Rollin and Betsy Russell are good friends who have told us many times that “one day” we will be taking down this huge walnut tree in our yard. We will call you when that day comes. Then one day, we got the call. It was being cut down by a tree service.
The tree was interesting in 2 ways. First the base of the immense trunk was completely hollow. Second, hollows in the trunk further up contained the remains of an old bee hive. While it had obviously been abandoned for some time, there was actually viable honey still contained within the hive. The tree service guys took a honey break to recharge their energy.
Our woodturning focused on two really nice crotch pieces from that tree.
“Crotch” figure, also called “Flame” or “Feather”, is created by the forces that are exerted within the tree to support a main branch where it joins the trunk. The compression process that strengthens the tree so it can support the branch causes the wood fibers to twist and compress, creating various figures and grains that can be very beautiful.
Capturing and maximizing the crotch figure in a log can be a little trickier than processing your average straight grain bowl blank. The first step is to create a chainsaw cut that bisects the 3 piths – the main pith of the trunk plus the piths of the 2 legs of the crotch – into essentially a “y”
If your log is symmetrical and you are lucky, you will get 2 matching bowl blanks.
The bowl can then be located on the cut face using a large compass. I like to see the crotch figure centered in the bowl. Often the maximum size must be compromised in order to get the most beautiful outcome.
The crotch figure occurs closest to the pith, and can vary greatly in intensity and depth; it is often quite shallow and care must be taken not to turn away the figured grain in shaping the bowl on the lathe. To retain the crotch figuring, the bowl blank should be positioned so that the pith side containing the figure becomes the bottom of the bowl. The faceplate gets mounted on the outer bark side which will become the top rim of the piece (some bark must be removed in order to create a flat surface to mount the faceplate).
As the bowl is shaped, the bark and pithy outer wood is removed, while the figured area becomes a part of the bottom (inside and out) of the bowl. If the figure is shallow, it can quickly disappear as one hollows out the interior of the bowl.
The 2 crotch logs from that “Honey” Walnut yielded 3 magnificent highly figured bowls, one of which now belongs to the happy Russell household.