Some of the timber I use for block making is locally sourced as trees, which I have quartered using traditional splitting techniques.
I have done this periodically over 10 years and got some lovely workable timber from it. This isn't something I do everyday however, nor do I store a lot of timber - I don't use large amounts of timber, and the few logs I have from a tree lasts me a long time. It also takes a long time to dry and is also hard work, and would annoy the neighbours if I did it a lot.
Whilst not all my timber is locally sourced, ones that are have more of a story to them and have few roads miles, no machines used to process or dry, and no machines to make into blocks, so little carbon foot print. It is probably how Bewick's timber was created, or similar to anyway - maybe his logs were cut using a saw pit and a 'Top Dog' and 'Under Dog'. Although much slower a saw pit, if accurately done wastes less timber. Books I've read shed very little light on how his blocks were actually created - the process.
Splitting logs using wedges and mallets is very old - 1000s of years old, and was used before saws were invented. The method is very simple - get the thin edge of a wedge into the end of a log, and start banging it in with a mallet, and the force of the wedge being knocked in starts to split the log down the grain along usually a weak part. I use more modern metal wedges compared to wooden ones however.
You have to keep adding in wedges to both the ends, and the sides, as the sides open up, and over time the log will break into 2 pieces. Then I do same again on each half, creating quarters. This quartered timber should dry faster than the log, and I hope will split less than trying to dry a whole log. I usually stop the ends of the pieces with thick PVA glue, although traditionally people would use wax. Stopping the ends is important as the moisture is lost faster through the ends rather than the sides, and will split the ends, losing valuable timber, especially is you are looking for engraving wood.
Hearing the timber crack as it splits is very satisfying - and this whole method is something I very much enjoy, even though I don't do it very often.
It takes a number of years to air dry the timber like this - as a rule of thumb people say about 1 year per inch.
It is vital to let the drying process take it's time - a tree log has a lot of moisture in the wood, but that isn't any use if you want to make anything, especially a wood engraving block as it firstly won't be hard enough and secondly as it dries, the working surface will split.
I personally much prefer air dried timber compared to kiln dried (which most commercial timber is) as I feel it produces a mellower timber both in the way it works and the colour of it - kiln dried in my view is paler and not as attractive and it doesn't respond as well to hand tools such as planes as air dried does.
I can do for this for others, in certain circumstances, do ask if interested.
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