What kind of wood? Treated or untreated? Clear or construction grade?
In lumber, the word "clear" means "without knots." How important this is varies depending on your project and whether you are free to sift through the pile of lumber at the lumber yard looking for the best piece. If you are applying plaques to the pole, knots are okay.
If you are carving your peace pole, you must get wood that is clear, at least in the section to be carved. If you are painting it, a few knots might not be a problem, depending on where they are and how big they are. Knots are the first thing to deteriorate as the pole weathers. Knots expand and contract differently than the surrounding wood and can fall out leaving a hole. If that knot is in the middle of the "a" in peace, it might not be the effect you want.
Cedar is a common choice for peace poles because it resists rot and bugs so well. But you have to be careful of clerks in home improvement stores who sometimes casually refer to their wood as cedar when it only is pine. Real cedar is more expensive. Especially if it is smooth cut and clear.
Most people in construction want cedar that is rough and full of knots because that is the look they are seeking and so that is what lumbar yards mostly stock. It can take some searching to find smooth, clear cedar.
Depending on your project you might not need smooth cut. Getting it smooth cut can cost 4 or 5 times more because of the nature of cedar. Cedar trees have lots of small branches growing from every area of the trunk, which is why they make good Christmas trees. So cedar naturally has lots of knots.
However, at the time of this writing, a rough cut 6 by 6 that is 10 feet long, which is the size I recommend for peace poles, is $60 most places. If you are painting the text on your peace pole, find someone with a belt sander, or rent one for $5 a day from a tool rental, and belt sand just the area where the text will be. That will make a nice frame for your text.
I recommend getting a 6 by 6 post 10 feet long and burying 2 feet of it. Peace poles should have stature equal to the message. It takes a certain amount of size to achieve that.
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By the way, what is smoother and clearer than cedar, usually less expensive, can last even longer and is more environmentally friendly than cedar? Redwood, a wood that is politically incorrect and could result in my being harassed for mentioning it. Cedar is cut from virgin forests in Canada. Redwood comes from a tree farm in California that is the size of the state of Ohio. That farm was planted in order to raise redwood as a crop to be sold as lumber and then replanted - a sustainable forest. But redwood is a hot button that causes politically correct hackers to damage your website and send nasty emails. So everyone uses cedar.
Choosing the paint for the text
An exterior trim paint is good for text. That will be thicker and more durable than a paint intended to cover a whole wall. The kind I use is Advantage 900 from PPG. It is a nationwide distributor in the USA. There are others that do the same thing, but what is good about this product is that even though it cleans up with water, it can be applied over an oil finish. That makes it possible to treat the pole with deck stain prior to painting the text, as discussed below. So all the wood, even under the paint, gets the treatment. And that treatment works like a primer for the text, creating a smoother and less absorbent finish for the text paint.
Trim paint is available in quarts in many colors, but I used Ultra Deep Base Advantage 900 mixed to Onyx Black color for most of my peace poles.
Preserving the wood
Wood needs to be protected from the sun. UV rays from the sun break down wood just like they break down your skin. Deck treatments work like a suntan lotion to prevent the sun from breaking down the cells in the wood. And, like a normal suntan lotion, they need to be reapplied every so often. A coat or two of deck treatment goes on before the text is painted, and then every couple of years after that another coat of some kind of deck treatment should be rubbed on with a rag or brush to continue protecting it from the sun. If you have a deck, the schedule could be to rub on the peace pole a coat of whatever you use on your deck whenever you treat your deck. It will last a long time without that, but it will last longer with it.
PPG makes a deck treatment that can be used on cedar, redwood, pressure treated wood and untreated wood. It's called FloodDeck. It is a stain and a preservative. I was working on cedar and used the color they call "Natural" which gives it a slightly darker color that people like.
It might be that many deck treatments other than PPG's would do the job. It has been years since I tested them. They were oil based when I tested them and now some states prohibit oil and require them to carry a formula that is not oil based. They tell me it will work the same. You can comment here to let everyone know what your results are. For now, after you prepare the wood, doing whatever sanding, cutting and template outlining you are going to do, use some deck treatment on it first and then paint the text on last.
I'm not a big fan of varnish or urethane because of how bad those finishes look when they start to deteriorate, and how much work they are to clean up when they start to deteriorate. But deck treatment just wipes on and doesn't become unsightly when it eventually is gone. After it is, it merely needs to be wiped on again, right over the text, which it will help to protect.
Burning Text into wood with a magnifying glas
I received this message and these photos from someone making her own peace pole out of a tree stump.
Hello_ Greetings of peace to you! I first heard of Peace Poles this spring when a family at the Unitarian church I go to decided to donate a peace pole to our church when they moved out of state. Loved the idea and had to learn more just for general principle, so I went to your website. a month or two later, I met someone who did wood burning by magnifying glass on pencil markings on walking sticks. The light bulb went off in my head. Near the river where I live there is a huge tree that was cut down, all but the bottom 10-12 feet, last year due to disease. The bark is falling away, leaving the inner beauty of this wise old tree. So, using the translations you provide on your website, my magnifying glass, pencil, and sunglasses (the light gets intense), I am in the process of creating a peace tree. So far I have 7 languages represented and am energetically looking forward to adding as many as I can. i have Nepal, Spanish, Latin, Greek, Ojibwa, French, and English. I really like the idea of the music ones too. I'll probably do the John Lennon "give peace a chance" one. It's fun to be one with the sun while working as the position of the sun, clouds, etc. dictate where and when I can create the messages. The whole process is fulfilling. Thank You for your part in this creative endeavor of spreading the message of peace.
July 3, 2008
Her magnifying glass she describes as "typical size." She got it at a rummage sale. The typical size for her letters is 1.5 inches. She says it takes between an hour and an hour and a half to burn one translation. However, she has discovered that her work fades within months out in the elements. So she has started varnishing the messages with four coats of glossy. We are looking forward to hearing how that holds up over time.
Her photos were shot with a cell phone.
Update, November 1, 2008 (her spelling and grammar)
Hi Joel-just an update since i last contacted you regarding the peace tree/wood burning by magnifying glass project.
A lot has transpired since i last wrote. Over the summer I continued to write many different languages on the tree. I had 37 plus many different animals, birds, and some plants. two weeks ago the project came to a temporary halt when one day as i was going outside i heard a chainsaw.....a city parks worker noticed the tree and thought there was graffiti on it so he hired someone to come and cut it down! by that time he had already cut a vee from the base so it had to go.but the good news is that he agreed to leave the bottom part of the tree(that had my artwork on it) until he talked to city.i was completely devasted at that point. a few days later a Viet Nam vet that lives in the neighborhood talked to some people that knew some people and we got the peace tree project moved on to my apartment complex property free of charge(it must weigh several tons. my apt. caretaker contacted a cement worker and they poured a concrete base for the project to be put on at a reduced cost-materials only.my caretaker donated $243. in quarters for the job.i am in awe of the people who came forward with support in so many forms.
the whole situation has made me look at the possibility of making peace poles now. one of the first ones i make i think i will donate to the city so they can plant one in one of the city parks.
anyway, that's the latest-i hope you are well and may peace prevail on earth-Kathleen
Author - Joel