Our wood comes from trees that were already down either due to disease or wind. We really like them when they’ve been down for awhile, because the decay process produces beautiful effects and figures in the grain. Most wood needs to dry for some time before it can be used. Natural cracking will occur as it does, and we like a slow natural drying process to keep the cracking to a minimum. With our portable mill, we can mill slabs on site before we bring them to our shop if we need to.
We use a portable milling system for both planks and round slabs. The boards are pretty rough after the chain saw has made its way through, so after we deal with the bark, the next step is to spend some time with our planers. Planers lead to sanding, starting out fairly coarse and working toward very fine, for the smoothest possible finish.
As far as bark goes, the first consideration is the variety of tree. Trees with very thick bark seem to part with their bark fairly easily — to the point where it is very difficult to keep it intact. In these cases we work to remove the bark while preserving the shape and contours that lay just below. If possible and practical, though, we prefer to leave the bark. It can make a very striking outline, and accent for the art piece.
We rarely have any preconceptions about what we will make until we have opened up the tree to see what its grain looks like. We consider the size of the slab (obviously the center slice is the largest, etc). It there are any good patterns such as coloring, spalting, ribboning, etc. we give some thought to how the patterns can best be enhanced in the piece itself.