Archive | Sawmilling RSS for this section

Grow Exhibit Opens at the St. Louis Science Center

The Exploradome (above) was deflated and removed to make way for the new Grow exhibit. Click on the photo to find out more about the now deflated Exploradome.

The Exploradome (above) was deflated and removed to make way for the new Grow exhibit. Click on the photo to find out more about the now deflated Exploradome.

If you have driven down Highway 40 in St. Louis recently, you may have noticed a new structure being erected next to the St. Louis Science Center where the “temporary” Exploradome once stood. After 16 years in service, the inflated building was past its prime and too expensive to operate, so it was replaced with a new, permanent agriculture exhibit called Grow.

The centerpiece of the exhibit is the new building that features massive bent laminated beams which create a beautiful swoosh of a roof. Just outside the entrance of the new building is a vermiculture display that I built for the exhibit. While it pales in comparison to the woodwork that went into making the building, I like to think it makes a nice little earth-friendly welcome mat for visitors.

The bent laminated beams that make the roof structure on the new Grow exhibit building are impressive.

The bent laminated beams that make the roof structure on the new Grow exhibit building are impressive.

The vermiculture unit, designed by Mark Cooley, uses worms to make compost. Built out of locally salvaged Eastern Red Cedar, the two-compartment structure is set up to have green waste loaded in the top and compost extracted from the bottom after the worms have done their job eating the contents. The two compartments, which are side by side, are divided by a wire mesh that allows the worms to move between compartments. This particular unit has glass panels to allow for viewing of the interior from the front of the display, though the glass is not required for use.

Just outside of the new building is the vermiculture unit where worms make green waste into compost.

Just outside of the new building is the vermiculture unit where worms make green waste into compost.

This project was a bit out of the norm for me since it was more carpentry than fine woodworking, but it was a fun change to build something that wasn’t so fussy. I had the most fun when I was able to find some logs in my shop already standing against the wall for the project. They were left over from another project, and I was able to just carry them to the sawmill and cut the parts I needed. I chuckled to myself while I was doing it because I have never just hand carried logs to the sawmill that were standing in the shop like sticks of lumber. It was only possible because cedar is lightweight and the logs were small, but I still had more than enough to make this project.

Cedar is lightweight, durable and cuts like butter.

Cedar is lightweight and durable. I already had these logs in the shop waiting to be milled.

Mermaid Lagoon driftwood sign WunderWoods

The vermiculture unit was a bit more fussy on measurements, but it reminded me of making this sign.

Cedar mills like butter on the sawmill, even when dry, and since it was going outside I didn’t need to do any extra drying. I was able to mill it, plane it and assemble it right away, which made it feel more like I was building a fort or a treehouse, especially since I never get to knock something out like that. It reminded me a lot of the Mermaid Lagoon sign I made for Mira a few years ago, since both went together expeditiously. There were a few critical measurements to maintain, like the size of the footprint, but everything else was somewhat negotiable as long as it looked and worked like Mark Cooley’s design.

The vermiculture unit is nestled in the Grow exhibit along a mulch path surrounded by plantings that are arranged like a garden or small farm field. Nearby are live chickens, two new tractors, a greenhouse and a dairy demonstration area. Inside the building are electronic, hands-on displays that focus more on the places that generate food, from the species of plants to different farm settings. Outside, on the North side of the building, are a couple of displays that focus on water, with a chance for the kids to interact with displays that are both hands-on and hands-wet.

The St. Louis Science Center and the new Grow exhibit are free to all visitors. It opens Monday-Saturday at 9:30 a.m. and Sunday at 11:00 a.m. The Science Center closes at 5:30 p.m. during peak summer hours (May 28-Sep. 5, 2016) and at 4:30 p.m. during off-peak hours.

 

Random Width Flooring: Efficient Use of a Valuable Resource

In the normal course of my business, I am sometimes asked to make flooring out of my customers’ logs. Because I mill the logs into random width boards, I would often get stuck with trying to determine the best width to make the flooring, knowing that no single width would have that great of a yield. No matter the width I chose, there would always be plenty of boards with lots of waste. If I chose 3″ wide flooring, I can guarantee you that an astonishing number of the rough cut boards would just happen to measure 8-3/4″ wide, which would yield two 3″ wide boards and one wide scrap piece, absolutely killing me.

