paulownia tree

    An article written by Emmett Manley some time ago and reprinted here peaked my interest in the Paulownia tree, a tree and wood I knew almost nothing about. Coincidentally, I came into possession of three huge Paulownia logs. The results I have had with these logs may be of some interest and could motivate you to experiment with the wood, or maybe just the opposite. I don't believe anything said here differs much from the information Emmett presented, but I was foolish enough to experiment on a larger scale.

 

How I came into possession of four giant Paulownia logs:

     Obtaining those logs is a side story in itself and one I cannot resist telling. Like most woodturners I spend too much time looking for downed trees as I drive along the highway. At my age I should be spending more time watching the road.

    About two years ago I spotted four or five logs in a yard on a highway between my home and Jackson, Tennessee.  I thought they might be Poplar, which is of course a good practice material. They were in the 24-36 inch diameter range and 8-12 feet long. When I went back for closer inspection I determined they were the largest Paulownia logs I have ever seen.  After some effort I was able to make telephone contact with the man who owned the property. I asked if there was any way I might obtain one of the logs. He is a very polite and nice gentleman, but his answer was a firm no. He said he also has a small sawmill and he was going to saw them into lumber because the lumber is sought after by folks in Japan and brings very high prices.  Hmmm. I thought back to Emmett's article but kept quiet so as not to burst his bubble. I thanked him, wished him well and dropped the whole thing.

    Well, we pass that property about once a week.  For more than a year these logs remained where they were and it haunted me terribly.  During this time I learned that the man lives across the highway so one day this past spring I stopped just to chat with him and asked if anything had changed about his plans for the logs. “Oh no” was his immediate reply, “I am going to saw them into lumber, but I've just been too busy with my job, etc. etc.” We had a long and pleasant chat and I returned to my truck. As I was backing out I heard a tap on the window.  When I rolled the window down he said “Take those damned logs. I'm kidding myself. I have too many other irons in the fire to ever get around to sawing them.”  I tried to tell him I actually only wanted one, but I could tell he really wanted them all gone.

 

    I hurried home and got my equipment and my wife Glenda, who substitutes quite well as an extra hired hand and driver.

 

Now for the rest of the story.

     I sawed the best log into a couple large cants and a stack of one inch boards. I stacked it with the usual stickers to facilitate drying.

log on mill cants and boards boards
 First Log Well Underway  Wide Boards and a
Couple Cants for Turning
 Those Stickers are 24"

Some observations:

  • Even though the logs had been on the ground for about two years, there was no sign of decay except for some loose bark.

  • No sign of insect damage.

  • The wood was surprisingly heavier than I expected because it contained more moisture than my meter could measure.

  • Almost no end checking occurred as it dried.

  • After about two months the moisture content in the one inch boards was 4-5%. By comparison around here it would take more than a year for an oak, cherry or walnut board this size to air dry to maybe 10% moisture content.

  • I recently ran a 1" x 8" board through a drum sander.  It closely resembles ash, except it is incredibly light and soft.

  • It is so soft you can indent it with a thumb nail.

  • The dried boards are unbelievably light weight.

 

sanded 1x8TN
1" x 8" x 7' Lightly Sanded
Weighs 4 pounds

 

    In the meantime I was overly anxious to make something suitable to return to the man who gave me the logs so I jumped right in to try a couple wet bowl blanks. Turning wet Paulownia is not advised. My attempt at large bowls from moist blanks was a complete failure. The fibers tear out so badly it is a constant battle to keep them cleared off the edge of the tool. The very best and largest tenon I could make popped right off when I started hollowing the inside.  

busted tenon

 

I did have some success with a couple platters by rough turning them and letting them dry for a few days.

platter on lathe tear out round platter square platter

Square Platter
28" Corner to Corner

Tear Out Was
Impossible to Avoid,
But Sanded Out Fairly Well

Round Platter
18" diameter
Square Platter
28" diagonal

 

    Later I had limited success with rough turning a smaller calabash style bowl and waiting a month or so for it to dry out. Still it was virtually impossible to get the end grain smooth on the inside.

lidded bowl
Lidded Calabash Style Bowl
8" to top of knob
Lid is Black Walnut
Knob is Glass Made by Glenda

 

    One of my motivations for experimenting with these logs is to provide some 1" x 6" and 1" x 8" boards for Emmett Manley, because he has very good success making small hand mirrors that are amazingly light weight and have some very attractive grain patterns. 

Emmett mirrow

 

I also have a hand mirror in process and plan to finish it some day

mirror back mirror face

 

    The remaining logs will be sawed into boards and stored until someone finds the elusive ideal use for them.  Who knows?  Maybe some of those Japanese buyers will come by.  There has to be something really nice that could be made from these extremely light weight boards with excellent color and grain pattern and fairly good strength.

Crowley PageBreak

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Tuesday the 21st. Thanks for visiting Woodturners Unlimited.