Introduction: Make a Hardwood Floor That Looks 3D From Your OWN Trees
I have cut a lot of logs over the years and I have always been impressed at how beautiful some of the wood looks inside. I always wondered if there wasn't something I could do with it besides burn it for firewood. But how can you make anything from trees without the large scale professional tools and a mill? I discovered there is a way, but I warn you its not an easy project.
A perfect project for this idea is to make a hardwood floor with wood from locally grown trees. There are three common hardwood trees in northeast Montana, they are the Ash, the Siberian Elm and the Russian Olive. Russian Olive wood is probably the most distinctive being almost chocolate colored, it is a very beautiful wood. However virtually no one uses it for anything other than burning. Though it its the softest of the three woods it is still a hardwood so it will work for a floor. Russian Olive trees are usually not very big. They do not produce large straight trunks and they often grow crooked in many directions. This makes it a very poor candidate for milling or for even getting large pieces out of it. The Siberian elm is often thought of as a junk tree, a nuisance and/or a weed tree. It puts out huge amounts of seeds in the spring which sprout everywhere and the seedlings are tough to remove once they get a foothold. It usually grows in more urban areas. The deer love to eat it so you don't find to many of them in the wooded areas. There are many types of elms and elm wood is known to be a beautiful wood, but also a difficult wood to work with. It has the tendency to split, crack and warp so it is not used that often for wood projects. The only tree in the group that has a good reputation is the the Ash.
Almost all of the wood floors that you will come across are made of long boards. That's nice but it is a near impossibility to get long lengths from these trees, especially without any kind of mill. So what can you do with short pieces? I finally found an answer to that while looking up yet more information on hardwood floors. There is a tiling method that uses a rhombus (a diamond or squashed square) and it requires small pieces of 3 different types or colors of wood. A perfect fit for what I have. You can see more information on rhombus tiling at this Wikipedia site.
Cutting up logs and turning them into 2 inch diamonds, yep a crazy idea. That's what I am going to show you how to do in this instructable.
Step 1: The Chainsaw
For this job you have to start with a chainsaw.
I have worn out a lot of them, I actually prefer electrics, they are lighter, not as noisy, and turn off when you let the switch go. But for cutting these logs the way we are going to you should use a gas one. The electric just doesn't have the RPM to cut this much. You can do it but it will take you forever. I bought a new saw this summer, (Not a Craftsman) and now I have to call and get an RMA for it, it didn't last very long. So I am using my old reliable Craftsman. I didn't buy this particular saw, it was given to me because it was broken. However one of the wonderful things about craftsman is that you can get all the information and exploded diagrams on almost anything that has the Craftsman name. I dismantled it, found that it had a broken piston and ring. I ordered replacement parts from Sears and put it all back together. The thing never fails to start and I have used it for years. What can I say, it works.
One thing about chain saws to remember, the bigger they are, the more tired you get using them. You can cut all day with a medium size one and not feel that your arms are going to fall off. So unless you have really large logs and can afford an expensive saw a medium 16 or 18 inch one will work great.
I have 2 kinds of logs for this project, big ones and really big ones. Logs under 3 inches in diameter won't really work for getting finished dimensions of 2 inches. Anything over 4 or 5 inches will work pretty good for this but the way you cut the medium logs and the really big logs is different. Big logs can be cut into slabs. Since my finished size is going to be 2 inches I try and cut the slabs in 3 inch thick pieces. Small logs you can cut into two. The size you need to cut them to depends on how large a piece your band saw can handle.
A key to cutting straight is to have a sharp chain and a good bar. If some of the teeth on your chain are dull on one side it will cause your saw to cut in an arc, which means your cutting firewood and not wood for the floor
Cutting in the snow has its benefits. You can use the snow to brace the logs to keep them where you want them. And if you cut all the way through the log and into the snow it doesn't dull your chain.
A Y or fork or branching produces some of the more interesting grain patterns. Cut it straight through the center to make it manageable for your band saw. Don't try and cut from the top down straight through. The saw will wander all over. Start by cutting a line all the way down where you want your cut to go. That gives you a guide of sorts. Often when you cut like this the saw will cut out stringy wood. This is because you are cutting with the grain and rather than producing little flakes it scrapes out long strips. Much like a hand plan does. It can clog your saw so if it gets jammed up stop and clear it out. If you get to much of this shredded wood jammed around the saw sprocket it can cause your chain to fly off.
Step 2: Cutting Slabs and Blocks
These pictures make it look easy but its actually pretty difficult to cut straight lines through large tree trunks. You might want to practice on some firewood ones before you try any that you want to use for lumbar.
