Realizing a Dream Slab Natural Live Edge Table Top Desk Coffee Huge Wide Thick Oak Custom Kansas

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Project by Mark A. DeCou posted 09-08-2014 05:47 PM 8860 views 6 times favorited 32 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Project Story: A Treatise on Trees, Faith, Miracles, and a Fork In the Road

Back a few years ago I had a dream…..”Hmmm…wouldn’t it be cool to reclaim and salvage some big natural edge table-top sized slabs out of these trees around here that have blown down, or which just grew in the wrong place and had to be removed for someone’s progress to push ahead?”

Simple dream really….but making it happen takes miracles, God-sized miracles, patience, and timing,

I love trees, most of us on this website love them also. My dad was a woodshop teacher, and gave me the love of trees, always a new sapling planted in our yard that we had to play around as a kid, making sure our football didn’t break off a limb. I guess some things run in our blood, and for me the love of trees and the sawdust-craze came from my dad. But, I don’t know where he got it, his dad was an economics professor, must have been further back.

From my experience, tree lovers are not taught, but rather they are born, and I’m no exception to my own rule.

I like planting trees, I like making things from trees, I like listening to the wind blow the leaves, I even like nurturing and pruning. I also enjoy standing back wondering about where all the years have gone as I’ve watched saplings grow into trees during my 50 years on this planet.

Visionaries and Dreamers plant trees.

For hardwoods, none of us will live long enough to plant and harvest the same big tree, so if we go about planting, it has to be for other reasons than just making a profit for ourselves.

If you love trees also, you know and understand just what I mean.

Unfortunately, things happen, and Tree lovers have to come to the understanding that trees get in the way of other people’s projects at times, and storms can cause irreparable damage, or even blow an old tree down.

When I’ve seen a big tree go down, I soon notice that a whole group of saplings suddenly spring-to-life with the new flow of light and water due to the passing of the old giant that was shading them. There is something poetic about that, and us people are no different. I understand that someday I will get out of the way so that another “sapling” can have some light and grow.

For years I have seen big piles of trees that were only being used for firewood. But, when they were too big for easy splitting into firewood, the trees just seemed to get piled up with a bulldozer and one day burned on a quiet-wind-day…which isn’t easy to find in Kansas.

Sometimes the environmental conditions take a few years to come together before a big pile can burn safely. I’ve driven by big piles like that, thinking I have more time to come up with a plan.

Then, one day I go by and it’s just a pile of black ashes and dirt covered root balls sitting there, and I realize that I’ve missed another big one, or two, or ten.

Know what I mean? I think you do.

Several years ago, back when this website was new and fresh I started a forum topic ”You know you are a Lumberjock when….” here is a link to that old topic

We had fun for awhile together putting all of our humor, sarcasm, and wisdom down on a keyboard, making each other laugh, or cry about how all of us tree lovers have the same quirks, habits, thoughts and dreams.

So, I know you know me, and I know you, you know that The Dream has a purpose.

During the pondering-the-Dream-to-Fruition investigation period, I snuck over by some big log piles with a tape measure, and tried to determine about what size of a machine it would take to cut up such a tree, so that the large limb crotch wood could be utilized on table tops.

What I found was that for our Kansas Plains trees, is that the machine needed to cut bigger than 48” wide, and yet still be small enough to transport the machine down the highway.

What we ended up with is a machine that cuts a tree diameter of 51.5” between blade guides.

And I think in most cases, that width will allow us to mill out slabs with the upper crotch wood, which I think is the prettiest part of a tree, other than the root ball wood.

The root balls are difficult to harvest wood from, since the rocky soil imparts lots of blade-dulling limestone, Chert, and Flint Rock into the roots. The root balls are just nearly impractical to cut through without hitting a blade-ruining stone at some point.

So, my focus is on the higher crotch wood.

Now, when I have a dream like that, its usually way bigger and more involved than I have the brains, or means to accomplish, and this is one of those cases.

And, in these cases, I just pray about it and move onto other things that are more pressing….like back to earning a living, raising a family, holding some old junk vehicles together, fixing up the old house, going to church, and other things that come first in a dreamer’s life.

