Modesto Ash log cake stand

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Project by Gary Fixler posted 06-29-2010 08:02 PM 25014 views 4 times favorited 22 comments Add to Favorites Watch

This was a surprisingly involved project. I have a friend, Rebecca, who loves log cross sections. She often implores me to simply cut ends off of logs for her. She wants to decorate a wall with log circles, for example. She doesn’t even care if they split. Last year she sent me a picture of log cake stands and asked me to make her one for her sister’s wedding.

In November of last year, a coworker invited me to come see his home at Village Green, a 65-acre ‘park’ in LA with condos scattered through it. It has very old, and very large trees in many of LA’s most prominent varieties. They sometimes trim trees and leave piles of logs for anyone living there to take whatever they want for any reason, so he invited me to come score some Modesto ash (Fraxinus velutina), which had been sitting out for awhile:

Modesto ash log pile

He helped me fill the truck:

Modesto ash logs filling my truck bed

Then I filled the area in front of my log rack:

Modesto ash logs

These had such nice bark on them, I wanted to show it off. I decided to make Rebecca a cake stand. I didn’t tell her I was going to. I just started on it. It turns out that ash is some crazy hard stuff, and wanting to keep the bark on, and not having enough throat clearance in my band saw (and fearing cutting round objects after all the horror stories), I dug in with my Irwin Marathon crosscut saws, carefully avoiding chipping out bark as much as possible.

This time lapse – actually the 3rd such attempt to film this cut, with the first 2 being of only a few minutes each – is 1:11 in length, which is 71 seconds, and it was shot at 1 frame/second. Doing the math, that’s 35.5 minutes of cutting to make one round. It’s a real bear to get through this wood:

When done, I had a nice, thick round ready to begin its long journey toward being a decorative cake stand top:

Modesto ash log round

Note the WD-40 can – I kept spraying the saw to lube it up. The log kept binding on it. It’s not the best lube for this job, but it works a lot better than dry cutting the wet log.

Modesto ash log round

Here’s a closeup:

Modesto ash log round

It’s about 13” in diameter:

Modesto ash log round

I used some mineral spirits to get a sense of the look of the log later, here applied to half the log round:

Modesto ash log round

There is a little bit of checking in the middle, and it looks like the log has reacted in some way around the check, perhaps an infection or rot, though the wood was very hard still in these areas:

Modesto ash log round

All sealed up with Anchorseal:

Modesto ash log round

I wanted to try the alcohol soak method of drying out logs quickly with minimal checking. From what I’ve read, you just soak the green wood in denatured alcohol for a 24-hour period, then let it air dry for a few weeks. I didn’t have a container, though, so I set the saw for a 90-22.5=67.5° angle to make pieces for an octagon shaped ring:

setting the circular saw blade angle to 22.5° off vertical

I jointed a scrap of 2×4, set my miter sled’s rail stop to a length I determined by a quick Sketchup model around a rough 13-inch+ circle, then cut out 8 pieces with the 22.5 angle.

2x4 pieces cut to form an octagon

And here’s the little soak tank they’ll form:

octagonal 2x4 frame

It has a 15-inch ID across its flat sides, leaving almost an inch around all sides of the log round, perfect for being able to reach in later to lift the soaked round out again:

octagonal frame made of 2x4s


log round in octagonal frame

First up, trimming it to width (and removing the wax coating) with the router bridge/sled:

I didn’t clamp the part down in any way, so I made light passes. Here it is after 2 of them, which doing the math on the above time-lapse took 15.5 minutes to achieve:

routing log round flat

You can see the tool marks left by the router. These were actually really hard to remove, even with 60-grit in the ROS. Ash is very, very hard:

routing log round flat

More routing fun in time-lapse form. This is actually just over 30 minutes of real time:

And about 25 more minutes:

It’s a little time-consuming, but it’s also a lot of fun. I love watching the wood become flat and perfect.

