resawing #4: European olive (Olea europaea) turning blanks

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Blog entry by Gary Fixler posted 06-25-2009 04:01 AM 7527 reads 1 time favorited 8 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 3: some samples straight off the new jig Part 4 of resawing series Part 5: Utility pole crossbar resawing, and another small tragedy »

I never posted it, but the day after I got those paperbark branches I went back to the same location to pick up the logs of the tree they were cutting down fully, so the building there could put up a security camera. I had stopped for the paperbark, and they asked if I wanted to come back for a whole tree the next day. Score! Here’s the tree as it stood between the cut-back paperbarks. I honestly never even looked at it, busy with paperbark at the time, so I was glad I had this one blurry pic to refer back to later:

paperbarks and olive tree

The next day, this is what they let me load into my car (though I was sadly unable to get the 3’+ diameter trunk piece in my little hatchback):

hatchback full of European olive logs

I was very excited, but still had no clue what they were. That’s why there are random leafy branches in there – for later IDing purposes. I took a ton of pics of them, knowing they’d be wilted and gone soon, and then promptly forgot about it, busy with so much else with work, a wedding, mom’s yearly visit, projects, etc. I would ID it later:

European olive leaves and buds

The thing that intrigued me most was the square stems, and that everything on the tree seemed based around alternating, opposite branchings. In other words, there would be a pair of leaves opposite each other on two opposing faces of the stem, then a bit farther up, another pair of opposite leaves the same way, but on the other two opposing faces. Likewise, the stems filled with these leaves did that on their branches. The little buds did that on their tinier square stems. The larger branches seemed even to do that on the biggest branches. This would help me a bit in IDing later:

European olive leaves and buds

The pile back home:

European olive log pile

That’s where I should have sealed them, but I only had 2 1qt containers of Rockler Green Wood End Sealer at the time – not enough for all of this, and I didn’t realize how checky European olive was, nor did I yet know it was European olive. It might as well have been some kind of Ficus to me at this point.

I was quite intrigued by the heartwood, though, which if you compare with the shot in the hatchback previously, you’ll see has faded considerably from its original dark colorations.

European olive log ends

Bark of a larger piece:

European olive bark

The cross sections were mysterious and exciting to me:

European olive cross section

European olive cross section

European olive cross section

Young and old pieces show a mix of smooth and textured barks. I’d still have an impossible time trying to ID Euro olive from pics of the bark alone:

European olive logs

European olive logs

I began to slice the ends off the logs so I could seal fresh, unchecked regions, hoping they wouldn’t check anew, and ended up with a small pile of rounds like these:

European olive rounds

I got a surprise when sealing them with Anchorseal. They turned a deep crimson!

Anchorseal coated European olive log round turned red

The logs did this as well, seen here blistering a bit in the hot sunlight:

European olive logs sealed with Anchorseal turning red

I wish I could attain that color permanently, and on purpose!

Burning my way through some small pieces with my old, crappy band saw blade, I saw some neat things going on inside. These were all intended to be used for small natural-edge bowls. I still didn’t know what this wood was, nor would I for many more weeks.

European olive natural edge bowl blanks

Sealed pieces dripping Anchorseal on my patio:

Anchorsealed European olive logs and natural-edge bowl blanks

I filled the bottom shelves of my then-smaller log racks with Olive logs (this was mid-May), and the second shelf up, second section in from the right. The second shelf, far right is Victorian box, AKA Australian cheesewood (Pittosporum undulatum). Most of the 3rd shelf up is Eucalyptus sp., with the farthest right few pieces being weeping bottlebrush (Callistemon viminalis). The top is a mashup of small pieces of paperbark (Melaleuca quinquenervia), bottlebrush, eucalyptus, and some random things.

log drying racks

I did not seal the logs properly, and was so very busy for 2 months at least, that I never even went back out to look at the logs again. when I did, i was in for heartbreak. Checking on a major scale had occurred:

checked European olive log

In fact, I’m going to go ahead and crown this wood King of Checkington. Check out what happened to the rounds (all of them)!:

checked european olive log

Look at the edges of that log – around the bark. That was cylindrical, but it fluted outward. The top is now rounded like a little mountaintop, and the bottom cupped like a shallow bowl.