Start by measuring where you are going to make your cuts.You can just guess but in my experience you often will guess wrong. Its easier to use a tape measure.
My finished size is going to be 2 inches so I am making 3 inch cuts. That sounds like a lot of waste and actually it is, but any chain saw is going to take out a pretty wide cut because the bar is not narrow. In addition the cut is not going to be completely straight up and down. Even the best chain saw moves around while its cutting and takes out extra wood. Finally this slab is going to have to be processed further. It needs to be run through a planer in order to make the cut sides parallel so you will lose wood there too.
Start the cuts across the top following the lines you made. After getting these started, and I usually cut them as deep as the bar is, angle the saw down and cut lines down the front. These serve as guides so you can stay on a parallel cut.
Rock the saw between the cuts across the top and the cuts on the front. This allows you to keep both lines straight as you work down through the wood. You might notice that my trunk is sitting on top of another piece. This gives me clearance to cut the front lines. Often you will find your saw at about a 45 degree angle, cutting both top and front at the same time. Take your time and let the saw do the work.
Cut all the way down but don't cut a piece off until you have all the slots cut almost all the way. This gives you the weight of the whole log as a stabilizer until you get them all cut. Having another log underneath also prevents you from cutting into the ground and dulling your saw when you get to that last little bit. After you get through these you are ready to take them inside for the next step.
Step 3: Logs Are Imperfect But There Are Ways to Work Around It.
A lot of times logs will rot from the center outward. In these the core is not going to be any good. When you run across these try to cut the good wood on either side of the bad part. How can you tell if its bad? Looking at the end you will see that the core wood is different, soft and spongy looking. It also doesn't leave sharp lines when cut, kind of like cutting warm butter.
Wet verses dry.
This is a good place to talk about wet wood verses dry wood. You can't use wet wood for your floor, it has to dry out first, but wet wood cuts easier than dry wood (usually). An exception here is really wet wood that is frozen solid, that's like cutting rock. But dry wood is stable, its usually done cracking and warping. You can cut a parallel slab of wet wood, leave it sit for the summer to dry out and find that its warped into a U while drying. I prefer to let the wood dry for several years before I do anything with it. When the bark peals off of it and leaves just the bare wood then its close to being ready. Of course you take a chance of it rotting in the meantime but at least you can work with it without it changing shape and shrinking which is what wet wood will do. This means you have to plan way ahead or find trees that are already dead and dried that is of the type of wood you are looking for.
Step 4: A Finner Cut.
Now that you have your slabs and dissected logs done you can move indoors and work with power tools. Smaller logs can go directly to the band saw. Why not go straight to a table saw you may wonder? Table saws are great tools but they have their drawbacks. The maximum height of the cut of the blade of my old Craftsman table saw with its 10 inch blade is 2 1/2 inches. Also table saws can't handle any kind of twisting or rocking of the cutting stock. If the material does anything except move in a straight line it will usually bind up the blade. The blade has no flex to it. On the other hand band saw blades are just fine with the wood moving a little, and they can usually handle much thicker wood. My band saw is one of the smaller ones but its what I could afford at the time. I bought it this summer. Here is the link to the Sears web site where they sell them.
This saw cuts wood almost up to 5 inches thick so I cut all my logs to be just under that. This saw comes with a 3/8 inch blade but its worthless for cutting anything thick like these logs. You need to get a full 1/2 inch blade for it. Actually several blades. I found that dry, rock hard ash wood dulls the teeth on these pretty fast.
(UPDATE) I bought a carbide tipped blade for this saw. They cost almost 6 times as much as the regular blades but they cut through the hard wood much faster and easier. They also last a lot longer, the tiny carbide teeth don't get dulled from the hard wood. When these bands break you will want to repair them as the teeth will probably still be sharp. You may want to invest in a splicing kit.
The main goal with the band saw is to cut logs down into blocks that are small enough to fit on the table saw.
Step 5: Planeing Slabs.
The reason you have to plane these slabs is so they can run flat on the table saw and not bind up the blade. I tried cutting both planed ones and unplaned ones. The planed ones were much easier to work with. The unplaned ones rocked around on the high spots and were very difficult to move through the saw blade without binding it up. Also when the too sides of the slab are not parallel and its too thick a piece to cut all the way through you cannot flip it over and cut it through from the other side. The saw blade is pointing in a different direction because the surfaces are not parallel and the two cuts won't match up. So, its a little extra work to plane them but it saves later on.
