We recently installed a set of three mahogany shelves with an asian inspiration. Our customer, who also happens to have a parent from Thailand, lived in Japan while she was in the military where she was inspired by the architecture. There is an air of this asian influence in the house already and she wanted to continue with that theme in her hallway along the stairs. She sketched up the design for the three units and let us roll from there.
The units are built out of solid wood, 8/4 mahogany, with most of the boards single width. They are connected with Domino connectors from Festool, which is a new favorite for loose tenon wood joinery. They are fast, accurate and strong, and quickly becoming the new standard in the industry, even if everyone doesn’t want to admit it (more on that some other day).
Most of the video below is focused on the finishing process, which is also where most of the time was spent. It included plenty of sanding before construction and tons more after. The mahogany is rather soft, so any rough handling along the way just added to all of the sanding fun.
I used Minwax Espresso stain for the color and Magnalac (modified lacquer) for the finish. I like the ease of application of the Magnalac and its forgiveness if I need to rework any areas.
The shelves fit into existing openings, and even though I didn’t show it in the video, they did actually get some fasteners after the satisfying slide into place (it just seemed like a great place to end the video).
We just delivered a walnut conference room table and I have been doing my best to describe it. I feel like it’s a bit aggressive and perhaps a little braggy, but after I show the photos, I get agreement on the word “badass”.
It started with a sketch from the customer (a pretty good one, by the way) of what he envisioned. I didn’t know at the time how it would go together, but I don’t worry about pesky details, so I just got to work.
Up first was how to fasten the top to the base and second, whether or not the base would need to break down for transport. Although it isn’t necessary for it to breakdown, I thought it would be cool if it could. After Jeff, our resident builder and CNC guy had the idea to use bed rail hardware, I realized the base could go together and break down without tools or visible hardware, and I knew I had to do the same for the top.
I messed with lots of different ways to attach the live edge top(s) and finally ended up with a sliding spline joint that allowed it to completely assemble without tools. As I worked on it, I got more drawn into and obsessed with the assembly part and didn’t really get a chance to appreciate how pretty it was until the final assembly at the customer’s office. Even if the design isn’t for you, I think you’ll agree – it’s badass.
Click on the link below to watch the video of the table build from picking out the wood through the delivery.
We’ve been working with more and more big live edge slabs, and this week was no exception. We sold and need to dry one of the largest oak slabs we have cut, so it’s getting a little extra time in the kiln. After we got done loading the slab, Kyle showed up with some big pecan slabs that he milled for us. The log is a giant from the Mississippi River flood plain which he busted in half to handle.
Kyle built his own band sawmill a few years ago which will cut 6′ wide, and he has been cutting for us ever since. Kyle is basically a WunderWoods employee, at least as far as I am concerned, but I haven’t been able to convince him to do it officially. Everybody loves Kyle and we have a good time when he shows up. I don’t even mind if everybody stops working when he arrives.
Below is a video of us working with the big red oak slab and Kyle’s delivery.
We have been building a lot of live edge tops lately, especially in walnut. I try to keep plenty of walnut slabs on hand, but it seems like they are going out as fast as we can get them in and dried (which is the slowest part). For our latest countertops, I cut down a 13′ long x 28″ wide single slab of walnut into two 6′ long countertops. They are right next to each other, separated by the oven cabinet, so I wanted to use one piece for a continuous look.
Below is a video of the construction and installation of both of the countertops. It starts with transcribing the cardboard template onto the slabs with spray paint. I landed on using spray paint because it is quick and accurate and very visible. The countertop on the right side has an undermount sink, so we got to use the CNC router for the cutout (I don’t know how we ever got by without that thing).
Tom went with me on the install and everything went very smooth. Plus, he got to try out a new tagline for our videos.
As written by Scott’s “lovely wife”, Chris….
As with all families, many of our discussions revolve around trees. Wait, is that only in our house? Well, if you’re married to a “tree guy” like I am, many discussion do revolve around trees. One recurring conversation is about sweetgum trees. I love them! Yes, I’ve had sweetgum trees in our yard and know of the sweet gum balls. But my gosh, they are beautiful trees.
