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Red Cedar Tree Trunk Planked For Fireplace Mantle

3 days ago

I just cut down a couple of cedar trees in my yard and am planning to repurpose the wood for a few projects. I want to plank one of the trunks for a fireplace mantle. My main concerns are when I should mill the log, and how long I should let it dry before installing. The trunk is 110" long and I am planning on going 3-4" thick on the face edge of the mantle. Plan to sticker planks in my garage. Garage is poured concrete walls, and concrete slab floor. Located in SE Nebraska for reference on climate cinditions. Any advise or tricks would be much appreciated

Comments (8)

  • NHBabs z4b-5a NH

    To reduce checking before you cut, wax the ends of the logs now. At that thickness, you might want to see about it getting kiln dried because it will check quite a lot at that thickness of cut.

  • rwiegand

    It's going to both check and move as it dries (whether air dried of kiln), so plan for that. Cut your slab both over thick (I'd do 5" for a 4" finished thickness) and long by at least a foot on each end. Or, plan to make a feature of the cracks that will appear, either the rustic look or fill them, perhaps with something contrasting and interesting. Air drying typically take one year per inch of thickness. Kiln drying wood that thick is typically pretty difficult and done successfully only by skilled and patient kiln operators. Getting that kind of care and long cycle for a single board is unlikely. Treat the ends with Anchorseal or equivalent.

    Aside from that, sticker it, keep it out of the sun and rain, and turn the boards every six months or so. Good luck!

    I recently rough turned some big bowls out of a cedar tree I cut down. They checked badly, despite reasonably careful treatment -- eg anchorseal on the end grain, packing with wet shavings etc. After a couple months the checks have closed back up and it's hard to see where they once were, so there's some pretty unusual differential shrinkage going on.

  • uncle_ruckus673

    Thanks for the tips! I have some thinner 6-ish" straight branches that I was thinking about cutting to the angle of where the sheetrock meets the brick of the fireplace. Thinking that will frame out the fireplace nicely. I will make sure to do those long to fill in at the edges of the mantel incase it does shrink that much in length. Right now. The main log is only about 5-6" longer than the existing mantle.

    If all else fails, i have another red cedar I'm dropping next weekend. That one has a trunk about 28" wide, and nice and straight for close to 12' from the ground.

  • Sara Malone Zone 9b

    We have mantles made from big pine slabs that we got from a local salvage yard. They are great. I think it's lovely that you are going to use your own tree for a mantle.

  • NHBabs z4b-5a NH

    The branches are likely to warp more than the trunk since the two sides of the branch responded differently to gravity, unlike the trunk which grows upright.

  • rwiegand

    Your boards will shrink very little in length, the suggestion to cut them long is because the primary checking will be at the ends and, assuming you don't want the cracks, you can cut them off. Branches will be wonkier, as NHBabs says, moving more both as they dry and later as well. I'd cut them well oversize, dry, then cut them down to near final size and let them equilibrate in the house for a couple weeks before final processing. They will have more seasonal movement than the main trunk in all likelihood, so plan your attachment methods accordingly-- if you anchor everything too firmly the wood will probably split later on.

    Sounds like a fun project!

    uncle_ruckus673 thanked rwiegand
  • uncle_ruckus673

    I didnt clarify in original post. The fireplace is located in the corner of the room. So the side edges of the mantle wont even show, as they will be flush against the wall. The 5-6" long is in reference to the face of the mantle, which is a good 18" wider than the back edge. I didnt even think about the gravity effect on the horizontal branches. May just rip those in half down the length, sticker, weigh down, and let sit in my garage for a year or 2 before angling off and installing(if they dont warp too much). Again, I really appreciate the comments. I would have messed this all up if I hadn't found this site. Will post photo of actual fireplace when I get home Friday so you guys can visualize what I'm talking about a little better.

  • klem1

    To be certain we are talking about the same species,my experience is with Juniperus virginiana, known as red cedar, eastern redcedar, Virginian juniper, eastern juniper, red juniper, pencil cedar, and aromatic cedar. I have built dozens of things from it and never once experienced movement during drying,after drying nor after project was complete. I air dry 1"-3" boards as little as 90 days between stump and using. I've never sawn and milled limbs because I know Oak,Walnut and Pine limbs never stop moving,even after 10 years. Most of my projects were boxes, chests and furniture with tight,mitered,finger and dove tail joints,100% glued. I've only experience two occasions where a joint separated. After close inspection,I concluded I overlooked twisted grain that caused separation in that spot. IMO,a mantel constructed from newly cut log would never move enough to notice. One thing's for certain,your shop will smell good! (:

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