Raise the plane above the work piece and slowly lower it down as you run pieces through it . I usually work only one piece at a time rather than trying to run multiple pieces through one after the other. Be very careful doing this. If you go to fast the planer blades can impact on a high point and actually break them. You want it to shave the high points down gradually. It might take a lot of passes to accomplish this. After you get a flat side, turn the slab over about every 2 or 3 passes so you shave down both sides evenly. Keep going until the chain saw marks are mostly gone. If your slab is too wide to fit your planer you might have to cut it in two with the chain saw
By the way, this is the same planer that is mentioned in my other instructable. You can see the details on it here.
Planing produces a lot of saw dust and chips. I bagged up a lot of mine and gave it to a friend who used it as bedding for his dog. It is soft and warm and smells great, (depending on the kind of wood) And when it gets dirty you can dump it in the garden to use for compost.
Step 6: Finally, the Table Saw.
Once you get blocks small enough for your table saw you begin to get results that look more like lumbar and less like logs.
To cut the slabs you might need to free cut them through the middle. If the slabs don't have flat edges you can't run them along the rip fence. You need to get a flat face to glide along the rip fence. If the slabs are too thick for your saw blade to cut clear through, you can flip them over and cut them again from the backside. Another option is to run them on your band saw. The band naturally follows the partial cut and glides right through.
This is the same Craftsman table saw mentioned in my other instructable. After 30 years its still going strong.
After you get a stack of rough cut sticks you are ready to move on to the final cut. The reason for making a rough cut first is to make certain you get the right size. You can't uncut a piece of wood, so even though it seams like a waste of wood you need to do a rough cut before you move on to the final cut. The rough cut size I am working with is 1 1/4 inch by 2 1/4 inch. The intended finished size is one inch by two inches.
I found it a good idea to let the rough cut pieces "rest" for several days. A few weeks would be even better. If they still have moisture in them it lets them dry out more. In addition if they are going to do any warping or cracking now is the best time for it before you start finished cutting. An even bigger problem is shrinking. As wood looses moisture it shrinks. If it shrinks below your target dimensions you will not be able to use it.
Step 7: Making the Final Cuts
To do the finished cuts I used a fine tooth saw blade. The blade I have been using up until now is a 40 tooth general purpose blade. Now I am moving to an 80 tooth blade. The larger number of teeth make a smother, finer cut. This is where we need to get exact so precision becomes the priority.
To measure for these cuts do not go by the markings on the rip fence guide. Those were fine for the rough cuts but not now. Measure from the edge of the saw tooth to the rip fence. Actually put the measure under the tooth so you can see it line up. Don't use a tape measure, its not accurate enough for this. Use a good ruler that is accurate.
I made 4 cuts on each stick. I cut them first to 1 1/8 and 2 1/8. This way I cut every side of the stick with the fine tooth blade. This blade actually puts a little shine on the wood after it cuts because of the fineness of the blade. This might seam like a lot of cutting, well it is. I made a really big piles of sawdust, but the final goal requires that you get the individual pieces all as exact as you possible can. .
Step 8: Sanding
You need to decide which side is going to be the top for each stick. Then each top needs to be sanded. You do this now because its a lot easier to sand a stick than it is to sand a little rhombus piece. You could wait and sand them after they are in place in the floor and you may need to do that anyway but its easier for now to take out any flaws and saw marks now while you have a chance.
A stationary belt sander would be nice to have for this job but I don't have one. What I do have however works just as good. Its a Craftsman 3 inch belt sander and I got the stand to go with it when I bought it long ago. The stand turns it into a stationary sanding machine. Bolt it down to a portable work bench and you are all set for mass production.
I started with a 50 grit fast cutting paper and ran everything through to take out the flaws. I followed it up with a fine 80 grit which didn't leave behind any sand marks.
Just a suggestion, by now you should have invested in some dust masks, this is a good place to use them.
Step 9: Spline
Rather than just gluing my pieces together in a flat butt joint I decided to use a spline to join them. I could have used the traditional tongue and grove method but that would have involved a lot more cutting and I would have lost even more wood. A spline can work just as well, if not better than most other methods for joining surfaces.
A spline is a small flat piece of wood that fits into a slot in order to help hold jointed pieces together.
One of the advantages of using this method is that the spline will help with any cracks in the wood like you see in the pictures. The spline together with the glue will reinforce the piece at the same time that it holds it together.
I needed to switch saw blades for this. I used my 60 tooth Craftsman blade. The teeth on this blade are narrower so the slot that it cuts is smaller. I have a lot of thin plywood pieces called door skins that fit perfectly in this slot so I don't need to cut any wood specially to use for the spline.
