Turn a log into a stool!
November 14, 2010 3:28 PM   Subscribe

My favorite tree went down in a huge storm here in Brooklyn and I recovered a log from it to turn it into a stool. It has been sitting on the ground for at least 3 weeks, but looks good, no rot. I did see some bugs and there is definitely dog pee on it. How should I clean it, make sure the bugs are out and then seal it up (polyurethane I assume). I'm a total novice at this and could use some advice!
posted by lockse to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
How big is it? If possible, turn it on a wood lathe to remove the outer layers to reveal a pristine stool.
posted by phrontist at 3:33 PM on November 14, 2010

Do you really want the bark on the outer edge?

What kind of stool are you envisioning - can you find an example photo? If you just want a slice with three legs added, that's fairly simple. If you want a bench-like construction, that might be more complex. If you want the whole log sitting on end, another thing still.
posted by amtho at 3:39 PM on November 14, 2010

Response by poster: It's about 4 ft tall and a foot and a half thick. It's big.

I want to keep the bark - so no sanding, right? Would you guys recommend taking it off instead?

I was thinking of just keeping it the way it was, no legs, just a stump.
posted by lockse at 3:49 PM on November 14, 2010

When you say "stool" do you just mean "I want a chunk of wood that I can sit on" or are you planning on doing something woodworkish with it?

A log will dry out faster from it's ends than it will from its edges and this will cause checking (little internal splits) which will make it less desirable from a woodworking point of view but, well, I have a 180 lb anvil sitting on just such a log right now and it's not going anywhere.

If you're just wanting a chunk of log to turn endwise and sit upon, I'd get a draw knife via E-bay, visit it with a file to give it a semi-decent edge and remove the bark and any rot with that. A lathe that could handle this (if it's what I'm thinking) would be prohibitively expensive. Then place it up off the ground (say on a couple pieces of 2x2) out of the elements (just keep the rain off of it really) and after a year or two seal the ends. Don't worry about the checking because when you have full annular rings it's pretty much a fact of life. (scroll down to just below "Cut" in the link to see what I mean)

If you're wanting to make it into lumber and actually build something out of it, I'd split it, cut it into chunks bigger than your plan calls for on a band saw and then paint the ends of everything and sticker stack it somewhere out of the rain so it can dry. Painting the ends forces it to dry slowly, from the faces of the planks you've made.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 3:57 PM on November 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

This may sound a little weird but this is what I'd do: Find a company that delivers firewood in your area. Get the contact number and the name of the owner - what you want to do is talk to someone who knows about drying firewood. I believe there is a process they use that would dry out/remove bugs from your stump (if memory serves I think it is just stored in a shed for a couple/few years. There maybe some sort of smoking or spray too). I have zero idea what this would cost. It should be way less than new furniture, though. Good luck!
posted by cestmoi15 at 3:59 PM on November 14, 2010

And here's what I get for not hitting refresh....

Keeping the bark thing is mostly an issue of species. Some woods will hang onto it pretty well, on others it will come off by itself pretty quickly. Getting it dry will be more important if you keep the bark because as long as it is moist it's going to be a desirable home to a mess of insects.

If the tree was alive when it fell, a surprising percentage of the weight of the log is water.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 4:08 PM on November 14, 2010

Response by poster: Yes, when I said "stool" I meant a chunk of wood I can sit on or put my feet on or a plant!

Now that I think about things, sanding this thing down would be a good idea - maybe make it a bit smaller and cleaner, there is a gash in the bark.

So, if I sand it down, does that clean it? (sorry if this is so obvious it's crazy i'm asking it)

In my mind I'm still thinking:

I need to clean it (no idea how - will try calling the firewood company - that's a great idea.)
Then i sand it
then I seal it.

Is that about right?

Does it really take two years to dry this thing out?
posted by lockse at 4:18 PM on November 14, 2010

You need to dry it. Yes, drying a large piece of wood takes a long time; that's one reason you cut and split firewood before storing it. Slower drying means less splitting, but you can't entirely avoid splitting regardless.

You could make a stool out of it before drying it, but as it dries it'll warp and split. That might be fine with you if you're willing to flatten off the ends again after a year or two.

If I were you, I'd take off any obviously bug or mold attacked bits then put it somewhere dry for a couple of months. Then cut the ends flat and start using it as a stool / stand / whatever. Don't seal it, though, since it's still drying. The ongoing changes in the wood will add to its rustic charm.
posted by hattifattener at 4:30 PM on November 14, 2010

I need to clean it (no idea how - will try calling the firewood company - that's a great idea.)

You don't really need to do anything other than remove the bark (you can leave it on, but it will only stay on for certain species of tree and if it has been sitting on the ground for three weeks, it is probably starting to rot underneath (and it might be harbouring bugs). There isn't much you can do about the dog pee.

Then i sand it

Yes, sand it however you like. I'd just give it a quick sand on the sitting surface and round the edge, but it is up to you.

then I seal it.

Yes, but make sure it is dry first. Polyurethane is a good choice, but there are many, depending on the look that you want. You could just use an oil if you want a more natural look. Talk to someone knowledgeable at a hardware store and they can help you choose a finish that will suit your tastes.

Does it really take two years to dry this thing out?

This depends a lot on the species. Two years is probably a safe bet, unless it is oak or some other fairly dense species (in which case three years might be better). Do you know what kind of tree it was?
posted by ssg at 5:34 PM on November 14, 2010

PEG It replaces water in wooden objects, which makes the wood dimensionally stable and prevents warping or shrinking of the wood when it dries. In addition, PEG is used when working with green wood as a stabilizer and to prevent shrinkage.
posted by hortense at 7:08 PM on November 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I recommend putting end grain sealer on the log before it drys. This page has a section on air drying logs.
posted by spork at 10:37 PM on November 14, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks everyone - this is awesome.
posted by lockse at 6:17 AM on November 15, 2010

Your project made me think of this gorgeous stool by Christian Liaigre. Might inspire you.
posted by Dragonness at 6:54 AM on November 15, 2010

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