He cuts the slabs on a chainsaw mill on steroids: 23 hp and a 6' cutting width.
He has trees slabbed and neatly stacked with stickers everywhere you look. Some of them were amazing, long wide slabs of maple that were almost completely burl, if you can imagine that. However, I was after douglas-fir and he had lots of it. I imposed on the guy to show me lots of them:
Finally, I found the one I wanted, 3" thick, 37" wide and 11' long.
Problem was, my pickup bed is only 6' long, just over 7' with the tailgate down and we had to go home on an interstate, but what the heck. I hadn't really thought through what we would do when we got home with an approximately 300 lb. slab, so here's what we did. We backed right up to my workbench:
Then we rolled if off on dowels:
I cut off 3' so the tabletop will be 8' long. Never having tried to flatten anything anywhere near this big, I started with a scrub plane but it was just way too much for me, so I turned to some power tools:
Yup, that's a belt sander and a power planer. I used them only for initial flattening. Then I filled cracks and voids with epoxy and turned to planes and a cabinet scraper. After quite a while, this is what I ended up with:
This picture doesn't convey how massive the slab is, so remember that you are looking at 24 sq. ft.! It also doesn't reveal all the swirling grain around the knots, which is really beautiful. I removed 3/8" of material, partly because it took me a while to figure out what I should be doing, so I am thinking that the final table top will end up around 2 3/8" thick. It's not perfectly flat, but is within 1/32". This is what I hope is the bottom of the table, but I don't know for sure because the slab is so heavy I can't turn it over to find out. For that I am going to have to round up the neighbors. Barely noticeable in the picture is that I sealed the end grain with paraffin by melting it and painting it on, which seems to be working.
This slab had been drying for over a year and feels quite dry, but it has a ways to go. My plan is to flatten both sides and then let it dry in the garage for the summer months before resuming work on it in the fall. That probably means I will have to do some more flattening but I have plenty of material. I just felt like doing some work on it now.
The bark is all there and I have decided to keep it, so it's going to be challenging to figure out a way to finish it. I put spray polyurethane on the bark of the alder coffee table I made and it is holding up, but the bark on this table will have a lot more contact with people and chairs. The good news is that this bark is a lot stronger and more stable than the alder bark. Over the summer I am going to try some experiments on scrap pieces of bark. One thought I had is to thin epoxy and paint it on. I've read that you can heat it up or dilute it with alcohol to thin it.