This random width hickory floor was rough cut in 3", 4' and 5" widths. I made it from trees harvested on site at Tyson Research Center in Eureka, Missouri.

This random width hickory floor was rough cut in 3″, 4′ and 5″ widths. I made it from trees harvested on site at Tyson Research Center in Eureka, Missouri.

In the past, I have tried to decide the width ahead of milling the logs and pick out which cut was going to be flooring and which was going to be another product, like siding.  It seemed simple enough, if the board I was cutting was long and clear with no knot holes, I would cut siding, and if it was knotty and was going to produce only short pieces that were good, I would cut them for flooring. All I really had to do was sort the lumber into two piles while I was working. But, it wasn’t that easy.

Some logs would have a side that was good for producing siding, but the next side was only good for flooring. When I flipped the log over to a new side, my width was determined by how much I cut off of the last side, and it was always random. So, no matter what I did, even if I was cutting for a specific product, I would get stuck with lots of random width boards.

As I mentioned, wasting lumber kills me, and every time I ripped random-width boards down to some set width, leaving wide scraps on the floor, I thought about how to stop wasting so much wood – then it clicked. Many years ago, a friend of mine showed me a floor he made for his own house out of random width boards. As far as I know, he only did it because he thought it would look different and make his house have a special touch that would only come from someone who made their own flooring. His floor was white oak with tons of character, in three different widths. It was beautiful, and it seemed to me that I could use these random widths in some form to stop wasting wood.

I don’t remember a specific moment when I had the epiphany (though I am sure I must have had one), but I figured out that using just three widths, 3″, 4″, and 5″ would cover every width of board I could produce and always leave me with less than 1″ of waste per board.

Think about it. 3″, 4″, and 5″ wide, rough lumber is covered right off of the bat since they are already useable widths. After that is a 6″ wide board, which will just be ripped into two 3″ wide strips. A 7″ board gets ripped to a 3″ and a 4″ strip, while an 8″ board turns into two 4″ strips or a 5″ and a 3″, whichever is preferred. Any width of rough lumber over 6″ wide can be broken down in some way with just the three target widths of 3″, 4″ and 5″. By the way, these are the rough cut widths. The finished tongue and groove flooring will end up with a face about 1/2″ less in width.

This classroom at Tyson Research Center, features random width maple flooring, I also rough milled it in 3", 4" and 5" widths.

This classroom at Tyson Research Center, features random width maple flooring, I also rough milled it in 3″, 4″ and 5″ widths.

Random width flooring looks different, but not too different. At first glance, the viewer only notices the beautiful wood, and then after closer inspection notices the three widths, which lets them know subconsciously that the flooring is special. It stands out because it isn’t all one width like typical hardwood flooring, and most people have never seen or even thought of using random-width flooring. But, I say, “Don’t be scared of it.” It is different and not typical, but in a good way, especially when it comes to waste.

How Thick to Cut Lumber

One of the first things I needed to figure out when I started cutting rough lumber on a sawmill was what thickness to make it. I could generally determine if I wanted it to be thick or thin, but just how thick or thin? 4/4 lumber is 1″ thick, so it should be rough cut at 1″ thick, right? Not exactly. For hardwoods, the commercial target for 4/4 lumber is actually 1-1/8″, which allows enough margin to produce dried and planed lumber at a thickness of 13/16″ or 3/4″ (3/4″ is acceptable, but the extra 1/16″ of thickness in 13/16″ material allows room for additional planing or sanding after panels or doors are glued up).

The crazy thing is that back then I couldn’t find solid information on lumber thicknesses anywhere and when I referred to the NHLA (National Hardwood Lumber Association) guide, the thicknesses didn’t match up with what I was finding from hardwood producers.  The NHLA guide doesn’t include the bonus 1/8″ of thickness – 4/4 lumber, for example, is specified at a minimum of 1″.

