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Woodworkers are always looking for wood that has "figure" or some other anomaly that makes it distinctive. Figured wood is relatively hard to find, as is most wood with some sort of distinction. When it comes to wood that look different there are a few different things to look for and it depends on what you want to do with the wood when you are looking. Wood turners are very often making smaller pieces like bowls, urns, pens and other smaller projects so finding distinctive wood for a turner is very important. Luthiers are probably the highest on the level of looking for distinctive woods because they are always looking for some sort of figured wood for making musical instruments. Wood artists who make smaller projects are also often looking for wood that is different so there is a big call for these kinds of woods.
Very often it is possible to find some of these woods, particularly if you don't need a large volume of it, in something a close as a wood pile. When trees are cut down for firewood, from time to time there are parts of the the tree that are hard to cut with a chain saw, or hard to split with an axe. These pieces or often cast aside, and these are often the pieces that can provide some sort of figure, unique grain structure or even spalting.
Distinctive woods come in a variety of ways, they can be something a simple as "crotch wood", a term used to describe the way wood grows around the joint of a branch and where it joins the main part of a tree, to something more elaborate as a spalting, which happens when wood gets wet for long periods and fungus grows throughout the wood changing the color patterning within the wood.
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The most economical way to purchase lumber is to buy green, rough cut lumber. Of course the disadvantage is that you have to dry it yourself, which takes time (yes this can take up to 3 or 4 years with some hardwoods), and then in order to make it useable, you need to break it down or "dress"; the lumber (at least in most cases) which simply means making it useable for woodworking projects.
The problem with this process is that frequently your wood will warp and bend as it dries, which is normal. Some wood will bend and move slightly while other pieces will bend wildly out of shape. Most lumber as it dries will bend and move in more than one plane creating what is termed a "propeller" shape.
Dressing this lumber down can be a real hazard if you are not careful because of the the way the wood is warped, and especiallt if you are working with 8 or 9 quarter inch thick boards ( 2" - 2 1/2"). thinner lumber such as 4 quarter (one inch thick) is less a bit easier to work with but BOTH can be a hazard, and here'w why ....
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One of the challenges that novice woodworkers soon discover it that working with wood means you need to understand it's properties, and one of the most rudimentary properties is the moisture content of wood.
Wood has the unique ability to absorb and release moisture. This is due to the cellular makeup of all types of wood, although different species of wood will absorb and release moisture at different rates. It is the coming and going of moisture that accounts for wood movement. If you were to grasp a handful of drinking straws in your hand, this is very similar to the structure wood. It is comprised of long microscopic tubes all bound together. It is these microscopic tubes that exchange nutrients up and down the tree as it is growing, and primarily moisture is gathered from the roots and distributed through the growth rings of the tree and on up into the leaves.
When a living tree is cut down, no matter what time of the year, there is always large moisture content in the tree, and a much higher one in the spring and summer. Depending on how the tree is milled, and how the wood is dried will also affect, to a degree, how that wood absorbs and releases moisture.
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When buying plywood from your local Home Depot, Rona, Lowes or other wood supplier, you might have noticed that all the plywood is "graded". The most common plywood grading scheme is from A to D, with A being the highest quality with zero blemishes and great sanding, and D being the worst with the greatest number of blemishes (allowed).
Grading also typically comes in pairs where each grade addresses a different side or “face” of the stock piece, ie one letter will address the quality issues of the front face and the second, the side opposite to the face. So for instance, an A-C plywood sheet would be highly finished on the front face with a relatively poorer finish on the back. Similarly, construction grade C-D (referred to as CDX) plywood, is great for structural use but not for projects requiring a high quality finish.
Along with the plywood grading system, plywood comes in different bonding where each type is differentiated by the glue used to bind the layers (aka plies) of plywood. We’ll cover each in turn.
This type is made for interior use only, from hardwood and softwood species and is generally used in places where exposure to moisture is minimal, e.g. furniture, wall sheathing, cabinetry, etc. Interior plywood is available in most grades and comes in a variety of hardwood species like birch, oak and cherry.
By far, much more sturdier and moisture-resistant than interior plywood, this type can be used outdoors and is easily available from local suppliers. Like its interior counterpart, it also comes in various grades—A-C, B-C and CDX are widely available—and hardwood species.
If you’re really looking for highly moisture-resistant plywood, look no further than Marine Plywood, which is both manufactured in top quality and uses the highest adhesives. And though commonly graded A-A for two highly placed faces, hardwood choices for exterior use (where the type would be most useful) are limited.
If you’re looking for beauty over brawn, this type is ideal although it is rarely found in a grade higher than C-D and is atypically used in construction sites (as concrete forms). Special resins are used to adhere the layers together and they are designed in such a way that the plies are less likely to separate.
Just like hardwood and softwood sizes, plywood sizes can be just as confusing if not more. Although sheets are usually sold as 4’ wide, they may sometimes be found in 2’ and 5’ widths. Similarly, just as a typical plywood sheet’s length is 8’ they can also be found in 4’ and 12’ sizes as well as metric sizes. The variety can easily confuse the best of us.
And that’s just the beginning; the variation of sizes above will be a walk in the park compared to the thickness dimensions. Common sizes on the US market are ¼”, ½” and ¾”. That said, a ¼” plywood sheet is really 7/32”; ½” a 15/32” and ¾”, a 23/32”.
And though the 1/32” doesn’t seem like much, it can make all the difference when working with plywood. Consider this: a wood craftsman is constructing a bookshelf where a ¾” shelf is inserted into a dado cut into the shelf standards; the 1/32” gap will not only be noticeable, the dado will feel sloppy and unprofessionally handled. To counteract such a situation, the dado will need to be cut at 23/32”, ensuring a snug fit.