Boxing the heart, 101

      Basic guidelines for sawing a maple log. June 20, 2000

Q.
I just got a maple log, 29 inches in diameter and 9 feet long. It has a gray center 8 inches in diameter. The rest is all white wood. I am still a rookie sawyer, and need your suggestions on how best to saw it.



Dan, there are sure lots of variables in this, but, for starters, pick the best-looking face, get it on top (if you are using a bandsaw) level it, make a cut, and see if there are any unwanted surprises. If it's all solid and a good grain, cut all the good boards you can get.

Then, turn it to the next best face and do the same thing. Then, start slabbing off the other faces and resaw them for the best you can get. Then get into that gray center, squaring it and cutting it to thicknesses you can use or market. You might just be surprised. It might be waste, but then again it might be something that somebody wants for "artistic" wood.

I've sawn some logs that my Dad would certainly have burned, and they turned out to be really "artistic," and somebody thought the boards were really rare and made beautiful things.



The method just described is called "grade sawing" and "boxing the heart." It is a good method to use, and I thought it was the industry standard until I read Gene's article on a newer, at least to me, way to "box the heart."

Start by sawing parallel to the bark on your best face, just like the method just described. Cut until the first sign of degrade. Then turn the log 180 degrees to the opposite face and repeat. Saw the other two sides and do what you can with the heart. The heart will be tapered at first, if you kept cutting parellel to the bark the whole time, so now you can square it up and do what you can.

I would hope Gene will correct any mistakes in my account of this method; it's always better to get it from the horse's mouth.



I get a few of these every year when the verticillium wilt kills a town tree.

I quarter them, then alternately saw the quarter faces. The first few boards have the heart on one edge, but it's easily trimmed. Sometimes, it even looks good, and I leave it. Eventually, you're down to a 4 x 4 rift piece, which is also good. The drawback is the time investment.



The technique I described and you have repeated was actually published by the U.S. Forest Products Lab in 1956!
Gene Wengert, forum moderator



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