If you are a dreamer, you are either one that has forced things to happen, or you are like me who waits upon the Force of the Universe to do His Will. The first method is usually pretty risky, while the second path has no risk at all….namely, that in God’s Will it will happen when the timing is right for it, and not a moment before.

Not all of us have this type of Faith, and some don’t want it. I used to be like that, an atheist until my early 30’s, but God showed Himself to Me back in the early 1990’s, and I’ve learned to be patient and wait, and watch, and pray. It’s been a wild ride for sure, and I’ve had to change my thinking, motivations, and plans, but I wouldn’t want to go back to the other method now that I have tasted this side.

Probably the most frustrating thing to learn is that my plans are not always His Plans. Garth Brooks has a song I like that goes something like “Thank God for unanswered prayers.” I’ve come to learn that my ways are useless and lead to disaster, but if I can just wait, I get to see the Hand of God move in miraculous ways.

So, Friday last week I spent the day seeing “The Dream” come to life right before my eyes.

When I had this “Dream”, I didn’t want to be just another guy in the phone book that had a factory built bandsaw mill that he operates to make a little extra money. There are a lot of them around the area in which I live, and finding so many to compete against didn’t seem like a good plan.

Those normal log mills are all limited on log size, and are designed for quick piles of normal sized boards. I on the other hand had the vision for something unique, something bigger, albeit slower, but something that would cut up slabs like few can do. And the machine to do that work would require God to do His thing.

I discovered several years ago, the work of George Nakashima, which is being carried on by his daughter Mira. This work involves huge slabs of wood with natural edges, exquisite finishes, and architectural-looking wooden bases. But, wishing to build with large slabs, and having the knowledge base and the equipment to handle the job are vastly separated. I learned that on my first big slab builds back in the 2005-2006 time frame.

So, God picked a person to help me with this dream, one who is older, wiser, smarter, and far more capable. When we first started working on this Big Log Mill together, I thought I could handle the project. What I quickly learned is that I am wholly incapable of designing, building, or financing such a big project in metal, hydraulics, and motors. I’m the one with the Mechanical Engineering degree, but not with any sense on how to actually build something that worked. So, you can probably assume that I’m the lesser factor in this project build, and if you didn’t assume that, I’ll just tell you.

For some months, we’ve had this log mill, and struggled with a few things. Cutting small logs was not that big of a deal, but once the blade guides started to get wide, the blade wouldn’t track as smoothly as I wished for. We tried different things, but some how the problem kept returning.

But, on Friday last week, it all came to fruition, and we were able to mill out some large slabs of Burr Oak (White) that are 4” thick, up to 49” wide, and 13’-0” Long. The slabs are consistent in thickness from end-to-end, side-to-side, and across the middle. A more beautiful cut seems impossible to imagine, and so the Dream Came to Life, and I just had to tell you about it.

Ok, so now what, you ask?

I don’t have a big plan of what to do next, but I know that I have slabs to use, or sell. There has been a lot of investment in money, materials, and other resources to accomplish this, and so I know God’s plan is not to have it sit around and gather dust….but I don’t know exactly where the future heads right now.

Someone once said, “That when you come to a Fork in the Road, take it.” So, that’s where I am now, looking at a Fork. And what I see in the Fork is beautiful crotch wood, just begging to be saved.

At this point, it seems difficult to think about taking this large slab-cutting rig on the road to do custom cutting, as it takes so much equipment, trucks, trailers, etc., to get the work of moving huge trees and large slabs done. So, I don’t know what the next step is, and in the mean time I’ll just be cutting up slabs and waiting anxiously to find out.

This type of wood, if you haven’t ever messed with it, is so heavy, that one guy, even a big hefty guy like me, can not turn over a big slab by himself, and I can barely pull one end of it around.

I don’t know what they each weigh, but they take equipment to move them. As they dry out, the weight will reduce some, but they are not the type of thing you can deal with in a “normal-board-style-wood-shop”, with “normal-board-style-design-and-construction” techniques.

Ok, So What DO I have?
This large Burr Oak (White) tree fell down at the farm South of me. My neighbor asked if I wanted it. I didn’t have a clue how to cut up a tree that huge, nor how to move it, nor what to do with that large amount of wood, nor where to store it. But, I said, “Yes.”

