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.
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.
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.)
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:
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: