Milling Valley Oak

Advice on getting some value out of a bodacious tree trunk from the hills outside San Francisco. January 17, 2011

I am about to get this log. I will have to quarter it to fit it on my mill. I was told it is valley oak. Does anyone have experience with this wood? I would hate to go through all this and end up with some nicely milled firewood.

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From contributor B:
Never heard of it - where are you located? Does it turn nicely?

From the original questioner:
This tree is coming out of the San Francisco Bay Area. I can't tell you how it turns. I have never worked with it before.

From contributor L:
How wide is it? Get someone to slab it for table tops.

From the original questioner:
It's at least 4' thick. I am not in a position to slab it and hang on to it for years to dry. I have been quoted $100 per cut or $150/hr. Not something I am willing to do at this time. Maybe after I am up and running and have an ongoing customer base.

From contributor T:
It's a shame to see such a queen go up a chimney. At least take some cookies for end grain tops. End grain oak cookies will check and move plenty, but if you seal them thick enough and slice them no more than 3", you should still have something workable in a couple of years that could make some stunning tables.

If you have access to a private lake or stock tank or something, you could dump it in there until you are ready for it. I don't think one oak log would bleed enough tannin to hurt the cattle.

From the original questioner:
After a little searching, I found a picture of a slab on California Urban Lumber. Someone told me that it has some nice tiger stripes if quartersawn.

From contributor I:
That is not valley oak in those pictures on California Urban Lumber. That is walnut as far as I can tell.

From contributor G:
Maybe it's Garry oak. Protected here in BC.

From contributor R:
I've been told the alternate name for it is "mush oak." It may be attractive for furniture, but it is brittle. I wouldn't put it anywhere you need strength. Not sure about how it wears, i.e. flooring.
From the original questioner:
Contributor I, that's what I thought it looked like, but who am I to question?

From contributor N:
Wikipedia has two interesting statements of the tree - one that it is the biggest of oaks and the other that it has no comment on its millabilty. One could assume that its very size would make it attractive if it is at all so; but if it has no millability features by now, it probably doesn't have much as a general rule. But what a shame to see such a beast of a log go away without trying! Do these trees rot out quickly, leaving nothing to work with? Or do they tear up blades? I hope you can find someone that would take a chance on it.

From contributor M:
The pictures at the California Urban Lumber site is not walnut, it is oak. We saw large (4 foot + dbh) Oregon white oak, also known as Garry's oak (Quercus garryana) which looks the same when sawn but not dried yet. Your tree is quite old (if it was Oregon oak, at least 200+ years old). Do not firewood this tree - it deserves better, and although the wood will be slow to dry and probably prone to warp and some check, it will make outstanding large slabs (air dry very slowly and keep out of the sun).

Valley oak is Quercus lobata.

From contributor Y:
I had a valley oak milled up about three years ago. I had it quartersawn, as my first attempt with another valley oak cut flatsawn was disastrous. Quartered it has dried with very little degrade (a little end checking) with some tiger stripe figure, although not what you see on white oak. I have planed and jointed some for a furniture project. It has remained flat with no signs of honeycombing or any other defects. It was milled 4/4, stickered and kept out of the wind. Beautiful stock, way too nice to burn. I highly recommend quartering it.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor A:
I have milled both valley oak and Oregon white oak with similar results. If you want to slab it, take only the center (vertical grain) slabs, no pith. Dimensional lumber is beautiful, but has to be quarter sawn. Sticker it close, keep it covered and lightly vented, bow three times to the east and you stand a chance of some really nice boards. Keep in mind that bugs really enjoy oak and consider kiln drying to kill them after a year of air drying. Valley oak is one of the local turnerís favorites and he is very talented at natural edge bowls. I have turned some valley oak and it emits a great aroma and turns like butter when green.