Difficult tool marks:

tool marks in routed-flat log round

tool marks in routed-flat log round

The bark held on through the procedure admirably:

tool marks in routed-flat log round

tool marks in routed-flat log round

It was probably an hour with 60-grit in the ROS to sand these tool marks out:

tool marks in routed-flat log round

Here’s a pointless time-lapse of setting up the soak tank outside at night:

I left it on top of a tarped wood-holding box overnight, and it rained:

log soak tank in the rain

It did seem to work pretty well. The moisture content dropped rather considerably after it dried out for a few days. This was the 28th of January, with the day I took it out of the tank being the 17th. I had started the project in November, so it’s already been about 2 months by this point:

dried log round ready for further work

dried log round ready for further work

I was anxious to see how it would look with some butcher block oil, which was the intended final coating:

butcher block oil applied to log round end grain

It was a lot more orange than I’d expected:

butcher block oil applied to log round end grain

I took another, much smaller log of the Modesto ash, got one side flat, IIRC with the belt sander, then screwed it to my resawing sled to create a parallel cut to create the stand base:

sawing ash log in band saw for cake stand base

Ash being so hard, and the saw being so dull, I sort of burned my way through the log:

burned band saw cut through log

burned band saw cut through log

I drilled a mortise in a 2×4 scrap and turned a piece of large dowel to fit snugly in it as a floating tenon. After a few attempts, I got a good fit:

turning a floating tenon

I used a plywood circle I’d had laying around with a hole in the center to mark the center of the bottom:

marking log round center

I set a stop on the drill press and drilled to depth with the Forstner bit, just the right size for the floating tenon:

Believe it or not, that’s 12 minutes of fighting. I can’t believe how hard this wood is. It kept slowing my drill down.

mortise in ash log round

I got the stand ends cleaned up on the belt sander:

cleaned up log stand

Here’s 22 minutes of mortising the stand base:

drilling mortise in log stand base

The tenon was just a little tight, so I sanded it, rounded the ends a bit, and sawed some kerf flutes. Then it fit:

floating tenon in log stand base mortise

Here’s the glue-up (Titebond III):

gluing together the parts of the log cake stand

And here’s the finished stand, basically, with more butcher block oil on top:

finished cake stand

A look at the bottom:

finished cake stand bottom

Here’s a closeup from January 29th:

finished cake stand

The only thing left to do was flatten the bottom a bit better and put my stamp on it. Then Rebecca told me ‘no rush’ – she wasn’t going to ship it to the wedding in FL, which I was rather glad about. I don’t know what FL’s heat and humidity would do to this thing if she sent it there. Still, she wanted it for her own home. Production halted, however, and this thing sat in my dining room until mom’s visit a couple of weeks ago. It moved into my room and things piled onto it.

Then this past weekend, the girl who asked for the stand was to have a 1920s themed garden party, so I dusted it off, and threw this together just this past Saturday:

building impromptu rails for router bridge

I had found plywood scraps that were just barely taller in width than the height of the cake stand, so I used clamps and some quickly-jointed 4×4s (just for a 90° on one corner) to throw together these rails. The level showed me they were perfect all around. Hooray for square, parallel pieces, and a nice, flat work surface:

I clamped down the plate (on a paper towel to preserve the nice top surface), and ran the router bridge to shave off about 1/8-inch:

routing the cake plate bottom flat

routing the cake plate bottom flat

All that was left was a quick sanding to remove the tool marks (very fast this time), and then the brand:

branded log cake stand bottom

And here it is in use with a delicious red velvet cake (made by the man in the background – Mike, my old college roommate) – at the 1920s themed garden party, after we moved inside:

log cake stand with cake on it

And here’s me with Mike in our finery:

me and Mike back in the 20s

Our gracious hosts, Tom and Rebecca:

Tom and Rebecca

If you want to see more of our pseudo-20s, they are here.

The cake stand was a success. The hostess loved it and wants to leave it out on display from now on. She’ll use it anywhere it’s called for. All in all, it was a 7 month build process, though almost all of that time it just sat around, drying. Still, when I routed the bottom flat this past weekend, it was soaking wet inside still. I warned her, of course, not to leave it on wooden surfaces, and perhaps to put it up on something that will allow it to air out underneath.

Unfortunately, the second round I cut to make another one of these for my mother split open like Pac Man months ago.

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator

22 comments so far

View Skylark53's profile


2868 posts in 4522 days

#1 posted 06-29-2010 08:55 PM

Gary, thanks for posting this great project and most importantly, the details of the build. The cake stand is indeed a very creative use for the log and will be a sure conversation starter for many years. I have a log that was dropped in my yard just last week and have been sorta perplexed about what to do next. The fast cure-denatured alcohol treatment is news to me; I may give it a try. Thanks again for sharing.

