We took a break from our chairmaking class this morning to visit Jennie Alexander in Baltimore, Md., and hear a bit about her progress on the third edition of “Make a Chair From a Tree.”
During Jennie’s presentation she showed us a curious mallet made from a local oak branch. It was turned like a froe club with the pith running through the dead center. This kind of mallet is, according to the normal rules of wood movement, not a good idea. Because wood moves more along the annular rings than across them, the mallet should split.
But this mallet was dry and perfect. No splits.
Jennie explained that she did this by turning the mallet while it was green, then she coated both ends of the mallet with a heavy layer of tallow. This, she said, forced the moisture to leave the mallet through the face grain of the mallet. (Usually the moisture prefers to leave through the end grain.) This, she said, is what prevented it from cracking.
This sort of conundrum has always fascinated me. And it’s a topic that I and a few other woodworkers will be covering in an upcoming podcast. (Yes, we’re starting a podcast, but it won’t be about the things we’re building in our shops, or tool reviews, or listener mail. Details to come.)
— Christopher Schwarz