The Sentinel Tree

(I wrote this in late 2000)

They took most of the Sentinal down Thursday. The Sentinal is a 250 to 300 year old Sycamore - the oldest tree in San Jose. It had developed some kind of heart rot. Being located in the front yard of an old house, overhanging adjacent homes and a semi-busy street, the City ordered it taken down for safety reasons. They are going to try so save it though. It has an old sucker about three feet of the ground on one side. They plan on trying to cut all the diseased stuff and nurse the sucker back to health. In the heart of Silicon Valley, where last week is ancient history, it’s nice to know we are starting to value an old tree. Perhaps we are growing up after all.

With a girth of about 12 feet from the ground up to about 15 feet, all gnarly and lumpy, then into three main branches, each three or four feet around, it climbed and branched out to rise perhaps 80 feet. I’m guessing about the height since they’d done most of the topping by the time I got there.

The tree crew was giving away pieces for the asking - most being cut to 6” pieces as souvenirs. I managed to get two 4 foot pieces, each about 10” in diameter and one oval piece 12x14” by about three feet. This stuff was heavy.

When I got home I spent some time checking out the pieces trying to decide how best to cut them. Set up the bandsaw with two roller stands on the infeed side, one on the out feed side and my workbench behind that roller. Found a redwood board long enough to straddle the rollers and used it as a sled.

Friday night I did the sawing with a 1” Timberwolf 2TPI blade. Wedged a minilogs to keep it from rocking on the redwood sled and started cutting. It felt strange cutting something that goes back 15 generations. My ancestors back then were in Connecticut and had never heard of what is now California though one would later become the first anglo alcalde of the town of San Jose.

When I turned off the shop lights Friday night the first two mini logs where now a small stack of 4/4s, give or take a quarter.

This morning I did the fat log. It posed a bit of a problem since it was a damn heavy oval, the long axis being too big for my 12” saw capacity. Took a pass off the long axis to get a flat face and allow the rest to fit the max saw’s opening of 12”.

Each slice was a treasure hunt, turning up interesting contrasts between the sapwood and the heart wood. Got two book matched pieces with some nice medular rays and a pair with matching large tight knot.

With luck, in a year or so, some of these pieces will end up as jewelry boxes or drawer fronts for something. They’ll tell me what they should be when the time comes. Hope by then I’ll be able to do them justice and make something worth keeping for a generation or two - wishful thinking.

Over a year has gone by since The Sentinal mini-logs were sawn. Being impatient, I dried them way to fast so most twisted or cupped. The bright colors in the freshley sawn wood has disappeared, leaving almost white barely visible grain. But a few pieces have some nice medular rays. I've used a little to turn handles for a bow saw I made.

Here are some "year later" pictures of some of the same pieces shown above

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