In my experience, 4/4 hardwood lumber cut at 1″ is too thin to consistently produce flattened and planed lumber at 13/16″ thick and will even have trouble producing 3/4″ thick unless the boards are very flat. The only way 1″ thick rough-cut hardwood lumber can plane out completely to 13/16″ or 3/4″  thick is to skip the flattening and just plane the lumber. This will produce thicker finished lumber, but it won’t be flat and straight since the planer will simply follow the curves of any crooked boards. From a woodworkers perspective this is a horrible practice and makes woodworking much more difficult. For this reason, I cut my 4/4 hardwood lumber like all other quality producers at 1-1/8″ thick and don’t accept anything from other sawmills or wholesalers at 1″ thick.

Starting with the lumber measurement and adding 1/8″ for the final thickness is how all of the hardwood measurements go, with a target for 4/4 lumber at 1-1/8″, 5/4 lumber at 1-3/8″, 6/4 at 1-5/8″ and 8/4 at 2-1/8″. These are the commercially accepted numbers, and except for 8/4 lumber the ones that I shoot for. The problem with 8/4 lumber is that since there is more wood it shrinks more than thinner lumber and 2-1/8″ thick just isn’t enough thickness to flatten and plane lumber to consistently finish at 1-3/4″, which is the target for 8/4 lumber. When I flatten and plane batches of 8/4 lumber milled at 2-1/8″ thick it isn’t uncommon for half of the lumber to finish at 1-5/8″ thick instead of 1-3/4″.

Because I think 2-1/8″ is a little thin, I commonly cut 8/4 lumber at 2-3/8″ thick. 2-3/8″ thick is twice that of 4/4 lumber, plus the 1/8″ saw kerf that would have been between the two imaginary cuts. The extra thickness not only impresses the ladies, but it assures a final dried and planed thickness of at least 1-3/4″ and officially uses no extra wood when compared to cutting 4/4 lumber (to keep things simple, a friend of mine simply calls it “double four quarter” lumber). As I mentioned though, 8/4 is commercially sawn at 2-1/8″ thick, so if you cut it at that measurement it isn’t wrong, 2-3/8″ is just better for the end user (none of my customers have ever been upset that the wood is a little thicker).

The previous examples were for hardwoods, but softwoods, like white pine, can be cut thinner since they shrink less and dry straighter overall, plus softwoods are commonly used for construction purposes instead of furniture, which don’t need the extra thickness for secondary planing or sanding, so 3/4″ final thickness is common for 4/4 softwood lumber. For 4/4 white pine for example, I cut 1″ thick, which will finish at 3/4″. And, for cedar, which shrinks very little and is very straight and stable, I will go even thinner, down to 7/8″. In general though, softwoods are cut on the standard quarter scale with 4/4 lumber measuring 1″.

The scale below shows the target hardwood lumber thicknesses for commercially produced, rough-cut lumber and their planed thickness counterparts. These are the sizes you should expect to find when shopping for hardwoods.

Hardwood Lumber Measurements

Quarter-scale measurement    Rough cut thickness    Planed thickness
4/4                                                1-1/8″                            13/16″
5/4                                                1-3/8″                            1-1/16″
6/4                                                1-5/8″                            1-1/4″
8/4                                                2-1/8″ (or 2-3/8″*)         1-3/4″

*2-3/8″ is a better thickness to consistently finish at 1-3/4″ thick, but 2-1/8″ is the norm.

First Hollow Sycamore Slice Gets Finished and Installed

I have been on a sycamore kick lately, and this sycamore slice keeps my streak going. There are three stacks of these rough sawn slices for sale in my shop, and though I have sold a few, this is the first one to officially get finished and installed.

Luckily the house had a perfect niche for this 48" diameter hollow sycamore log slice.

Luckily the house had a perfect niche for this 48″ diameter hollow sycamore log slice.

The slice is 3″ thick and is a cross cut of a 48″ diameter hollow sycamore log that had the added benefit of having a long open wound that didn’t quite seal up. In the tree’s attempt to close the wound the new wood took on a curl shape on both ends that make the slice look more like an artistic expression than just a hollow log.

