Last week I paid a visit to RRAW Roughcut Lumber/Davison Hardwood Quality Specialist in Spencer, Indiana to see what had become of the massive oak burl they’d shown me a few months earlier. Back then they hadn’t sawn the log (beyond cutting it into two pieces – a 9’ section of trunk and the butt) but the very idea of burly oak was enough to get me salivating.
Walking up to the stickered 9’ slabs I felt like my 5-year-old self coming face to face with a gigantic stack of oatmeal graham cookies: overcome by desire. That buff pale-brown interior laced with swirls of gray! Those crisp, bubbly edges! That toothsome 2-1/2” thickness!
I’d felt the same desire 15 years ago on my first visit to the yard. A mutual friend had referred me to Joe Davison, who graduated from Purdue University in 1978 with a degree in forestry products and made a career out of seeing the potential in living trees and cut logs. Though most of his work has been procuring logs for the veneer industry, every so often he came across a gem he couldn’t bear to part with. He set those aside for his own use. By the time I found his operation, he’d begun selling figured hardwood to area woodworkers.
That’s how I ended up buying the stack of curly white oak I used to build a hallstand that turned into my first article for Fine Woodworking: When Joe planed a small section of a board I was hooked.
On the same visit, I bought a log of burly silver maple that made the top of a large custom refectory table and a fanciful piece I called Corona Plumosa (Feathery Crown), which Wendy Maruyama selected for inclusion in the Indiana State Museum’s juried furniture show in 2013. Buying those two – the curly oak and burly maple – was well beyond my budget, but I had to have them; I knew that whatever I made with that wood was going to be special.
In 2015 Joe began working with Ron Heckelsberg, his wife Raina, and their sons Austin and Wyiatt (RRAW) to expand the sawn hardwoods side of his operation.
They added a 60” sawmill and now saw slabs in addition to livesawn and straight-edge boards.
After kiln drying, the lumber goes into a storage building that will soon have a “storefront” selling slabs and boards to the public. If you follow them closely, you may have a chance to snap up a walnut slab up to 60” wide, a fiery bit of crotch cherry, or one of those 9’ slabs of oak burl direct, without a middle-man’s markup. And I haven’t even mentioned the 3’-plus-diameter cookies they’re planning to cut from the butt of that oak burl log.
Because this is a family business, Joe, Ron et al. can work closely with those interested in buying a whole log of sequenced boards for bookmatching or who simply want to build a piece out of wood from a single tree.
– Nancy Hiller