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New Projects on the Rise

The wood shop has been busy these past few weeks with magazine articles and private wood working classes to new projects, designs and commissions on the rise. I just picked up some lumber on Saturday morning out at A & M Wood Specialty in Cambridge, Ontario.

Aromatic cedar, black cherry and curly maple…

I should actually say I  only picked up ‘half’ of my wood order on Saturday- it’s funny, I’ve been purchasing large quantities of lumber for years now and every new project that came and went I always transported my stock on the roof of my SUV. I drive a Nissan, Xterra which has a heavy duty roof rack and I’ve never had a problem with putting 100 or so board feet of lumber up there. This time however was strange and I don’t know what I was thinking but I took the hour drive out to Cambridge to get my materials and I could only fit half of what I needed on the roof! I guess I didn’t realise how much lumber I was planning on getting for the new projects on the rise.

As a side note, while I was there loading the materials I noticed a little puddle of oil forming under the Xterra. Seems I have a hole in my oil pan so I haven’t made it back out to Cambridge yet to get the other half of the cut list. The truck is in the garage and will be ready for pick up this afternoon so it’ll be Thursday before I get back out to A & M. I was getting a little stressed because I had originally hoped to have the wood here in my shop two weeks ago but with the mill closing over the holidays they’re experiencing a bit of a back log and took two full weeks to get my lumber together.
Now this combined with my vehicle problems I’ll be having to make up some lost time to get things done on schedule. Still not too worried because I was happy to find the wood is really dry.
The first thing I do when I bring wood into the shop is check the moisture content. This can usually range from a very low 8% up to sometimes 20% depending on where the wood came from, how long ago it was cut and how it was dried.
I was happy to find this stock is just a hair over 8% for the most part with a couple of sticks of cherry closer to 12%. This is perfect for my work and I’ll be starting to rough out the components on the weekend. This wood is for two commissions so what I did to save myself some time and actually try to make a few dollars is have the mill send the stock through a thickness planer and edge joint everything before I pick it up. It would take me the better part of two weeks to dimension all of this stock by hand and I wouldn’t be able to make any profit at all so paying a little extra for materials is well worth the time saved. That’s a trade secret I suppose and I get asked alot about how I make a living at building furniture using only hand tools.
When I’m building projects for myself or have clients with open ended time lines then I actually enjoy bringing in rough lumber or even reclaimed or salvaged stock and working it all down with hand planes and hand saws- these projects don’t have that kind of time line so having the mill get it close to finished thickness  is a necessity.

I don’t have anything cut to length or width yet and that will all be done with hand saws, but having the lumber already milled close to final thickness is a great alternative for hand tool users trying to make a go at it. Now I should clarify that even though the material has been surface planned at the mill, I still need to hand plane each and every surface again to smooth, finish and sometimes square up the stock. These fine machines are wonderful but expecting to take a plank of curly maple out of it and the stock being flat and free of any ‘wind’ or ‘twist’  just isn’t a reality. Once I get all of my components rough sawn to length and width, I’ll start the jointing process where necessary and move into the hand plane work. That’s really the best part and I love the time it takes me.

The species I’m using for the  projects are black cherry for the carcasses, door frames and any face frames; some incredible curly maple for the drawer fronts and door panels- with aromatic cedar for the drawer bottoms and cabinet backs. This is the first time using aromatic cedar (which actually isn’t a true cedar at all) Juniperus virginiana is a species of Juniper and I’m not sure when along the lines it became known as a ‘cedar’. Not that it matters either way, I’m happy with the species and my shop is full of the fragrant aroma. It’s much more purple in tone than I thought and the stock is fairly wide without alot of the large, burly knots usually associated with the species. I’ll fill you in on the specific designs in a later post but Nissan just phoned and my truck is ready for pick up so I’d better run up to the garage and get on with the rest of my day!


  1. Posted by Christopher on Jan 27th, 2010

    Hey Tom-

    I’m with you on the rough surfacing at the mill. Even as a hybrid woodworker I find that it gives my knives a break by not forcing them through the accumulated crud on the outside. I also suspect (though I’m guessing) that it speeds up the stabilization to my shop conditions.

    Lately, however, I’ve found that I have to hang around the machines while they are doing it to keep them from bouncing the stock through at breakneck speed and generally gouging the surface. I can tell they don’t like me looking over their shoulder, but hey, good wood is not cheap!