First, a bit about sweetgum trees for the uninitiated. They are native to the U.S. and Missouri. They are hardy, low-maintenance trees that currently have no major problems with disease. They are often planted in open areas, and make fantastic shade trees. They have beautiful dark green star shaped leaves. They flower in April-May and often drop little green “broccoli tops”. If you’ve seen them on the ground, you know what I’m talking about. They are most famous for their fruit which matures in the fall but doesn’t fall until winter or late winter. These seeds are the infamous spike balls that everyone hates. Yes, they are nearly indestructible and yes, they are hard to clean up and yes, they seem to fall over a period of months, so that you never get them all cleaned up.
But here’s why they are so magnificent. They are beautiful trees. They are large and green in the summer and provide wonderful shade, which is much needed in the heat of Missouri’s summers. Then, in the fall, they become amazing trees with the prettiest color changes to red, yellow, orange and even purple. Even Scott thinks they have the widest range of colors in the fall. To me they are the quintessential fall color. It actually pains me not to have one in our current yard, but there are many in our neighborhood, and I can’t wait each year to see them dazzle in the late autumn sun.
Now, if you’re a “tree guy” like Scott, they have no value. I know, how can that be, right? Well, he doesn’t seem fazed by their fall beauty and only focuses on their shortcomings. Obviously, the balls are an eyesore and backsore (get it? from raking and raking and raking). But, he values trees with great wood. Which, apparently, sweet gums around here don’t have, but according to my internet research, the wood has historically been used for cabinetry.
So….here’s Scott’s point of view, straight from the horse’s mouth/keyboard:
Why do I hate sweetgum trees and why don’t I mill them? Let me count the ways.
Way #1: Dumb, good-for-nothing spike balls. You can’t eat them, they drop continuously from fall through spring, and they are a pain to walk on. People complain about falling walnuts, but spike balls kick walnuts’ butts.
Way #2: They are messy in the spring too, dropping what we refer to as “broccoli tops”. The broccoli tops are the beginning of the reproductive cycle to make the dumb spike balls previously mentioned. Good-for-nothing broccoli tops, making more good-for-nothing spike balls, which make more good-for-nothing sweetgum trees. Don’t need any of ‘em.
Way #3: Open-grown, sweetgum trees are silly with branches. A long, clear sweetgum log might make 9’, with most of them barely making 7’. They can grow much taller and straighter in the woods, but the yard trees are short and stubby. And, there are almost no sweet gums in the woods around St. Louis, so the available logs are always the short and stubby variety.
Way #4: No customer has ever asked for sweetgum lumber or a beautiful sweetgum dining room table. Well, at least none of my customers have ever asked for sweetgum, so I have little reason to mill it. There are just too many better choices.
Way #5: Wicked crooked lumber. Sweetgum heartwood lumber dries alright (so, I hear), but the sapwood does not. Unfortunately, for the sweetgum trees and local sawyers, the short and stubby, open-grown trees are almost all sapwood, with only a hint of heartwood. This makes for some of the most crooked lumber imaginable. I got my introduction to the twisting of sweetgum, when I milled and dried some 4/4 sweetgum for flooring and all of the boards twisted, with some of them twisting almost 45 degrees. And, those were on the bottom of a stack with wood on them as high as the Bobcat could reach. Boards 6” wide and less, lifted up thousands of pounds. Incredible and noteworthy, but not in a good way.
I say, if a tree doesn’t produce something edible or at least some decent lumber, then we don’t need it. Trim it low and plant something else instead. We can get our firewood from other trees.
Recently, I finally upgraded my Powermatic 180 planer to a spiral cutterhead, and I am here to tell you how much I love it. And yes, I do want to marry it.
I bought this machine at auction when I moved into the new shop, after I burned up my last planer in the fire. I’ve had it for about 8 years now, and for most of that time fought with keeping the blades sharp. I was excited when I bought it because it was made in America (not like the ones from Taiwan today), had a strong 7-1/2 horse motor, and I knew it would last the rest of my life. I especially liked the warning sticker on the front, which reminds me not to remove more than 1/2” of thickness at a time (like that is going to happen). The coolness continued with the fact that it had an on-board grinder to sharpen the knives without removing them from the planer. The coolness ended, however, with the blade setup.
A normal planer has three or four long blades, the width of the planer to shave the wood. This particular Powermatic planer, “The Quiet One” was outfitted with 27 short blades, which were placed in a staggered pattern in 9 slots, presumably to not have as much smacking of the blades against the wood and reducing the noise. Instead of three or four hard smacks per revolution, it would be broken down to 9 smaller smacks per revolution, running with more consistency in the noise level. I found this set up to NOT reduce the noise and to make knife setting and resharpening almost impossible, which explains why this design was not long-lived.
