cracks in the oak logs. Not so. I think a man in the log business like Scott Smith could tell you a thing or two about the twisting troubles of storm trees but I'll leave that to him.

    r
    Dan, ask and ye shall receive!

    Wind shake in trees occurs when the trees are exposed to extremely high winds, causing their trunks to bend to the point where the wood cells shear inside the trunk along the growth rings. Here is a photo of what wind shake looks like from the end of a log.



    In the photo above, you can envision where the tree trunk was bent so significantly that it caused the wood to shear along the growth rings (and in some instances across multiple growth rings such as the sheared portion directly above the pith).

    Unfortunately when milling logs with shake, the lumber quality suffers significantly. Here is a photo showing ring shake in a quartersawn white oak board running up the middle, and pith cracking along the left side.



    The pith cracking is due to the juvenile wood cells shrinking at a greater rate than the mature wood cells, but the ring shake is due to extreme bending of the tree trunk.

    It's not as bad to deal with when the shake runs perpendicular to the surface of the board (such as in the photo above), but when it runs parallel to the face it pretty much destroys the viability of the lumber for woodworking.

    Personally, I will not knowingly purchase logs that came from trees that were sheared off from their stumps due to high winds. If the tree was uprooted with the root ball still attached, I will consider the purchase if there are not visible signs of shake.
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    Re: Shaken Trees: Ship Building vs. Furniture Building

    Thanks Scott. Maybe the shake isn't a big problem for ship building other than the 2-3" t hull planking which is steam bent, fastened with tunnels, and caulked. ?????

    http://www.gundalow.org/making-trunnels/

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    Re: Shaken Trees: Ship Building vs. Furniture Building

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff View Post
    Thanks Scott. Maybe the shake isn't a big problem for ship building other than the 2-3" t hull planking which is steam bent, fastened with tunnels, and caulked. ?????

    http://www.gundalow.org/making-trunnels/
    Not so Jeff. When I was involved with Mystic and the double master I mentioned no trees with any evidence of shake damage would be used. No exceptions. There was a pile of logs and then there wasn't.

    You couldn't give them away to timberframers building anything other than dog houses in New Hampshire.

    Remember you are not just bending the planking along a fair line you are also twisting it. Wood damaged in wind storms is just not worth the heartbreak of removing a plank between two others.

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    Re: Shaken Trees: Ship Building vs. Furniture Building

    Thanks Dan,

    Here's part of the original post by Donn. Well, I guess they cull the wind shake trees as you point out. Where does the soaking pond come into play?

    During the course of watching this work, I asked where they sourced their wood. I was surprised to learn that the white oak and live oak come from the aftermath of various hurricanes the south has experienced over the past decade. I use the word "surprised" because I recall reading posts on this site about "Shaken Tree Defect", which is the result of internal stress experienced by trees shaken and toppled during major storms events. It is my understanding that wood from such trees is often not suitable for making furniture due to the potential for excessive cracking and checking. Given the fact the cracking and checking would also be undesirable defects in a ship's hull, I am left to wonder how they deal with the problem? While I don't know the answer, perhaps they have a good way to cull through potentially problematic timber or the sheer size of the slabs they work with are less prone to problems than the thicknesses typically used by most woodworkers.

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    Re: Shaken Trees: Ship Building vs. Furniture Building

    I read an article many years ago about the building of the Constitution. The ship builders would send teams down south to search for the right Live Oak tree that had the perfect large limb, going off to one side. They then would hew the curvature of the ships hull out of the tree trunk and the limb. No scarf joint, just one piece.

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