  2. Posted by Rick on Jan 27th, 2010

    You could always do this the next time. No wait, WAS that you?

  3. Posted by Tom Fidgen on Jan 27th, 2010

    Yeah, its true- the mill is set to do this quickly and efficiently. In the grand scope of the material cost, having it milled is only another 3 to 5% of the total. Very reasonable.
    Thanks for the comments- how is the tele coming?

  4. Posted by Tom Fidgen on Jan 27th, 2010

    nope- that wasn’t me-;)
    but thanks for the link!

  5. Posted by Andre on Jan 27th, 2010

    Hi Tom,

    Good to see that you’re on your way with new projects (commisioned ones as well!). I’m lookin’ forward to your posts on them. I’m sure it’ll make for some interesting reading as always.

    Gettin’ pre-surfaced lumber is also my choice. Makes gettin’ to the good stuff just that much quicker.

    Have fun building!

  6. Posted by Tom Fidgen on Jan 27th, 2010

    thanks Andre-
    I’ll be making some shavings by Saturday so stay tuned…
    thanks for the comments!

  7. Posted by Brent on Jan 27th, 2010

    Are you left-handed? I am considering getting the Lie-Nielsen skew plane or the Lee Valley plow plane and I noticed they are both available in left and right-hand models. Since I am left-handed I like to plane on my left side and hold the board with my right hand. Is that “normal” ;) or do left-handers usually plane with their right hand and “sight” from the left side?
    Isn’t this a darn good question?

  8. Posted by Tom Fidgen on Jan 27th, 2010

    Hey Brent,
    sorry but I’m right handed- I use a left handed LN skew block and a right handed Veritas skew rabbet. I also have a right handed plough plane from Veritas. When I use the left handed skew block it seems to be a little backwards meaning my work is to the right hand side of me on the bench and I’m using my right hand to lead the plane so I’m stretching across my body while in use. The more comfortable position would be planing away from your body so you being a ‘lefty’ I’d imagine the left handed models would be more comfortable for you.
    wow- this is the most confusing few sentences of dialogue I’ve evr been apart of!
    Hope you follow and I think I followed you !?!…
    try to get out to a wood show and hand tool event and take them for a ‘test drive’ that’ll be the best bet for you.
    good luck with it-

  9. Posted by Luis Martins on Jan 27th, 2010

    I’ve transported some 8′ long planks on the left seat of my Miata (with the top down), just like i transport my 9′ surf board, but the video above is just insane! Thanks for sharing, it just made my day. :-)

  10. Posted by Joab Oberlander on Feb 2nd, 2010

    When you have the mill thickness the lumber, how close to finished do you have them do it? How much do you leave for truing and squaring?

    I think your book is great! I find it very inspirational.

  11. Posted by Tom Fidgen on Feb 2nd, 2010

    thanks for the comments- in this case knowing I was working with 3/4″ plywood- I had them dress it to about an 1/8″ better than that. If you look at the plywood edge shot with the clamps still on you’ll see the difference between the two and how much material I needed to remove. Not too much at all- quick work with a bench plane.

  12. Posted by Eric Madsen on Feb 3rd, 2010

    I recently downsized and relocated across the country. In doing so I decided to sell my pickup thinking I would just buy another inexpensive work truck out here in Oregon. After borrowing my brothers 4×8 trailer a couple times I decided to save my money for other things. I was spending $70 a month just for the insurance and considering that I only used it a couple times a month that seems hardly worth it now. My brother purchased his trailer used for $150… Last weekend I made a 3 hour round-trip to the mill to pickup 200bf of lumber. There are three of sharing the trailer now, and it works out just great. I have a Toyota FJ which is similar to your Xterra… The FJ can tow 5000 pounds which including the trailer is at least double what my old pickup would haul.

  13. Posted by Tom Fidgen on Feb 3rd, 2010

    thanks for the comment- back home I have a 5 x 10 ‘bear cat’ steel utility trailors and it worked so well. Especially when building boats I used to get my lumber all rough sawn mahogany in 16 ‘ lengths! These days the Xterra roof rack does the job- just didn’t realise/visualise how much wood I ordered for the current jobs!
    all the best-

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