"Wood rats" give new life to fallen oak

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Seattle Woodturners come prepared!

Text by Donna Hawkey
Photos by Gary Hawkey 

This February storm brought out the snow shovels, but it also brought out the “wood rats.” One of them lives in Lake Forest Park.

On a walk to the LFP Third Place Commons, Holden Hawkey spotted a large downed tree and then discovered it was an old oak tree. He knew that oak is not very common in this area.

The "wood rats" as they call themselves, are from the Seattle Woodturners chapter who discover fallen, and many times remarkable, hardwood trees. They turn these trees into stunning pieces of art such as bowls, candlesticks, and other artifacts.

After approval from property owner Sarah, the Seattle Woodturners were there one Saturday morning to saw away.

While it’s very disheartening to lose a tree – but when the woodturners are interested in that tree - it becomes a prized beauty, and so it will live on in a repurposed way. 

Holden Hawkey saws through a tree section

Holden is a young adult, a wood rat and a beginner woodturner. He looks like he can sure use a chainsaw!

Seattle Woodturners have to be selective in what trees they accept, as not all wood can be used to turn and sometimes they have enough wood for a while, especially right after a storm, so Sarah was glad that her oak tree made the cut.

One of the woodturners will make Sarah a bowl as a keepsake of her oak tree and a thank you for the gift of the wood. Sarah has lived in LFP since 1958, and she planted that oak tree in 1977. 

Sarah planted the oak tree in 1977

Sarah says, “I was delighted to see the group collect the wood; they did a great job. I hated the thought it might just turn into firewood and add to our current load of polluted air."

Almost all done before each Seattle Woodturner member lines up in an orderly and good-natured fashion to select their oak piece in return for their diligent work.

But why are oak trees not abundant in our area?

In our region, many oak trees get overgrown by Douglas Firs. Under these conditions, the oaks can’t spread their big branches, and they don’t get enough sunlight. They can become susceptible to disease and insects and can weaken and topple in stormy weather.

Thus, the oak tree is at survival risk in the Pacific Northwest.

From the Forest Service:

“In the Pacific Northwest, we’ve lost about 95 percent of the oak and prairie habitat that existed in the early to mid-1800’s,” says Connie Harrington, a research forester with the Pacific Northwest (PNW) Research Station in Olympia, Washington. 
“Oak communities here are far more endangered than old-growth conifer forests because they were less common to begin with.”

Only one out of every 10,000 acorns receives the proper conditions to germinate and grow.

Philip Halling / Oak tree, near Kersoe
Wikimedia Commons
Every oak tree started out as a couple of nuts who stood their ground. ---Henry David Thoreau

Oak trees can live up to 200 years or more, and mature trees have the capacity of absorbing more than 50 gallons of water in one day. They are renowned for their hardwood strength.

If you’re interested in woodturning, stop by one of the Seattle Woodturners monthly meetings. They welcome all levels and all ages, and are passionate about introducing new students to this art form, and to the exceptional craft of being a woodrat!

There is also information about how to donate a special fallen tree or other wood.


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