Picking up a slab

In many sheds (and parties, and sports clubs) down under, that’d raise connotations of an end of the productive side of the day, and the cracking of a few favourite beverages is about to commence.  But for woodworkers, there is also the possibility that it means just that – the acquisition of a large flat slice of timber, usually cut by someone else who has more specialised toys than in the average shed.

However, if you own (or are considering) the Torque Workcentre, it is not out of reach, as the slabbing attachment gives the typical workshop the ability to claim very useable timbers from the very trees in which it grows.

The attachment has 2 main parts – two clamps that attach to the main arm on the TWC, and securely clamp a chainsaw between them.  About 4″ of the chainsaw bar length is lost in this, so a 16″ chainsaw can slab a maximum width of 12″.  The bigger the chainsaw, the more powerful the motor, the larger the slab you can manage.

There is a block on either side of the bar (narrower than the width of the bar, so as not to touch the chainsaw teeth) that hold the chainsaw firm, and with one at either end of the bar, it is locked in tight.

The position is probably different from chainsaw to chainsaw, but a hole through to, or scalloped out area near the chainsaw would be useful so blade adjustments can be done without the need to remove the chainsaw from the jig.

I’d also like to see some form of oil reservoir mounted above the chain with a controllable feed rate, as the normal chain lubrication method being gravity fed is rather ineffective with the chainsaw perpetually on its side.  However, these are all refinements to the basic operation.

I started with a lump of camphor laurel (yes, oh Roving Reporter, THE lump of CL – you’ll have to find an alternate seat!) that I picked up for $10 a couple of years ago, and secured it to the TWC.  Although this piece is short enough to pass through a resawing operation on the bandsaw, it works well as a test piece here.  With the chainsaw bar levelled out, and the depth of cut set, I was ready for a first pass.

The first cut was set very shallow – I only wanted to take off enough to flat-spot the log, so it would sit more securely on the workbench for further slices.

As the chainsaw bit in, the unmistakable aroma of camphor wafted through the shed, undiminished by the continuous air filtration of the Microclene unit, or even the head protection afforded by the Purelite Respirator (I geared up a bit for this) – I’d have to have used a carbon filter to extract that, but it isn’t unpleasant (although my wife strongly disagreed when she made a surprise visit, committing the cardinal sin of interrupting shed time 😦 😉 )  Even a couple of hours later when I walked past the outside of the shed, the smell was still very much in evidence!

With the first cut complete, the log was flipped over for the first slab to be cut.

One of the problems I always have, is getting timber that is thick enough when I go shopping – like purchasing steak from the supermarket, they are sold so measly thin, on the (probably correct) assumption that people will buy more quantity, rather than quality (3 thin steaks sells better than 2 thick ones).  This isn’t an issue when you do it yourself, and in the case of slabbing a trunk, you can cut the slab as thick as you like.  And you can also choose whether you want regularly sawn timber, or quarter sawn.

Not an option you normally get from a box-hardware store.  For the same reason – a quarter sawn log is more expensive (more timber is wasted) and the average shopper doesn’t distinguish, other than on the price.

There are plenty of ripples across the surface from the cut, but a few quick passes through the drum sander got rid of them without a problem (I used the drum sander to avoid the snipe from the thicknesser on a short board).

Finally, it was off to the new workbench, and firing up of the Festool ETS 150/5 (random orbital sander)

Hard to see here, but a quick rub down with a wood oil (the ol’ Triton oil in this case) really picked out the details.  I didn’t actually need to oil it yet, other than my own curiosity – the board will head over to the tablesaw to cut it to size for the next project, and get whatever finish is applied to that, but I just wanted to really see how the details responded, especially the spalting, to a bit of oil.

Seeing what the Chain Saw

Just before deciding to waste an afternoon getting a finger tended to, I had been trying the new Husqvarna out slicing up a bit of firewood (gathered from the side of the road years ago).

Chainsaw went very well – slicing easily through what now looks like to be spotted gum.  Instead of destined for the fireplace, I guess this cube is now going to become something a bit more interesting.  No idea what yet.  That’s the problem with being a woodworker – even something destined for the fireplace gets assessed whether it is better diverted to the shed!

The clamp I am using here is one of the original (Australian made!!) Superjaws.  It has the upgraded (newer) version of the log jaws that bite strongly into the log, and where there is a heavy, soft bark, these jaws bite right through.  An excellent tool to take to the job site where you need to make the job of chopping up firewood a lot safer (that is just one of the jobs I use the SJ for).

