Author Topic: Worth having Catalpa tree milled?  (Read 3525 times)

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Offline mrFinpgh

  • Posts: 532
Worth having Catalpa tree milled?
« on: September 28, 2021, 11:41 PM »
I just bought a piece of vacant property in the city. The plan is to eventually build our house on it. At the back corner of the lot is a tallish (3+ stories) Catalpa tree that is growing on both my neighbors and my land. The roots are apparently beginning to lift some of the neighbors patio and it might be leaning a bit. 

They've expressed an interest in splitting the cost of having the tree taken down.  I think the diameter is wide enough that it might yield some usable lumber.  I haven't had a chance to take a close look, but I'm guessing the trunk is about 20" wide at chest height.

My first thought was that it would be cool to have the tree taken down and milled into lumber to be used for furniture or trim in the new house. I like Catalpa - it has an interesting grain and smells nice when you plane it.  Apparently it's a good performer with ground contact. On the other hand, it's about as hard as cedar, scratches if you wink at it, and doesn't have great stiffness, so not necessarily ideal for applications that might need some strength. It seems a waste to just have it disposed of, though.

But here's the thing - this isn't a very big piece of land. It's about 5800 sf, which is smaller than some people's houses.  It's also going to eventually (hopefully sooner than later) be a construction site and having a stack of drying lumber is going to get in the way. Setting up for properly air drying and stacking all that lumber is going to take time. Protecting it from the elements is going to be a bit of a task, and I certainly won't be going around every day to check on it. I'm imagining a big pile of stickered lumber in the middle of a  city lot and it seems a bit unreal. So I'm not sure if it would be worthwhile to do all this to obtain a few hundred bdft of wood, given that I currently go through less than 200 bdft per year.

Is there some use for Catalpa that I'm not thinking of, or a way to have the tree be more than just destined for the landfill or woodchipper? 

Thanks,
Adam

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Offline Peter_C

  • Posts: 1382
Re: Worth having Catalpa tree milled?
« Reply #1 on: September 29, 2021, 01:56 AM »
Sounds kinda like redwood, which is a beautiful wood.

Catalpa has beautiful grain and is rot resistant. What more do you want? Great for ground contact and building fences.

Offline Tinker

  • Posts: 3782
Re: Worth having Catalpa tree milled?
« Reply #2 on: September 29, 2021, 04:00 AM »
If you do take it down, stand back. The shoots from the stump will grow back will grow back will grow back >>>>>>>>>>>>>
Tinker
Wayne H. Tinker

Offline Yardbird

  • Posts: 377
Re: Worth having Catalpa tree milled?
« Reply #3 on: September 29, 2021, 11:45 AM »
If you are doing this to save money, don't.  If you want to add a special feature to your house, then this would be an excellent way.  The fact that it is so soft means it probably would not be good for trim.  But you could finish a ceiling with this wood (over drywall to cut air filtration) or a wall in a family room. 

A portable mill could come on site and cut the logs.  Often these operations also have kilns, or have kiln connections. 

When you cut the tree down into logs, be sure to seal the end of the logs to prevent splitting as the log dries.  Some logs will split the entire length of the log if not sealed. 


Offline JeffSD

  • Posts: 33
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Re: Worth having Catalpa tree milled?
« Reply #4 on: September 29, 2021, 12:19 PM »
From the descriptions in The Wood Database it sounds like a keeper, provided you can give it some protection during the initial drying process.

"Catalpa is a somewhat underrated hardwood, not seen too often in lumber form. Unlike most other common carving woods, such as Butternut or Basswood, Catalpa is resistant to decay, and is more suited to outdoor carvings than other domestic species. Additionally, Catalpa has superb stability, with very low shrinkage rates, (though initial drying can be problematic, with checking a common problem on unsealed pieces)."

https://www.wood-database.com/catalpa/

https://www.wood-database.com/wood-articles/ash-wood-black-white-and-everything-in-between/

Adam, your idea of using a tree, that stood on your lot for many years, in your new house is pretty cool. As mentioned, it's probably a bit soft for furniture or trim in heavily trafficked areas, but it's actually harder than Redwood and could be a unique part of your build. Good luck!

Offline squall_line

  • Posts: 1643
Re: Worth having Catalpa tree milled?
« Reply #5 on: September 29, 2021, 04:07 PM »
If you are doing this to save money, don't.  If you want to add a special feature to your house, then this would be an excellent way.  The fact that it is so soft means it probably would not be good for trim.  But you could finish a ceiling with this wood (over drywall to cut air filtration) or a wall in a family room. 

A portable mill could come on site and cut the logs.  Often these operations also have kilns, or have kiln connections. 

When you cut the tree down into logs, be sure to seal the end of the logs to prevent splitting as the log dries.  Some logs will split the entire length of the log if not sealed.