I used Burr Oak on a few projects, here is a link to a China Hutch and Table Set

Gives you a vision maybe of what Burr Oak can look like. Burr Oak does not have large sections of clear, knot free wood, like what Missouri Red Oak does. But, if you like knots and figured grain, Burr Oak is pretty hard to beat.

And, God did His thing, and the plan came together.

The Chainsaw is not running, stopped to clean dirt out of the bark along the cut line. Once at the shop where we mill the logs, we are using a big pressure washer to clean the logs before cutting.

Friday, we took one of the large limbs from the Wind Blown Burr Oak tree and made 5 really neat looking slab table tops. They would be great for a Dining Table, cut in half to make a Coffee Table, maybe an Executive Desk Top, or a Conference Room Table. I figured up the Board Feet on the biggest of these 5 slabs to be about 160bdft.

And, here’s the cool part…I’m just getting started, there are a lot more logs and trees that I’ve accumulated that just needs to be processed, Elm, Ash, Walnut, Cedar, Osage Orange

So, for those of you rooting for me over the years, I hear you and say “Thanks!”
Thanks for Reading along,
Mark DeCou

Please Note: (all text, photos, designs, machinery, is all protected by copyright 2014 by the Author, no unauthorized use of any in whole, or part, is allowed without expressed written consent by the Author, Mark A. DeCou)

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

32 comments so far

View DocSavage45's profile


9052 posts in 4004 days

#1 posted 09-08-2014 06:13 PM


Sitting at my ‘puter trying to figure out how to get microsft word professional do what the older versions did. gonna have to wait for someone( my wife) who has more knowledge and experience than me to help. Up pops an LJ’s email from a Mark A. Decou. Woo woo!

You never fail to inspire and excite sir! I’m in that tree hugger category but I’m 5’8” and shrinking at 160 pounds and like you trying to survive. Thought similar thoughts driving to Mankato and seeing the large trees downed that I wanted to harvest. I purchased a chain saw and a chain saw mill to harvest the trees at our county compost site. Don’t know if it’s fantasy or reality, but soon to find out.

I did get my old office back which is super, after a little asking for intervention to survive. LOL!

Been doing my best to “stay the course.” in what I know vs. imagine which seems like that fork in the road choice we make?

Great to see you making it happen. You now have assets and collateral which might have been fire compost to a farmer. There is a quantum reality that shows evidence of being in that reality influences the reality.

Make a Nakashima table, donate it to a large institution and write it off as a tax deduction and promotion. Just be sure to make it yours not George’s.

Thanks for being so uplifting!


-- Cau Haus Designs, Thomas J. Tieffenbacher

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

2009 posts in 5567 days

#2 posted 09-08-2014 07:15 PM

Thanks Doc, sitting in a quiet co-op gallery, working may day this month, nursing a sore back and twisted ankle from the Friday log experience, and am greatly encouraged by your words, thanks for your ongoing support!

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

View Karson's profile


35276 posts in 5562 days

#3 posted 09-08-2014 07:57 PM

Mark: A great experience, and experience you’ve gained. I’ve known of your desire for many years, from when you said that someone gave you a few Walnut logs and you wanted to cut them up yourself.

Glad that dream has come true and your blessings continue to roll-in. Hearn’s hardwood uses a vacuum pad and a chain lift to pick up their big slabs

May you and your family be continue to be blessed.

-- 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 DocSavage45's profile


9052 posts in 4004 days

#4 posted 09-08-2014 07:59 PM


Just saw that you posted some more pics. That must be a pretty heavy duty chain saw!

Keep the faith! LOL! I try to remember as I am working 2 stories up on a ladder that I don’t bounce as well anymore. LOL! You don’t either?

-- Cau Haus Designs, Thomas J. Tieffenbacher

View Woodbridge's profile


3751 posts in 3580 days

#5 posted 09-08-2014 08:07 PM

Hi Mark, great story, great patience and great faith. You’ve got an awesome machine and so far some wonderful slabs. I can only imagine that your efforts will result in some beautiful furniture.


-- Peter, Woodbridge, Ontario

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

2009 posts in 5567 days

#6 posted 09-08-2014 08:34 PM

Thanks Karson, you’re still among the best, glad to have lost that first Lumberjocks’ competition to you. I appreciate your ongoing encouragements.