The little, 2” long knives, were held in with Allen screws which were supposed to also allow for height adjustment, but they were always jammed with wood and would take an act of God to get them loose. Even after we made a special hook-shaped tool to get them out, it would still take me at least a full day to reset all of the knives, and I still felt like they were subpar. Finally, after the last time resetting the knives, I told myself that once they were ground down enough to need resetting, I was going to replace that cutting head. I hadn’t done it up to that point because I am cheap and the new cutting head was in the $1,500 range, which was $500 more than I paid for the planer.
I ended up buying a Byrd Shelix carbide insert cutterhead. It has around 150 little carbide inserts with four cutting edges on them. When I opened the packaging it was quickly evident why it was so expensive – it was a thing of machining beauty. There are so many little cuts and angles and crazy geometry that it would make your head spin if you really had to figure it out. Even the little inserts have a little bit of bend along the cutting edge to make up for the fact that they are set up at an angle to make a shear cut. Nothing about it is straight or simple.
I had a friend of mine from the St. Louis Woodworkers Guild, former shop teacher Dan Coleman, install it for me. You would know (like I did) after talking to Dan for just a minute about machines and machine setup, that he was the guy to do it. It took him less than a day to dismantle my planer and swap out the new cutting head. I’m sure if I did it alone it would have taken much longer and I still wouldn’t be sure everything was right. After listening to several presentations by Dan about machine maintenance, I was sure it would be done perfectly, which it was.
When we ran the first board through the planer, it was amazing! It was so quiet, I didn’t even think it was cutting the wood! Even now, I need to look at the wood coming out of the planer sometimes just to make sure it is doing anything. The hum of the motor is usually about the same noise level as the actual planing. The funny thing is, going into this, I wasn’t so worried about the noise level, or at least I didn’t think I was. If I just got good planing results without having to fight with those stupid knives, I would have been happy, but the reduction in noise makes it almost unbelievable.
So, “What about the finish quality?,” you ask. Also, AHH-MAZING! Since the cutters are set at an angle and designed to make a shear cut, there is almost no tearout like normal planer blades, which hit the wood straight on and lift out chunks of wood while they are cutting. Even difficult-to-plane species, like hard maple, come through almost entirely unscathed. Now, I feel confident sticking boards in the planer, knowing they will come out the other side with the surface fully intact and not blown to bits. This speeds things up in the shop because we don’t need to spend so much time at the wide belt sander cleaning up after the planer.
Since the cutterhead was switched out, I have had a chance to test out the resharpening process, and it is so easy. Twice, I have rotated just a few of the carbide teeth, which got damaged by hitting a nail in the wood, and I had it back up and running, with a perfect finish, in just a few minutes. I have rotated all of the teeth once so far, and that was done in about an hour. The teeth loosen and rotate easily and fall right into perfect position – it is super simple. The sharpening process has gone from something I hated with every bit of my being to something I don’t even think about – a 100% non-issue. It just works, and works better than I could have ever imagined. I can’t believe I waited so stinkin’ long to do it.
Post by Chris Wunder (Scott’s lovely wife)
Here’s a great example of wood and metal together to create a unique bar table.
Spalted maple isn’t exactly the first choice for many, but the look is very distinctive. If you aren’t familiar with spalted wood, let me enlighten you. Spalted wood is the unique color and dark lines that occur from fungal growth in wood. Simply put, it has a little rot in it. Surprising to some, this look is sought after and makes the wood more valuable. Spalting occurs in trees (or parts of trees) that have already died.
Here metal legs are used for the industrial feel. The cross piece of wood adds a great amount of stability, and the turnbuckles bring the stability home, while enforcing the industrial element.
Post by Chris Wunder (Scott’s lovely wife)
This spring (March 2019) we completed and installed custom shutters at Lakeside 370 Park in St. Peters. These shutters are made from burr oak that was salvaged during construction at Washington University in St. Louis. A tanquil nature scene (hand drawn by non other than Scott Wunder) featuring local wildlife and fauna was lasered into the wood. The shutters were constructed and installed to be removed in the event of a flood. Who would have guessed that the possibility of a flood would turn into reality so soon after installation? The shutters were removed this summer and safely stored out of harm’s way, when the Mississippi River flooded the park in August.
