Alder in Chair Making (or other joinery?)

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CaptainBarnacles

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Hi All,

We have a small stream that runs through our garden and during the last round of flooding we were gifted a large (in proportion to the size of the stream) alder log. It's about 16" diameter, almost 20' long and perfectly straight. I am faced with the task of lifting it the 4 or 5 feet out of the stream and then processing it for use. I don't have any heavy lifting gear so it isn't going to come out in one piece, it's very green and therefore very heavy.

At some point in the future I'd like to start making "windsor" and stick chairs , my questions are; Is alder particularly useful for making quality chairs? Given the size of the log I wouldn't get full seat blanks out of it so would it be any good for use in the round section components? Secondly, If it's not so good for chair making how would you process it for use in other projects? I have a lathe so I could always use more bowl and spindle blanks but I don't hear much of turned alder pieces, is that for a good reason? My bandsaw will handle up to 12" tall so I could probably process it into boards but I would only be able to handle 4-6' lengths safely (possibly 8' if I get some help).

Thanks,
Paul
 

Cabinetman

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I think you’re being very modest about the size of your stream! Just been thinking about how to get that log out it’s going to be very heavy. First thought is to cut it in half, 10 feet is long enough for most jobs or you could do eight and 12. Then if it was me I Think I would anchor two ropes across the garden level with the logs ropes down the bank around the log and back up then with winches a bit on each at a time, as you pull the rope up the log will roll up the bank and onto the top. Maybe use truck tie down straps?
Best of luck, when I built a Greenwood chair we split the wood from a 10 inch log just long enough for the longest part. Ian
Alder? Sorry don’t know.
 

Jameshow

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I think that tree was washed down stream from my property can I have it back please!!!

In all seriousness Tony Konovaloff the hand woodworker uses alder extensively.

His website has some if the best free woodworking stuff on the web Paul Sellars move over!

Cheers James
 

John Brown

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I have no interest in defending Paul Sellers from all the criticism, although I've also nothing against him, but why do so many people insist on spelling it Sellars?
Is that a more common spelling in the UK( I would guess not), or is it some veiled insult that goes over my head?
 

profchris

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I have no interest in defending Paul Sellers from all the criticism, although I've also nothing against him, but why do so many people insist on spelling it Sellars?
Is that a more common spelling in the UK( I would guess not), or is it some veiled insult that goes over my head?

Don't think it's an insult - both spellings are common. And Sellars and Yateman wrote "1066 and all that", a history text (of sorts).

I think I'd write Sellars automatically, unless I checked.

BTW, I find his style too slow for me, but full of good stuff. I don't take sides in the various religious wars over sharpening etc.
 

planesleuth

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It's not good for making Windsor chairs, definitely not the seats. Alder is just about the softest hardwood but because of its pore structure works well and takes finishes well. We never used it in any chair construction. It does not have the integrity to take the stresses over time. It is important to use timber of different moisture contents when constructing Windsors and Alder doesn't fit with that very well. It always seems to be very wet or very dry. So it's Elm for seats, Apple, Ash, Beech or Yew for the rest. Nothing else will do. The old boys through the centuries never used Alder and their Windsor chairs have stood the test of time, so why use alder now?
 

Dee J

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There's a lot of dogmatism about the perfect wood types for specific traditional craft tasks, but whilst there are ideals - eg elm with knotted grain for chair seats and wheel hubs. That may be fine for 'ideal' or 'best' but poor folk (then and now) make do with what's available. If it's more important to work with what you've got, with its associated history and process, then make a chair - - a bit thicker in dimensions and simpler in detail, but perfectly usable. I still use a couple of low stools dad made back in the 1970s - just simple softwood 3-plank design with screws into endgrain and a couple of skew nailed braces. Sometimes overthinking limits creativity. Have a look at some of the chunkier Welsh and Irish chairs on about — Christopher M. Schwarz
 

Robbo60

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Is the log still in the water? Seems to me easiest way is to get a rope on one end, phone a friend and two strong men of Dean should be able to get that end out. If it is 20' long and stream is only 4' deep it should "tip" nicely so all out of stream. leave to dry insitu or manoeuvre to a more convenient place. - or hire a winch
 

Ozi

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I know nothing about this, didn't even know the trees could be that big so I googled it and found this


Is this a case of two countries separated by a common language and calling different trees by the same name or can chairs be done? Not trying to contradict people who clearly know more than me but would like to learn something.

