Prepping Wood IV

It all begins with a thoughtful idea and a pencil point reaches to the paper in a notebook to develop a roughed-out sketch. A drawing emerges, we check the open space to see what fits and then we take out the tape measure, measure the space we’ve allocated to the piece and confirm our decisions or not. A coffee table or a rocking chair, no matter, furniture pieces are mostly moveable items we can shunt, shove and flip wherever we want to nudge them to make them suit our preferences or needs. A bookcase, on the other hand, once loaded with books, isn’t always so moveable. Often times it is not so much its moveability in terms of its footprint but more its floor- and wall-space. A bookcase almost always takes up more vertical space than horizontal and wall space can be at a premium. I have but two walls in my lounge that I can allocate to a more semi-permanent fixture. Measuring and trialing is important to this and this takes some thinking through. The footprint for my bookcase is a mere four square feet.The vertical space occupation is 24 cubic feet. My bookcase has to fit in between pieces so I sized the space as best I could, etc before any construction began. All the time I am running possibilities through my mind. I try to encounter the problems and real issues ahead of configuring sizes, joint types and much more so that by the time I actually begin the work the work is rehearsed in my head and I can then just go for it!

My cherry boards picked out.

It’s at this stage that I feel confident to go wood hunting. Whereas there may be many places to go to, I like to go to Surrey timbers and for good reason. I walk in, look around, say ‘hi‘ to everyone and then they leave me alone unless I need something, help, have a question. I lift, flip and turn boards until I have a few picked out what will accommodate my cut list plus 25% at least. I always buy extra, but that may well be a luxury many cannot afford. My 25% rule is a must though. A second trip and four hours on the road costs in time and money. That’s a luxury I cannot afford. My tool kit comprises a tape measure, a couple of sticks to check for winding, a camera for memory, cutting list, knife, sometimes a moisture meter and a handsaw to reduce lengths.

Use two plain 1″ by 2″ sticks to check for twist.

This time John came too. I have gone with Hannah a few times in the pre-covid years and next time I hope to take both her and Jack along too – I like whole family outings. John was a great help there and of course, it shortened the trip for me too.

In the warehouse area, I feel both relaxed and excited intermittently. I think that the search for wood as yet unseen by you somehow does that. And it’s not so much the unexpected that is important but more the expectation of seeing something you didn’t actually expect to find. In reality, no two pieces of wood are ever the same and the closest you get to that will be book-matched cuts on a near-perfect radial cut. Picking two adjacent cuts in a warehouse is the rarest thing, so cutting your own wood from the stem is the ultimate joy you are most likely never to get. But it can and does happen. The next best thing is quarter-sawn anything. Picking something that will make beauty happen in a few days is always a wonderful experience and should never be dismissed as an essential inspirational step in the recipe of successful making. This trip was about making my third piece for – a new bookcase. I wanted to use cherry again. Cherry is the most wonderful of woods for hand working with hand tools and I soon picked out my wood. After selecting ten Cherry one-by-eights 2.5 to 4 metres long, I went for a few more boards of European oak, found a piece of cherry for Jack, and then I took along a few boards of poplar too. Upstairs in the loft area is a gathering of a few hundred planed pieces of every species you can think of. I always manage to retrieve a few pieces there but this time I held back and bought just one.

John and I loaded up the trailer and strapped everything down tightly. It’s an hour and a half drive each way but it passed quickly as we talked about woodworking on the road back.

I have spent time developing the articles for prepping wood so that you can see how a man with over 55 years in the saddle can still feel about the whole process. Some people get a buzz out of shopping for a new computer or a pair of shoes and some jeans. I buy my jeans and shirts in lots of five and usually stay with the same make Superdry. Their denims are well made, hardwearing and comfortable to me. I buy dark denim and washed denim and intermix or match. That way I don’t have to think about what I will wear day to day; I’m protected and warm. I order online for simplicity and time-saving. That way, I can focus my time and effort on just choosing my wood.

12 thoughts on “Prepping Wood IV”

  1. When buying always the same socks one doesn’t have to sort them out of the washing machine and it is not a problem when when loosing or passing through one.

  2. What I love is the smell of the lumberyard and where I like to go, the dead quiet, it’s like church. The only machine is the sawmill and that’s 60 yards away and not always running. Its what they do, saw and dry local wood, they air dry for a year and then finish kiln drying on the premises. There is an outlet store much nearer to me where I might buy an occasional piece but the prices are high, the lumber is surfaced on all sides. Not only that but the pieces are picked over by the employees and by the people taking woodworking classes there. The problem is the sawmill is an hour away and when I make the trip it takes most of the day.

  3. One day free pallet wood. Another, valuable fine cherry. An inspiring all-rounder.

  4. I think I am not fortunate than I realized afew months ago when I come to this. I have two local saw mills with in 45 min of my house! Oak, cedar, maquite, pecan! All locally sourced wood at a good price! One in thorp spring,tx and one in Stephenville, tx.i had no idea!

  5. This series is informative and inspiring at the same time!

    I have not so recently acquired some black locust logs, had them milled, stickered the planks and the wind is doing the rest. I am so excited to work with it, I can hardly wait. Paul, do you have any advice for this particular type of wood?

  6. William Dickinson

    So hard to find hard woods here in Wisconsin. And the prices are insane. I finally found a place in Madison, about 3 hours drive, with “decent” prices and a wide selection. Took months to find it though….

  7. Eric Kansman

    How I’d like to be that person keeping you company on that long drive to the lumber yard talking about wood, techniques, projects, and just life in general. It’s a hour and a half to my hard wood source as well though there’s a mill only about twenty miles away that processes cedar, grey stain pine, and cypress. I always look forward to those jaunts, never knowing what I might find.

  8. Paul, should we always avoid sapwood?
    I’m making your Console Table in cherry for a friend, and we a showed her the lumber she was attracted by some pieces with sapwood because she like the contrasting colors. I told what sapwood is and that, normally, it should be avoided, but she asked me to leave it like it is. Is it a mistake to use sapwood? Does it have different properties, other than color, from heartwood?

    1. Not usually with cherry, just make sure you are dried down to around 8%, any higher and there can be an almost imperceptible discrepancy between the heartwood and the sapwood according to changes of relative humidity. There is no reason to avoid sapwood apart from the striking contrast which can sometimes be positive but is often unattractive. The important thing in your situation is customer request.

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