I had a 30" DBH ash, 17' long along with a 24" DBH maple that was around 8' long.  They were victims of a storm and had to come down anyway, so I had the tree people leave them behind and a portable mill came in to mill them.  The portable mill I used has his own kiln at his property out in the country.

I had talked to another portable mill with sorta the same deal; he had a kiln at his property and could either mill on-site or load up the logs and mill at his place and then dry.  I paid the guy I was in contact with first; the second one seemed pretty okay with milling and drying and keeping a percentage of the lumber as payment for the work.  I didn't have time to determine if I was getting a good deal out of that, and he was pretty pushy, which led me to believe that I was getting the short end of the stick.

The lumber is still at the kiln, air-drying for 3-6 months before going in.  I'm sure I'll find out it's dry right around the time of our first ice or snow storm of the season (I honestly half-expected to get a call or text while my wife was delivering our son a couple of weeks ago, the timing has been that ironic on this whole project).

Everything @Yardbird said above was true in my situation.  I don't know that I'll ever go through all of the lumber I get, and it's going to be a PITA to store once it's dried, but I wanted to have something to commemorate the storm and honor the trees that had shaded this house for the last 60 years.  In my head, I'll be able to sell some of the lumber and at least hopefully break even on the milling and drying.  I won't ever break even if I include the cost of taking the trees down and grinding the stumps, but they didn't come down by choice, so I don't count that cost right now.

Offline mrFinpgh

  • Posts: 532
Re: Worth having Catalpa tree milled?
« Reply #6 on: October 01, 2021, 07:12 PM »
Thanks everybody.  I'm going to at least explore the possibility.  I do like the look of Catalpa and can imagine using the wood to do some outdoor furniture, given its stability and resistance to rot.

Biggest challenge will be finding someone locally who would be able to handle the drying.. I think leaving it stacked in the yard wouldn't be great.

Thanks,
Adam

Offline mrFinpgh

  • Posts: 532
Re: Worth having Catalpa tree milled?
« Reply #7 on: October 29, 2021, 01:30 PM »
I finally made it back over to the property during daylight hours today and had a chance to take a look at the tree up close.

At 4' high, it measures about 24" in diameter.  It is leaning much more than I realized!

I've read differing opinions on the viability of trees like this : some folks say they are going to have too much tension and be difficult to mill into usable lumber. Other folks say that by the time it's done drying that it will be mostly ok, as long as it's dried correctly and with a lot of weight on top.  I'd guess that there's at least 16-24 feet of log overall.





Of course, Im also a little skeptical about whether this tree is actually on my property at all!  My property is on the other side of the fence, but I believe the fence is not exactly on the property line.

Offline squall_line

  • Posts: 1643
Re: Worth having Catalpa tree milled?
« Reply #8 on: October 29, 2021, 01:47 PM »
I finally made it back over to the property during daylight hours today and had a chance to take a look at the tree up close.

At 4' high, it measures about 24" in diameter.  It is leaning much more than I realized!

I've read differing opinions on the viability of trees like this : some folks say they are going to have too much tension and be difficult to mill into usable lumber. Other folks say that by the time it's done drying that it will be mostly ok, as long as it's dried correctly and with a lot of weight on top.  I'd guess that there's at least 16-24 feet of log overall.

Of course, Im also a little skeptical about whether this tree is actually on my property at all!  My property is on the other side of the fence, but I believe the fence is not exactly on the property line.

What's fun is that it's not leaning as much as it's growing that way from the start...  There may be quite a bit of tension in the wood because it's holding itself up instead of growing straight upright; I can't remember which page of "Understanding Wood" discusses this, but it's in there if you have the book or access to it.

In many states, any part of a tree that is within the boundaries of your property lines is fair game for you to trim or cut at will, regardless of where the base of the tree originates.  Insurance doesn't always see it the same way inasmuch as they may or may not subrogate to neighboring property owners if the tree falls and causes a loss on your property.

IANAL; YMMV; opinions not valid in Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico.


*edit* Page 36-39 of the 2000 revision of Understanding Wood has a discussion about "Abnormal Wood", if you have a copy or access to a copy of the book.  The short version is that a tree leaning or sweeping from an angle up to vertical will have a pith that is significantly off-center in the trunk and considerable tension in the wood fibers as a result of that.  Milling wood from this type of situation can lead to severe crooks, abnormal splitting, and just overall unpredictable results because of the variety of densities and tensions within the wood from one side of the tree to the other.
« Last Edit: October 29, 2021, 11:32 PM by squall_line »

Offline Alanbach

  • Posts: 736
Re: Worth having Catalpa tree milled?
« Reply #9 on: October 29, 2021, 10:53 PM »
One option may be to do some internet research and see if you can find a chain saw artist in your area. If you are successful you could one or more sculptures made from it and / or maybe a really nice dished out bench seat. Not certain but I believe those guys carve green so no drying needed.