I'm new to woodworking and have recently been given the opportunity to pick up free logs of a recently felled oak tree. (I believe logs is the proper term here, correct me if I'm wrong. Cords? Slabs?)

I have been on the hunt for this opportunity for a while as i have been thinking up projects that would take advantage of this opportunity. I want to make a coffee/side table with the widest piece of the trunk, bar stool seats, and maybe some bowl and spoons carving projects while its green as well as anything else i can come up with along the way.

My concern is that i go and move all these big heavy pieces of oak only to realize that the pieces just aren't suitable for what i have in mind. I certainly don't want to waste oak just for being a foolish novice.

Can anyone provide any advice or links on how to pick good large logs/slabs of lumber? Particularly relating to any project i mentioned above?

Picture of the cut tree:


  • Look at the related questions for concerns about how the wood is dried. Splitting will be a major concern in preparing the wood. Also remember that if you use a cross section of the trunk as a tabletop it must be thick enough since the wood is not strong when oriented in its vertical direction.
    – Ashlar
    Commented Mar 31, 2016 at 15:14
  • Thank you thats interesting about the thickness of the cross section since that is what i was planning on using. Is there any type of rule or equation to determine proper tickness based on width and typical usage to prevent any sag or distortion?
    – exit_1
    Commented Mar 31, 2016 at 15:25
  • 1
    A quick look at available info on the thickness needed shows that this is not a simple question to address in a comment. To get a good answer or two, I suggest you ask another question on this specifically and include a sketch/picture that shows what you have in mind.
    – Ashlar
    Commented Mar 31, 2016 at 15:31
  • Thanks @Ashlar it looks like ill have to dig into that onve i get the lumber in front of me and can measure it up. I just got to make sure i pick suitable pieces.
    – exit_1
    Commented Mar 31, 2016 at 15:40
  • Cross section slices of a tree that are shorter than they are wide are known as cookies.
    – Otto
    Commented Nov 14, 2017 at 23:17

3 Answers 3


I would suggest finding a copy of R. Bruce Hoadley's Understanding Wood. He details how wood shrinks (and why logs splits radially or checks if left unattended). He also touches on how wood should dry if obtained when green/freshly cut and what part of the tree is used http://www.tauntonstore.com/understanding-wood-2nd-edition-r-bruce-hoadley-070490.html enter image description here

Generally the clearest wood is above the roots and below the first of the branches. Burls can occur anywhere and can be quite beautiful. Branches are usually avoided (see reaction wood https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reaction_wood ) but folks have found uses for most parts. The biggest factor to note is that full circles (across the full trunk) will usually split. see https://wunderwoods.wordpress.com/2014/10/19/round-cut-tops-almost-always-split/ https://wunderwoods.files.wordpress.com/2014/10/dscf6026.jpg

depending on how the wood is cut will determine how it will shrink. enter image description herehttp://www.nzffa.org.nz/assets/812/shrinkage2.jpg


Trying my best to answer this for you. If you are looking at getting a good piece of wood I would watch the grain in the wood and knots. With knots no matter where they are can be hard/bad to cut through. Every time I use the table saw it wants to kick back while getting really hard difficult because the grain pattern around the wood can pinch the blade. So avoid those in wood unless you want them in and you simply cut around it. On the end of the wood you should look at the grain pattern as well. You can tell if it is going to warp by looking if there are more curvy grain patterns over straighter lines. Usually want to cut them into 3 inch strips, rearrange them so they do not warp, and glue, if you are getting what i am saying. I believe I covered the whole thing. By doing this it should not warp the table top and your set.

  • Thank you for your answer. I knew about handling knots but not how to anticipate warping like that. My biggest concern is how to handle shakes in the cross section. Should it always be avoided? Kept to a minimum? Hazardous to the integrity of the protect?
    – exit_1
    Commented Mar 31, 2016 at 15:28

It's pretty simple, at least to start with; find pieces with minimal cracking and splitting.

Once you have the wood, you have to dry it because it will be moist. It will have a strong sappy odor.

The best way to dry it is to cut off all the bark, then seal the ends with "lumber sealer". You want all the moisture to escape only radially, not through the ends. It will take about 2 years for the wood to dry and then it will be ready for use. If you put the wood out on sunny days it will dry faster, but do not let it get rained on. If you put the lumber out in the sun, rotate it every 30 minutes so it gets evenly heated. Do not allow one side to get hot.

If you are thinking two years is a long time, that is the price of good lumber and why good hardwood is expensive: the drying. Commercial lumber is kiln dried which damages the wood and makes it inferior compared to air dried, aged lumber. Green lumber is MUCH cheaper than dried lumber.

I remember the first time I bought green lumber, which was a bunch of white oak beams I bought. The lady says, that will be eighty-one, sixty-seven please. I was like, wow, the beams are nice but $8000 seems like a lot (I had been expecting about $1000). She answered, no, $81 dollars and 67 cents.


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