Since the tree was standing dead all of the sapwood is consistently spalted and marbled in appearance. There is some solid heartwood in the piece which isn’t spalted, but has a beautiful rust color.

I was planning on ditching this tree since it was hollow and didn’t seem to have any millable lumber in it, but when I saw the curl shape on the inside of the log I did a u-turn on my way to the dump. Solid logs with complete centers that are sliced like this tend to crack and fall apart because of the drying stresses in the log, but in this case all of the drying stresses were relieved since the center was gone. When the outside wood wanted to shrink it wasn’t restricted by wood on the inside and could freely reduce in diameter without any problems.

I installed the slice on the wall with two lag screws, just like a mantel. I drilled matching holes on the back of the wood and just slid it on the wall (with the help of my customer). This system works great since it allows the piece to get flush to the wall and enables it to be removed without tools should the need arise.

Overall, I am ecstatic to have one of these completed and out the door. Next up is to finish at least one extra to keep in the shop to show off. You wouldn’t believe how much faster they sell with a finished sample around to seal the deal.

Short Sycamore Log on Its Way to Being a Big Table

This week I picked up a sycamore log at Grant’s Farm for a local woodworker. He has been commissioned to build a round table from the tree that has stood on the property since the time of Ulysses S. Grant.

Because the log was too heavy to load in one piece and was going to be cut into round slices anyway, I cut it in half to make it easier to handle. The log is a minimum of 60″ in diameter on the skinny end, and should make a few nice table tops.

I jokingly complained to my wife that I drove all the way to Grant’s Farm only to pick up two 3′ long logs – that, by the way, filled up the truck.

Cutting the sycamore log in half for loading.

Cutting the sycamore log in half for loading.

I loaded both 3' logs on the truck standing up.

I loaded both 3′ logs on the truck standing up (the logs, uh and well, me too).

Hollow Sycamore Logs Get Sliced Up

Recently, I set up three large hollow spalted sycamore logs to cut in the Lucas mill. They are all in the 48″ diameter range and most were cut 3″ thick. I see future tabletops (with glass) and wall decorations. Out of all the logs I had on the lot, these were drawing the most attention, so they got cut first.

Sycamore slice #27 (48%22 x 53%22 x 3%22) $400

A couple of them had a very cool curl shape where the tree tried to heal.

Hollow sycamore slicing WunderWoods

I set up all three in a row for faster cutting.

 

From this close-up you can see why I like spalted sycamore.

From this close-up you can see why I like spalted sycamore.

I had to put myself in the photo (sorry), so you could get an idea of the size of the pieces.

I had to put myself in the photo (sorry), so you could get an idea of the size of the pieces.

 

Let It Sit or Use It: Acclimating Wood

“Be sure to let the wood acclimate before you use it.”

That’s what every knowledgable woodworker will tell you about wood. After all, it has to be in equilibrium with its environment to ensure a good, long-lasting result. I personally preach this to everyone I meet, if they are willing to listen (and sometimes when they are not). But, it’s not as simple as just letting the wood sit before you use it. Sometimes letting the wood acclimate to its new environment is actually a bad idea.

The logic behind letting wood acclimate before you use it is to have all of the craziness of wood movement happen before it is installed. If the wood is moved to a dry environment it is going to shrink and if it is moved into a wet environment it is going to expand. This “dry” or “wet” description is relative though – wood moisture in relation to the environmental moisture (humidity).

I often think of wood trim and casework when I think of acclimating wood to its environment, with a close second being hardwood flooring. In a perfect world, I would install both of these items on the 2nd of February after the heat has been running in the house for months and everything is shrunk up as much as possible. In this shrunk up world, I want my flooring or trim to be super dry and super shrunk so everything fits nice and tight and only tightens up as summer rolls around and the humidity rises. However, the opposite is usually true. I seem to only install woodwork around July 20th, when the humidity is a billion percent and everything is fat, which means in the winter everything will shrink and gaps will appear.

“Well pal, if you weren’t such an idiot and you let that wood acclimate before you installed it, everything would be great and the gaps that open in the winter would be a thing of the past.”