Take care with 20' logs in streams / chain saws in wet slippery places
 

Owd Jockey

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I've used quite a bit of local Alder, particularly in turning bowls. It turns very easy in its green state and has a nice grain pattern. I "rescued" some quite large pieces when a power company cut down a few Alders that were encroaching onto power lines. Most of the pieces ended up in a local stream and it took some effort to extricate them from the stream and get them home. I stored some of the pieces in garage in my garage and over a couple of years developed lovely spalting, although at the same becoming very "punky".
 

CaptainBarnacles

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I think you’re being very modest about the size of your stream! Just been thinking about how to get that log out it’s going to be very heavy. First thought is to cut it in half, 10 feet is long enough for most jobs or you could do eight and 12. Then if it was me I Think I would anchor two ropes across the garden level with the logs ropes down the bank around the log and back up then with winches a bit on each at a time, as you pull the rope up the log will roll up the bank and onto the top. Maybe use truck tie down straps?
Best of luck, when I built a Greenwood chair we split the wood from a 10 inch log just long enough for the longest part. Ian
Alder? Sorry don’t know.

At the moment it's just a babbling brook with about 4" of water in the deepest part, during the flooding it was almost 5' deep. I am perplexed as to how it got here though as there are some sharp bends further upstream. Like your idea for hauling it out, the banks are vetical so it will take some pulling but I see how the principle works, perhaps using the car to pull would do it.

Its not strong enough for chairs, great to practise with and works well with sharp tools.

I thought that might be the case as I've never heard of it being used in chair making. Like you say though, good for practicing with.

I think that tree was washed down stream from my property can I have it back please!!!

In all seriousness Tony Konovaloff the hand woodworker uses alder extensively.

No you can't, but if you want to come and get it out of the stream I'll go halves with you :D

I've never heard of him but I'll check him out, thanks.

It's not good for making Windsor chairs, definitely not the seats. Alder is just about the softest hardwood but because of its pore structure works well and takes finishes well. We never used it in any chair construction. It does not have the integrity to take the stresses over time. It is important to use timber of different moisture contents when constructing Windsors and Alder doesn't fit with that very well. It always seems to be very wet or very dry. So it's Elm for seats, Apple, Ash, Beech or Yew for the rest. Nothing else will do. The old boys through the centuries never used Alder and their Windsor chairs have stood the test of time, so why use alder now?

Where does one source elm suitable for chair seats these days? I've tried all of my local sawmills (I think!) and they all laughed at me. As alder isn't suitable for chair use I think it'll get cut into bowl blanks, planks and firewood.

my best "Sunday" clogs are made from Alder....
when I unpack em I post a Photo....

One book I read (it might have been one of Ray Tabor's) said that alder was a good wood looking for a purpose. The only use cases he could list were charcoal and clog making!

There's a lot of dogmatism about the perfect wood types for specific traditional craft tasks, but whilst there are ideals - eg elm with knotted grain for chair seats and wheel hubs. That may be fine for 'ideal' or 'best' but poor folk (then and now) make do with what's available. If it's more important to work with what you've got, with its associated history and process, then make a chair - - a bit thicker in dimensions and simpler in detail, but perfectly usable. I still use a couple of low stools dad made back in the 1970s - just simple softwood 3-plank design with screws into endgrain and a couple of skew nailed braces. Sometimes overthinking limits creativity. Have a look at some of the chunkier Welsh and Irish chairs on about — Christopher M. Schwarz

Good point. If I'm going to put countless hours into a project though I'd rather be using the "right" wood for the job. That said I have several much-loved pieces of furniture in the house made from cheap or scrap timber.

Is the log still in the water? Seems to me easiest way is to get a rope on one end, phone a friend and two strong men of Dean should be able to get that end out. If it is 20' long and stream is only 4' deep it should "tip" nicely so all out of stream. leave to dry insitu or manoeuvre to a more convenient place. - or hire a winch

It is still in the water but now the brook is only about 4" deep it's easy enough to get in and work on it in situ. I'm tempted to leave it there (it's high and dry at the moment, but in the shade) until it floods again, chuck a rope around one end and drag it out with the car. If I tried doing that now though I'd carve a great gouge through the bank side.

I know nothing about this, didn't even know the trees could be that big so I googled it and found this


Is this a case of two countries separated by a common language and calling different trees by the same name or can chairs be done? Not trying to contradict people who clearly know more than me but would like to learn something.

Take care with 20' logs in streams / chain saws in wet slippery places

That's interesting. I'll have a look at that. Like you say, it may be a different species under a common name. I also know that there are several varieties of Alder so maybe some are more suitable than others. I also imagine that if it's grown in more northerly latitudes it may be more dense??

I've used quite a bit of local Alder, particularly in turning bowls. It turns very easy in its green state and has a nice grain pattern. I "rescued" some quite large pieces when a power company cut down a few Alders that were encroaching onto power lines. Most of the pieces ended up in a local stream and it took some effort to extricate them from the stream and get them home. I stored some of the pieces in garage in my garage and over a couple of years developed lovely spalting, although at the same becoming very "punky".

I've pulled numerous pieces of wood out the stream, often alder, and some were too far gone to do anything with but some have been fantastic lumps. This is by far the biggest though and it looks to be very recently cut. I have usually managed to get them out with ropes and help from my wife and kids. This one though is going to take a bit more.

I like the idea of the spalting but I am learning (from the few pieces of beech that I have) that there's a fine line between spalting and rotting. I learned from Colwin Way that it's possible to speed up the spalting process and make the effect more profound but standing the ends of boards in chicken/turkey muck for a few weeks. I might have to give that a try. Yet another bonus of of keeping chickens 😁
 

John Brown

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Don't think it's an insult - both spellings are common. And Sellars and Yateman wrote "1066 and all that", a history text (of sorts).

I think I'd write Sellars automatically, unless I checked.

BTW, I find his style too slow for me, but full of good stuff. I don't take sides in the various religious wars over sharpening etc.
Yes, he does come across as slow, but I think that's fairly deceptive, as he appears to be able to make a poor man's rebate plane in about 20 minutes. Maybe there's some fierce aggressive editing going on...
 

Inspector

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I like the Red Alder that grows in Western Canada and the US. Not sure how it compares to the soggy log you have. I've used it to make small tables and wouldn't hesitate to use it for most other furniture. It is soft but most pine is softer. It looks nice on it's own but with stains can be made to look like Cherry or Walnut. It will spalt fast if you leave it on the ground so I would get it pulled out off the creek as soon as you can, cut into boards and get it stickered to dry. If it has started spalting it makes nice bowls and cabinet door panels.

Pete
 

Trainee neophyte

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If I had to get get a yuge log out of a river, I would probably put two bits of wood from the top of the bank down into the river at 45ish degrees to use as a ramp. Rope at either end of your log and slide up and out (a second pair of hands would make life easier, obviously).

Your river may not agree with this technique. ..
 

pidgeonpost

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I used tons of Alder years ago, but only as firewood, and it was at best OK at that. Like the OP, we had a stream through our land, and keeping the Alders under control seemed endless. It turns orange very quickly when split. I'd only ever heard of being used for clogs and the heads of brooms and brushes.
Good luck getting it out of the stream - been there, done that, got the wet T-shirt. ;)
 
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