Set your blade height to what you plan to use. I cut mine 1/2 inch deep. Cut the slots on both sides. I ran all my pieces twice to make sure the slots were clean. Cut them with the face towards the rip fence. By doing this you make sure that all the tops of the boards will line up level with each other even if a piece's thickness is a little off.
Cutting these now is a lot easier than after the rhombus's are cut. You will still have to cut a slot into each side of those but you will already have half of it done by cutting these now.
You might notice that I put a finish on these pieces. Normally you would wait until after the floor is in place to put a finish on them but because I was planning on taking pictures of the pieces and showing the possible designs I put a couple of coats of finish on them after I sanded them.
Step 10: The Last Step, Make a Jig and Cut the Rhombus.
A cutting jig is a saw accessory that helps you make complicated cuts that turn out the same every time. To cut the angles for the rhombus you need to make a jig. Its not hard to do if you follow the steps.
First you need a piece of wood (or plastic) that will fit into the miter guide slot in the saw table. This stick has to fit tight to keep the jig from moving anywhere except back and forth but be lose enough to slide freely in the slot. Next find a big enough piece of plywood to fit the saw table and cut at least 2 sides square. The square corner will be at your lower right hand position. Set your rip fence for 2 inches, the final dimension of your pieces and use your ruler to measure it. Then slide your plywood up the rip fence and make a cut in it about half way down. Stop and turn off your saw but don't move the plywood. Now with the plywood still in place and not having moved, screw the plywood to the stick in the miter guide slot. This fastens and locks your jig in place square with your blade. It should now be able to slide back and forth along the rip fence but not bind with it or the saw blade.
Now you need a good protractor or angle guide. Move the rip fence over out of the way and put the protractor on the saw blade. You need to measure and set your angle with the blade, not the edge of the jig. Its the blade that counts. The angle you are setting is 60 degrees. Be exact. Mark your board as to where this angle is. Then take a straight piece of wood and place it along the line and check it again with the protractor. When you get it dead on then screw it down to the board. This is the guide for cutting all your sticks. You may have to (very likely) adjust this angle to get it correct. I was 1/2 a degree off in my initial setting and my rhombus pieces would not fit together correctly. This is a very exact angle, it needs to be as close to 60 degrees as possible. You can adjust the angle of the guide stick by loosening the screws, all but the one nearest the blade and pivoting it on that screw. Once you get it right don't ever move it.
Make a push stick with the front cut to the same angle as your rhombus pieces and make it as thick as they are. A rejected stick from your cutting makes a perfect push stick. Screw a piece of wood to the top so it reaches over your cut piece. The idea is that once you cut off that little diamond its going to vibrate from the saw blade running. If it turns even a little bit sideways and a tooth of that blade catches it, it will launch straight back at you. Your push stick keeps it straight against the rip fence and allows you to push it on past the blade and the top prevents it from popping up out of your slot.
I added a bumper board to the front once I had tried the jig out and had it all correct. The bumper actually works really good. You hold the stick to be cut against your guide with your left hand, hold your push stick in your right and then just push the whole thing into the saw blade with your hip. After a very short time you develop a rhythm and its almost like a machine cutting. All your little rhombus pieces slide out the back and make a nice pile.
You will have short pieces left over from your sticks that you can't hold to your guide with your fingers because the pieces are to short. Save them and cut them at the end using a clamp to hold them to the guide. You wont wast them, they can be cut, but don't try and do it by hand that close to the blade.
Step 11: The Results
Finally, from a tree to a rhombus. Now sit down at your table or on your floor and start playing with your pieces. Put three different colored pieces together and look at it for a moment and you will see a box. It can either be a solid box with the outside corner towards you or it can be an open box with only the 2 back sides on it. Your eyes might flip back and forth between the two. Since we live in a 3D world our brain is used to seeing in 3D and when it see's something like this it tries to interpret it as such.
Now make 3 boxes and push them together, add 3 rhombus to the blank edges and you are once again back to a 6 sided figure. But now it looks like 3 boxes inside of another corner of a bigger box, or does it? Take six pieces of all the same color and make a star out of them. Its the same pieces, just a different arrangement and it looks completely different, until you notice that it actually has boxes in it like the other one. The more you play the more fun it gets. The patterns that emerge are amazing and your eyes keep trying to make sense of it.
Getting this far, to the finished floor pieces, is as far as this instructable is going to go. Actually installing the floor will be another instructable in itself. (Rhombus part 2 ?) I need to make a bunch more batches of Rhombus's until I have enough.
You can make these pieces out of conventional wood stocks. Left over scraps would work perfectly. I started out with logs because I wanted to do something with my own wood. That is optional. You will need to make a cutting jig though even if you use different wood.
Have fun with it.