-- Rick, Tennessee, John 3:16

View Gary's profile


9433 posts in 4895 days

#2 posted 06-29-2010 09:05 PM

Wonderful post, Gary. I enjoyed that

-- Gary, DeKalb Texas only 4 miles from the mill

View clieb91's profile


4267 posts in 5397 days

#3 posted 06-29-2010 09:41 PM

Gary, another great step by step project. Turned out very cool looking. Glad to hear the alchol drying worked so well on Ash. I may have to try it some myself as I have a number of pieces from work.

Fun looking theme party as well.


-- Chris L. "Don't Dream it, Be it."- (Purveyors of Portable Fun and Fidgets)

View Brandon's profile


4382 posts in 4414 days

#4 posted 06-29-2010 09:50 PM

Excellent post. That looked like a lot of work, but it turned out very nicely! I really like the bark on that ash.

-- "hold fast to that which is good"

View pommy's profile


1697 posts in 5153 days

#5 posted 06-29-2010 09:56 PM

great post

-- cut it saw it scrap it SKPE: ANDREW.CARTER69

View MostlyHarmless's profile


21 posts in 4356 days

#6 posted 06-29-2010 10:44 PM

Awesome project, many thanks for the detailed construction process. What’s the spray can used during the initial sawing of the piece?
Did you apply any finish to the bark?

-- If there's anything more important than my ego around, I want it caught and shot now.

View Gary Fixler's profile

Gary Fixler

1001 posts in 4844 days

#7 posted 06-29-2010 11:22 PM

Thanks everyone!

MostlyHarmless – the spray can was WD-40 to slick up the saw a bit. It helped a lot, but I had to keep reapplying every few minutes. Wax would probably be better. I’ve actually used Anchorseal for the same purpose, though sparingly. That stuff is precious :)

I did not finish the bark. It seems to be holding up just fine, though. I told her to keep applying butcher block oil every now and then to revitalize it and keep the top moisturized.

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator

View Talyn's profile


55 posts in 4774 days

#8 posted 06-30-2010 02:24 AM

That is very cool, I like the videos also

-- Harry --- Never Give Up, Never Surrender,

View a1Jim's profile


118321 posts in 5039 days

#9 posted 06-30-2010 02:36 AM

View lew's profile


13534 posts in 5218 days

#10 posted 06-30-2010 04:58 AM

Cool, Gary!!


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

View BTKS's profile


1989 posts in 4927 days

#11 posted 06-30-2010 05:04 AM

Great work on the project. The post was well laid out and quite informative. Thanks for all the effort on both parts of this project. BTKS

-- "Man's ingenuity has outrun his intelligence" (Joseph Wood Krutch)

View Chase's profile


448 posts in 4489 days

#12 posted 06-30-2010 01:10 PM

So I clicked on the picture thinking it was a somewhat simple log project. Then I saw all the in progress pictures and realized that thing is freaking amazing! Good work, looks great!

-- Every neighborhood has an eccentric neighbor. I wondered for years "who was ours?" Then I realized it was me.

View prez's profile


376 posts in 4873 days

#13 posted 07-01-2010 02:44 AM

Nice post and great video. I’ve also got a log in my backyard that I’ve saved from a fallen ash tree. It’s about 4 ft long and about 25 inches in diameter (tree is about 100 yrs old!!) I’ve been wondering what to do with it. Thanks to your post, I now have some ideas. Love the way you used router to flatten the face of the piece. Just so you know, I was also able to save a 12 ft piece of the tree and had it milled into boards. Great looking grain with a bit of stain applied.

-- George..." I love the smell of a workshop in the morning!"

View Bob Kollman's profile

Bob Kollman

1798 posts in 4653 days

#14 posted 07-01-2010 07:58 AM

Great work, I liked your router jig for getting your surface flat.

A LJ freind gave me some ash with streaks of solid red, so the color

of your log is actually a little light as compared to the stock I have.

The bark on the wood also looked great-Almost gear like. Over all

it looked like a fun project. Also you looked very handsome in your finery!!!

-- Bob Kenosha Wi.

View TZH's profile


643 posts in 4603 days

#15 posted 07-02-2010 12:08 AM

Very informative process, very nice finished product. Thanks for posting. I really like the idea you came up with. When it comes to the denatured alcohol to dry out the wood, do you know if it also works as well on other kinds of woods like Cedar and Pine? Thanks for posting.

-- Where The Spirit In Wood Lives On

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