When the trees mature, it is fair and moral that they are cut for man's use, as they would soon decay and return to the earth. Trees have a yearning to live again, perhaps to provide the beauty, strength and utility to serve man, even to become an object of great artistic worth.
Each tree, every part of each tree, has only one perfect use. How to acquire logs and what to do with them calls for creative skill. There is need always to select and to search, even to look underground where the most fantastic grains can often be found.
The trees that are best for furniture usually come from a woods and have long, straight trunks, sometimes stretching thirty feet from the base to the first branch. Reaching for the sun, these trees drop their lower branches quickly. The bark of the walnut tree is scaly, but this characteristic varies from tree to tree. The small branches of this tree are relatively thick and rich with heavy buds.
Because of over-cutting, this precious species has become quite scarce. The main trunk is cut into a single log and, destined for sliced veneer, can command an extraordinary price today. But the lumber most interesting to me is the next log, with the crotch attached, because here is where unusual figuring is to be found.
The sawing of logs is of prime importance. As in cutting a diamond, each judgement must be precise and exact concerning thickness and direction of cut, especially through "figures" the complicated designs resulting from the tree's grain. Thickness, trimming and direction of the cut are vital considerations that ultimately determine whether you produce magnificent lumber or firewood.
There is drama in the opening of a log: to uncover for the first time the beauty in the bole of a tree hidden for centuries, waiting to be given this second life. Cutting logs entails a great responsibility, for we are dealing with a fallen majesty. There are no formulas, no guidelines, but only experience, instinct and a contact with the divine.
The proper way to treat fine timber is to cut for the boule, starting from one side of the log and cutting through it without slabbing or squaring the log. This method of sawing is also known as "sawing through and through." If the log is a proper shape with no unusual branching, and the equipment appropriate, this can readily be done.
Some trees in particular should be cut at the precise moment of maturity. Then the curing and drying should begin.
Methods of cutting when there is a crotch in a log. Usually, cutting across the crotch produces the finest figuring as in the left image. This cut also provides the greatest useable width. Cutting along the crotch, as in the right image, results in a somewhat triangular piece of lumber with less surface area to work with. The figuring is less intense too.
The top left sketch shows two book-matched boards of Persian walnut. This method of matching is usually the most satisfactory. It is possible to book-match two, four and sometimes with luck, six boards. The top right sketch shows an example of non-book-matched panels. Dull and uninteresting. Almost always a mistake. The bottom sketch shows two-board book-match of English walnut root planks.