All the thin rounds ended up like this, or worse:

European olive round checked badly

I was trying to think of a way to use these checks as hours on a little ‘checked log’ clock. There are almost exactly the right number and placement of checks for this to happen, and I thought it would be fun to figure out how to get the clock to mechanically move faster where they were spaced farther apart, and slower where closer :)

Flash forward to this past weekend. I grabbed a big log from the rack to see what could be done around this checking. Was it ruined? Could I even get pen blanks out of it? Here’s where it was. I thought the cat had peed on the shelf, but turns out the termite spray there was leaking.

log of European olive missing from racks

I made a little video of resawing that log into some bottle stopper turning blanks:

And here are some shots of the beautiful little turning blanks hidden inside:

European olive turning blanks

European olive turning blanks

European olive turning blanks

I tried to resaw an olive log by hand about a month or two back, and gave up halfway through, cutting what I had out from the side. I used this opportunity to clean up that log – which has been in my way in the shop for no good reason all this time – and sawed out more blanks:

European olive log half on resawing jig

Here are the blanks I rescued from it, along with some scraps of bark from the original log piece:

European olive turning blanks and bark scraps

European olive turning blanks

European olive turning blanks

Of course, they need to be sealed. After cleaning up from the catastrophe, I sealed some. They look like this just after sealing:

sealed European olive turning blanks

Soon, the Anchorseal and European olive reacted with one another, and the sapwood regions turned that deep red color I love so much:

sealed European olive turning blanks

And here’s the bigger pile:

sealed European olive turning blanks

sealed European olive turning blanks

The ones from the second log scrap are here:

sealed European olive turning blanks

I have a lot of blanks now! I had to try turning one. It’s along the lines of a bottle stopper, but I couldn’t find my arbor, and so just went between centers, which isn’t the way to do it. I only cared about seeing how the grain would look, and how easily olive would turn. I’m not a fan of the design here, but then, it was just freeform work done to test the wood and see how the grain looked through curves and angles.

European olive turning

European olive turning

It turns very easily, but unfortunately, as with everything Euro olive so far (at least, for me), it already started splitting immediately after I turned it. This is, again, the splittiest wood I’ve ever tried to use. I’m going to let the blanks dry for ages – maybe even a whole year, turn to cylindrical, then see about filling the cracks. I also tried a little natural edge bowl turning, and it was my most successful attempt yet. I didn’t get pictures, though. Maybe I’ll wait on an update of that until it’s worth seeing :)

As for the many checked pieces in this batch, I’m hoping I can seal and stabilize them eventually, and I think I’ll be bagging up a bunch of the wood dust from my turning activities to use for that, mixing it with something and rubbing back in to seal the cracks.

One of my favorite wood ID sites – Hobbit House, Inc. – has a great page with a zillion pictures of various chunks of European olive here

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator

8 comments so far

View lew's profile


13534 posts in 5217 days

#1 posted 06-25-2009 04:11 AM


Looks like you’re going to have to take a break from all this sawing and sealing and build another lumber rack!

Nice Score!


-- Lew- Time traveler. Purveyor of the Universe's finest custom rolling pins.

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


24656 posts in 5138 days

#2 posted 06-25-2009 04:11 AM

Looks like it should be beautiful wood if you can get the checking under control.

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View Karson's profile


35300 posts in 5862 days

#3 posted 06-25-2009 04:35 AM

Some nice results of your hard work.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Appomattox Virginia [email protected]

View bamasawduster's profile


321 posts in 5056 days

#4 posted 06-25-2009 05:56 AM

Gary, your lumber rack has given me an idea. Gonna build one like it so I can cut into several logs lying around, seal and dry them. Great idea. Thanks. Oh yeah, I like your name

-- Gary, Huntsville. Two wrongs don't make a right, but three lefts do.

View FirehouseWoodworking's profile


792 posts in 4735 days

#5 posted 06-25-2009 02:51 PM


Beautiful wood. And at the right price, too!

Why don’t you try an experiment?

Turn one of your stoppers, but leave it just a little bit strong on the final diameters. Then seal it again. Let it settle and dry for however long you might thing prudent. Then sand to final diameters and put your final finish on it.

That might prevent any further checking.

Just a thought. Good luck.


-- Dave; Lansing, Kansas

View StevenAntonucci's profile


355 posts in 5400 days

#6 posted 06-25-2009 03:16 PM

If you hope to keep any of this wood, you might want to address the way you store lumber. For starters, it looks like your rack is outdoors. If you get sun on that spot, you’ll get uneven drying, but even more insideous is wind. The wind will evaporate moisture too quickly and crack the wood across the face grain.

If it were mine to manage, I would store all of the lumber in log form, knowing that the ends will check even if sealed, but probably in a manageable way. I would only process pieces as I needed them, and I would store the logs in a more controlled environment I’ve also had much less luck with branches than limbs and trunks, so I don’t even bother with stuff less than 6”. (I do have a truck, so I can load up as much as I can lift or roll) I’d rather get 1 of the trunk sections vs. all of the branches. If you can’t cut it, bring a maul and some wedges to split it…

Good haul.

-- Steven

View cwdance1's profile


1164 posts in 4721 days

#7 posted 06-26-2009 12:02 AM

Sure wish I had a way to re-saw. You have some great wood to work with.

View Grumpy's profile


26811 posts in 5313 days

#8 posted 09-29-2010 05:49 AM

Great result Gary.

-- Grumpy - "Always look on the bright side of life"- Monty Python

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