Family Garry oak finds value after the fall

Vancouver Island Woodworkers Guild makes more of felled trees

While John Tucker didn’t want the Garry oak on his property to come down, it had grown old and diseased.

That didn’t mean it had lost its value.

Tucker finished the felled tree into a circular dining table for his son, who grew up with the tree at the family home on St. Patrick Street.

The golden tones and interesting patterns in the oak create a look unlike other woods, but “character is a good thing,” Tucker says. “No other oak looks like it, I don’t think.”

Tucker is pleased the family’s connection to the tree continues with his son and daughter-in-law, living on in something useful and beautiful.

“The fact that it came from our own garden … I’m happy that they will have it and enjoy it,” Tucker says.

He is concerned about the loss of oaks in the region – the slow-growing trees are replanted, but take decades to reach a significant size.

“Garry oaks are magnificent trees,” Tucker says. “Unlike, say, chestnuts they give exactly the degree of shade we need here. They are found nowhere but here, where their predominance is a result of indigenous agricultural practices (as part of camas meadows). Those practices ensured the survival of the species, since young living trees were able to replace old dying ones. Our practices, conversely, ensure their destruction. We will never recover the oak canopy.”

Tucker is part of the the Vancouver Island Woodworkers Guild, which operates a reclamation program for significant felled trees.

“It seems worth honouring these oaks by saving their wood for furniture making. It’s not the ideal solution, but at least it means that our children can still enjoy their benefits.” he says.

Tucker urges homeowners with significant trees coming down to contact the guild. While the log may need to be a certain size to warrant retrieval, the recent acquisition of a trailer makes smaller trees accessible for members.

“An awful lot of them are recoverable because they’re so big, given their age,” Tucker says.

The guild picks up suitably sized Garry oaks and other trees and has them milled, a process somewhat costly in volunteer labour – not to mention haulage and milling charges. The resulting lumber is sold periodically by the guild.

“Not only does wood recovery make our Garry oaks available to crafts people, but the money its sales generate is used to provide a prize and a grant to the Fine Furniture Making program at Camosun, as well as contributing wood to local schools,” Tucker says. “Surely all of these benefits argue against the almost universal practice of turning fallen oaks into firewood, a trivial use of a remarkable resource. So let the guild know when an oak comes down. Something worthwhile may come of the loss.”

Because the Garry oak wood tends to warp, kiln drying isn’t a good option. Left to dry naturally, the process can take many years, so other options are being explored, Tucker says. He encourages woodworking hobbyists or those looking to learn more to contact the guild.

“There’s an incredible amount of knowledge there,” he says.

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