The counter is silver maple and features a natural live edge. Both silver maple and burr oak are bottomland species which can be found in the park area in the Mississippi River Valleys.
Post by Chris Wunder (Scott’s lovely wife)
Recently, a customer who visited the shop said they weren’t sure if WunderWoods was still in business because the most recent blog post was from 2018. Scott’s always busy, but lately just hasn’t found the time to write one of his informational pieces. So, I’ve decided to help out with some posts. I’m sure I won’t have the humor that Scott does, or the helpful how-to information that he provides, but I will highlight projects happening in the shop. So here’s my first post!
If you’ve seen any custom wood projects in the last few years you know that live edge slabs are all the rage. Here’s a few pictures of our most recent live edge projects. From corporate offices to laid back bedrooms, live edge wood is everywhere. If you’d like more information on what we offer in the way of finished or unfinished slabs, please click on the “Live Edge Slabs” in the upper left hand corner of our website.
When I started cutting lumber for myself, I thought I could do it better than Home Depot. No more twisted and crooked lumber for this guy. I was gonna be the guy that did it right, the one that wasn’t affected by the limitations of mass output, the one that made sure every step was followed, and the one that made sure that every board behaved. I thought that if I properly placed my sticks and used more sticks and weighted down the pile and otherwise paid attention, that the lumber would respond in kind. Boy, was I wrong.
One of my favorite stories to tell people is from my early milling days when I tried to dry some sweet gum. The customer wanted to make flooring out of the tree, so I milled the log into 4″ wide boards. I took that nice-looking, 4″-wide sweet gum and stickered it on the bottom of a stack of lumber the was as tall as the Bobcat could reach. There must have been at least 3,000 bd. ft. and about a billion pounds on top of that sweet gum to help keep the notoriously ornery lumber flat as it dried.
After a few months on sticks, the lumber had twisted in unimaginable ways. Some of the boards twisted 45 degrees. Somehow, they pushed up the entire stack as they dried and went on their merry way getting all crooked without regard to my perfectly placed stickers and extra weight. It was really incredible. Even if I showed you a dried board in person, you may not have believed it. I had to cut some of the wood as short as 8″ long, just so I could straighten it on the jointer before it went through the planer. I don’t cut sweetgum anymore.
After my sweetgum “education”, it was clear that some wood is just not going to dry straight. Certain species always dry wonky. Flatsawn sycamore, elm and cottonwood all come to mind, along with the sweetgum, as bad actors. If quartersawn, they are all more stable, but if flatsawn, all bets are off. I always say that flatsawn sycamore dries like a potato chip. Elm and cottonwood dry more like thinly sliced potatoes that are fried in oil.
And, it isn’t just certain species that twist. Branches or trees that grew with a lean will dry crooked, even if they came from normally cooperative species. Certain areas within the good lumber can dry crooked too. Wood around a branch or crotch always dries spastic because the grain of the wood is flowing in many different directions. And, the lumber can still dry crooked if the lumber isn’t cut with the pith of the tree down the center of the board. There are just too many forces in the world trying to make the lumber unstraight.
The last one, and the one that I cannot defeat, is the tree with a twist. Not twisted lumber, but a twisted tree. The twist gets in the tree as it grows, and it twists the lumber as it dries. I have seen it in may different hardwood trees and the resulting lumber is always twisted. This past summer, I took a photo of a dead sycamore that showed off this “death-twist”, which would make an already cantankerous lumber throw an off-the-charts fit. It is easily identified by looking at the surface checks in this dried out log.
Click on any photo to enlarge.
Sycamore doesn’t always look like this. The grain is normally wavy, which makes the lumber dry unflat, but it isn’t usually twisted. This tree is very, very twisted and will dry with a pronounced twist in every board. It is best left as a decoration in the field. The good news is that this twist is usually obvious, even when the bark is on the tree. The bark will have the same twisted lines as the log, and let you know that it isn’t worth milling.
In the world of sawmilling, however, very few logs come right out and announce that they are going to twist. They don’t say, “Don’t waste your time cutting me, idiot!” Many logs and pieces of lumber look good but end up doing what they want, and you have to accept that some lumber just won’t dry flat. I still do everything I can to make the lumber dry straight, but I know now that crooked lumber is part of life and, in the meantime, I have become really good friends with my jointer.