Not true, I say. Remember, the dry and wet thing is relative. Letting the wood acclimate in winter to a super dry environment is good. Your wood will most likely be shrinking (it definitely won’t be expanding if the heat is running all day long). You will install everything tight and it will only get tighter as the summer rolls around. This is good – in winter.

In summer, the opposite is true. Say that you take your wood flooring that is dried to 6% to a job site in the summer. Your flooring is shrunk, it is small and ready to be installed. Yes, it will swell up in the humidity of summer, but you want it installed when the wood is shrunk so it will expand and only tighten up. Letting it acclimate in the summer only ensures that you are installing fatter wood, which is guaranteed to open up in the winter. Flooring will show gaps between boards and casework will open up at the seams.

I think the whole acclimation just-do-it, don’t-think-about-it thing started because there are so many chances in life to have wood that is a little too wet going in to an environment that could use drier wood. This, perhaps, isn’t the case in the deep south, but I would say it is the norm for much of the country. Wood has too many opportunities to pick up extraneous moisture before it makes it into its final resting place. From sawmills and distributors to retailers, lumber is stored in environments that are not climate controlled, possibly for quite a while, picking up moisture the entire time. And, even after it makes its way into your hands it may spend time in a garage, shed or job site that isn’t climate controlled.

The default in all of these cases is to get the wood inside, in a climate controlled environment and let it acclimate to the environment, but what we really mean is to let the wood dry. I have never had an issue with interior woodwork being too dry and causing a problem after it swelled up. Again, in the high humidity of the deep south this might be a problem, but for most of us wood can’t be too dry. It is almost always a little wet.

So, what to do in summer. Say you’ve got wood that just came out of the kiln and is dried to a target of 6-8%. Do you take it to the job site and let it acclimate, knowing that it is going to pick up moisture and get fatter before you install it, just to shrink again in the winter? I say, “Heck no!” It makes zero sense to let the wood acclimate in this scenario. If the wood is dry, put it in – and fast.

I have found this Wagner MMC 220 pinless moisture meter to be the most reliable and easiest to use. It gives deeper more rliable readings than a pin-type meter without damaging the wood.

I have found this Wagner MMC 220 pinless moisture meter to be the most reliable and easiest to use. It gives deeper more rliable readings than a pin-type meter without damaging the wood.

The key in any scenario is knowing the moisture level of your wood and what the acclimating environment is going to do to it. A reliable moisture meter is a good place to start. Test your wood, and if it is dry based on your area of the country, start using it. Refer to the chart at the end of this post to see what moisture content your wood should be. If you don’t have a moisture meter, assume that the wood is a little wet (since it usually is).

In the dead of winter letting the wood acclimate is always a good idea because it can’t really cause a problem. It won’t improve your lumber if it is already dry, but it won’t hurt it, and it will only help wet lumber. Winter is by far the best time of the year to install interior woodwork.

In the spring and fall acclimating wood is likely to have little to no effect. Heat and air conditioning will be running less, windows will be open, and humidity levels will be closer to outdoor levels. Only let your wood acclimate during this time of year if you know it is wet and could benefit from some drying. If it reads as dry on a moisture meter and/or hasn’t spent awhile in an environment without any climate control, start using it.

Acclimating your wood in summer only really makes sense if you know that your wood is extra wet, either because your moisture meter told you so or because the lumber was stored in an environment that wasn’t climate controlled. If your lumber is in a condition that acclimating it during the summer makes sense, you may want to reevaluate your situation. In this case, additional drying, not just acclimating, may be necessary. Summer is the worst time to install interior woodwork.

Use common sense when deciding whether or not to acclimate wood. If the environment is extra dry, no matter the time of year, let it acclimate. If humidity levels are extra high, it probably makes sense to start using the lumber right away. Any other times, when the humidity is moderate, you are probably just kissing your sister (getting no benefit) and possibly making the wood worse by letting it acclimate.

This chart shows the high (summer) and low (winter) moisture levels for interior wood throughout the country. In a perfect world, your wood will read at the lower number when installed.

This chart shows the high (summer) and low (winter) moisture levels for interior wood throughout the country. In a perfect world, your wood will read at the lower number when installed.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 620 other followers

%d bloggers like this: