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Hay fork from damaged tree; rot issues

 
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I've had a passing interest in making tools and tool handles to use around the farm from trees harvested right on the property. Since I just ordered a scythe, I've been looking into getting a hay fork to complement it. After watching a video on splitting and steam bending a sapling to create a traditional wooden hay fork, I thought that would make a good beginning tool-making project.

I harvested a maple sapling whose top had been damaged in a logging operation and was sending out suckers to replace the original tree, so I figured it would be a great specimen to harvest while leaving something growing in its place. It was a bit over twice my height and a good diameter throughout, so I figured I could get a couple tools out of it (or a couple attempts, in case the first one failed.) But as I removed the bark I noticed there were pockets of dead wood throughout it's length.

Can I simply shave these sections down to good wood, or is there going to be rot permeating the whole thing? Will they cause issues with the steam bending or the longevity of the tool? I didn't want to put a lot of work into processing it if it's ultimately a lost cause. I can find another use for it where longevity isn't a concern.

Photos attached. I had already started shaving it down in the close up to see what it looked like underneath, but didn't want to keep going until I got an opinion from someone more experienced than I.
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Hey Mathew, that decay looks like spalting to me. It's caused by a fungal infection and mild spalting usually has little if any detrimental effect on wood integrity. Spalted lumber can fetch a premium as it can be very pretty, and woodworkers like to use it to make beautiful things. The organisms that cause spalting and decay in wood need moisture to live and grow, and allowing the wood to season and dry out will halt any growth. If there aren't any crumbly bits of sawdust like material in the wood I think it will make a nice strong handle.
 
Mathew Trotter
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James Freyr wrote:Hey Mathew, that decay looks like spalting to me. It's caused by a fungal infection and mild spalting usually has little if any detrimental effect on wood integrity. Spalted lumber can fetch a premium as it can be very pretty, and woodworkers like to use it to make beautiful things. The organisms that cause spalting and decay in wood need moisture to live and grow, and allowing the wood to season and dry out will halt any growth. If there aren't any crumbly bits of sawdust like material in the wood I think it will make a nice strong handle.



James, thanks for the quick reply (and the new terminology to add to my mental database.)

The spalting shouldn't affect steam bending at all, or should I use it for a project that doesn't require steam bending? Just noticing that the wood around the spalting seems considerably drier than the rest, and not sure if that'll increase the odds of it cracking.

Oh, and I'm thinking I'll probably finish it with linseed oil. I'm assuming I'll have to wait until it's bone dry or near it before I apply the oil, but I'd love to find out that's not the case. If it does indeed need to be pretty dry, about how long would something like a tool handle take to dry sufficiently? We're relatively cool and humid here (Pacific Northwest), which I presume will increase the amount of time it takes. How would one know when it's ready?
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