I’m quite pleased with the Husky as well – about as powerful as you can get on a 10A supply, and although you can get larger petrol chainsaws with more power, longer bars, this one did the job.  Perhaps needing a bit more time to complete a cut required (although to get more power in a petrol model would cost a lot more), but for a home user- an excellent tool.

There is a definite advantage to the convenience of an electric saw, especially in the shed.  Not having to get the engine running, dealing with fumes etc.

Just another look at those jaws.  The rear jaw is singular, so the timber/log is held in a triangular pinch – no point trying to use jaws with 4 points – ever seen a log with truly parallel sides?

I did set the saw into the Torque Workcentre slabbing attachment this weekend, but didn’t get any results to write about.  Will have to do some more experiments to work out how to get the best out of the attachment.  It clamps the chain bar well – certainly feels like a secure arrangement, but couldn’t seem to get the saw to cut.  I know it works well when freehand – especially given what it did to the spotted gum (where I tried both rips and crosscuts), so some more testing needed.  It could be I didn’t have the blade parallel to the table, or the test piece I decided to use was too green/gummy or something.  I’m tending to wonder about the parallelism because about 1/2 way through the cut I was seeing an increasing wavy surface – indicative of a blade trying to cut in one direction, and forced to cut in another, but I didn’t have time to pursue this further.

First Cuts

Other than the unfortunate premature end to the day’s activities, I did get to give the new Husqvarna 321 a bit of a tryout.  Very nice, very sharp.  It has a very soft start, so when you pull the trigger it takes a while to respond (I’m sure less than a second, but seems longer).  I did some crosscuts and rips and it handled both easily.  The blade is a skip-tooth design, so has no problem with ripping it seems.

These cuts were all freehand, and got close to maximum capacity on one rip cut – still fine, had to slow down the cut a bit, but got nowhere near stalling.

It is definitely interesting having an electric chainsaw – it is ready to go when you want it.  No need to keep the motor running (let alone getting the motor started).  Much quieter, no fumes. But that first point is a biggie – when using a petrol chainsaw, I’d typically set up to do a number of cuts at the same time, and would think twice about starting the saw for a one-off slice.  Whereas, with an electric, you can pick it up, do a cut, put it down for an extended period before using it again.  It completely changes your attitude to and opinion of chainsaws.  They can be a convenient woodshop tool, and not just something for cutting up firewood.

321EL Husqvarna

Picked up this chainsaw from Clayton Mowers yesterday in preparation for slabbing on the Torque Workcentre.


It is electric, which has advantages and disadvantages. Limited to a 16″ blade, it is 2000w, or the equivalent of a 2.8HP / 45cc petrol. That is still pretty punchy so it’ll be interesting to see how well it goes.

Not going to have the fumes etc in the shed that I would have otherwise have gotten with a petrol unit, and with Clayton Mowers running a Husky special at the time, as well as some extra horse trading, I got it with change from $440, including bar oil. Also means I will be able to use it in situations where OHS regs would otherwise prevent its use (demos, woodshows etc).

For the equivalent power & bar size in petrol would have cost $850

My preference would have been for a 24″ chainsaw, but then in a cheap brand it is over a grand, and close to $2k for a decent saw. So in context, doesn’t seem at all bad for such a reputable brand.

Now to commission it- certainly will be easy to start!

Chainsaw Prototype

Failed to take a photo of this at the woodshow, so here to amaze you even further about how versatile the Torque Workcentre is becoming, is… the slabbing (or chainsaw) attachment!

Couple of points:

First, you wouldn’t actually leave the original carriage on the arm when using the slabbing attachment.  This was only a mockup for the photo so you could at least see the prototype (which is still undergoing refinements).  For one, there still needs to be an oil lubrication feed to the chain, and a shield for the bar end.

And second, this is a pretty crappy chainsaw for this job – you’d want one that had a larger bar, and one that wasn’t fluro-green and purple!

One of the real benefits of dealing with Australian companies – they are very responsive to the needs and desires of their customers.  I suggested copying the standard slabbing arrangements, which paralleled some thoughts they already had (apparently 😉 ) No matter who gets to claim credit, it will be excellent when the jig moves from prototype to production!  And just as an aside, Torque Workcentres are (as far as I am lead to believe) about to have a 20 year warranty included!

Wonder if there is a decent electric chainsaw with a large bar?  Not sure if any electric will have enough power to cut the mustard – any experiences appreciated!
A quick look found Stihl MSE 220 C 400mm, Husqvarna 321 EL (16″), and Makita 400mm Chainsaw.
There is a small range in price: $940, $xxx????, $150

Makita isn’t a bad brand name…hmmm price range!

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