Doc, I try to be careful, stepped out of the log mill trailer frame to run get a wrench, and didn’t notice the pole log rolling spike-thing laying on the ground and stepped on the side of it and rolled my ankle. I’m doing fine, just a little slower for a few days.

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

2009 posts in 5567 days

#7 posted 09-08-2014 08:35 PM

Thanks Peter, I enjoy watching your creativity displayed in wood, you are an amazing talent.

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

View bannerpond1's profile


397 posts in 3060 days

#8 posted 09-08-2014 09:55 PM

Mark, I am overwhelmed and really motivated at what you have done. In fact, I’ve been considering going to the Western Design Conference for years. You have convinced me. Your work is just what I have yearned to make. I have some QS cherry for casing and some 28-inch wide cherry boards with the live edge.

Thanks for sharing.

-- --Dale Page

View Mark A. DeCou's profile

Mark A. DeCou

2009 posts in 5567 days

#9 posted 09-08-2014 10:06 PM

Hey Dale, the WDC was a great show in 2006, but I haven’t been back to it, found enough work to keep me busy, and it’s a long trip from Kansas for a one-man operation. John Gallis was the guy that encouraged me to apply for admission, and then mentored me during those years. It’s not a cheap show, and I haven’t been there since it moved to Jackson Hole, but I think if you like this style of furniture, it is a great place to show your abilities. They were doing a lot of promoting big-city modern/contemporary design during those years, not sure if that ever took off. The show promoters were active with the magazine pushing contemporary designs into the log home and mountain home style. I prefer the old Molesworth take on furnishings in that area, but I’m just me and one opinion. John Gallis’ work is amazing, I could only stand there and be in awe of what he created, and it was nice to be in a show where that sort of talent is displayed, you won’t find that level of detail in many places, nor are there many places that will pay for it. I blogged on the show, what Sam Maloof told us in his lecture, and some other details back in those days. I would say that most of those old blogs and postings are old enough now that they are hard to find, but if you search on it, you’ll discover that information. If you want to read it, and you can’t find it, send me a note and I’ll go find them.

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

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Mark A. DeCou

2009 posts in 5567 days

#10 posted 09-08-2014 10:07 PM

funny, I was looking at my old Knotty China Cabinet posting…..project #30 on Lumberjocks.

Remember those days guys/gals? Some of us are still around, while many have been added.

-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan -

View leafherder's profile


1985 posts in 3114 days

#11 posted 09-08-2014 10:54 PM

Great story, even better dream. You can probably tell from my profile name that I am a fellow tree lover, you cannot tell that I am familiar with Kansas (my mother was born there) so I know all about those wind storms and how only the really special trees survive to the age of those giants you are using. Thanks for keeping those trees out of the fireplace. I am adding you to my buddy list so I can keep track of your progress.

John (the leafherder)

-- Leafherder

View Roger's profile


21054 posts in 3966 days

#12 posted 09-08-2014 11:07 PM

Oh man that’s purdee

-- Roger from KY. Work/Play/Travel Safe. Keep your dust collector fed. [email protected]

View grizzman's profile


7836 posts in 4465 days

#13 posted 09-09-2014 12:21 AM

i didnt get a notification of this project, wow mark this is beautiful, im so glad to see you using the mill and getting some beautiful slabs, and they are truly fantastic, the whole setup is so great, from all the equipment, the great trailer and of course the super fantastic mill, i love the slabs you’re getting, ive been wondering if you were going to mill any wood this summer, glad to see you working it, so sorry about your back and ankle, ive got a bad back also , so i know how you feel, take lots of hot showers, especially at night, before you go to bed, it will relax the muscles and will help you get to sleep…keep at it, but be careful, let the machines to as much of the work as possible…i wish you the best and will look forward to seeing some beautiful pieces from some of these slabs, nakashima would be proud.

-- GRIZZMAN ...[''''']

View savannah505's profile


1878 posts in 4748 days

#14 posted 09-09-2014 01:36 AM

that was great Mark, thanks for sharing.

-- Dan Wiggins

View sras's profile


6255 posts in 4291 days

#15 posted 09-09-2014 02:00 AM

Looks like you are on a great journey! Thanks for taking us along.

-- Steve - Impatience is Expensive

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