Building and Installing a “Very Pretty” Barn Door
I just finished installing a barn door to cap off a bar area of a basement remodel. During its construction everyone visiting the shop talked about how pretty it was, and I agree. It’s weird because I didn’t imagine I would like it so much or get so wrapped up in terms like “pretty”, especially since I prefer to use the word “cute”.
Originally, we thought we might add some color to the individual boards, like maybe some washes of blue to go with the cabinets, but it turned out to be unnecessary. We wrangled up some wood in the shop from several different barns, and all of them stood on their own with no paint necessary. They were different enough that Tom, who built the door, even named them to keep them separated. The most textured gray pieces, which were sycamore, he called “dragon skin” and the smoother brown ones he named “Douggie Fir”. I think getting to know the wood really helped Tom pass the time at the chop saw.
The door is extra wide and turned out to be quite heavy, with two layers of hardwoods and a core of 1/2″ thick MDF, which required the wall hardware to be custom made and beefed up a bit. I got to visit one of my favorite places, Shapiro Metal Supply, to get the material and browse for a bit. The video below was shot just days before their recent fire.
While I did need extra muscle to get the door in the house (luckily they had a walkout basement), I was able to hang the door on my own. Click on the video below to see how it came together and see just how “pretty” it is.
Using a Hot Glue Gun to Fill Wood
In a couple of my latest videos I showed a little snippet of filling voids with a hot glue gun. And, while I was quick to gloss over it, many viewers asked what in the heck I was doing with a hot glue gun on the fancy wood. The short answer is filling voids, mostly from knots, but also from cracks and any other imperfections which show up naturally while processing solid wood.
We started using the system (we purchased it from Rangate) about a year ago, and it has won us over in the shop for its speed, while producing great results. It has been taking over for epoxy in more and more situations as we gain more confidence in its ability to perform.
The knot filler sticks are basically hot glue sticks and we call them hot glue sticks. However, they are definitely different. I can tell you from experience that actual hot glue sticks aren’t sandable like the knot filler sticks made to fill wood. I attribute it to a lower melting temperature of the hot glue sticks, which almost immediately gum up sandpaper and just get pushed around on the surface like old chewing gum. YOU HAVE TO USE KNOT FILLER STICKS.
We have been using the sticks purchased from Knottec because they are more reasonably priced than the options from Rangate and seem to work equally well. Overall, I feel like the Rangate system is overpriced based on the fact that in the end it is really just a 300 watt hot glue gun and a couple of simple accessories, which are available for much less money than we paid.
The knot filler sticks are available in several different colors, but we mostly use black. It seems to look the best in almost all occasions. Only on white woods, like maple, do we deviate from the black, but there are many times even in those white woods, where the black looks great. If you only get one color, get black.
Overall, using the hot glue gun is super simple. Just squirt some in the defect, squish it in with an aluminum block (which also quickly cools the glue), and then cut off the extra. Click the video below to see just how quick and easy it is.
Signs for the Shop
Well, I finally did it. After endless comments from customers about not being able to find the shop and a recent encounter with a customer that went quite poorly due to the lack of signage, I broke down and decided to make some directional signs for the shop. We have a sign on our door, but it is hidden from the street and doesn’t really do much except to confirm that you are indeed in the right place just before you actually enter the shop. Everyone finds the building without a problem, but we need to help them find the door.
First, let me address why this took so long. All of our work has always been word of mouth. I built the business slowly, starting by working from my home shop, so I never really needed a sign. I usually visited customers at their house and very few visited the shop. As the business has grown, more customers find us on their own, and I would rather them not be mad at me before they get to the shop (or don’t get to the shop as the case may be).
In St. Charles, any directional signs 2 square feet and under, do not require a sign permit, so I am making that the size limit for my signs. Hopefully, that way I can put up the signs at multiple entrances without causing any problems.
I decided to use the cnc router to make the signs and mix in a little artwork in the design and construction, which is the perfect mix for me. Plus, I used some salvaged wood for the project, which makes me feel even that much better about it. The boards came from a set of bleachers I salvaged from an old gym. Most of them were straight-grained Douglas fir with a clear coat on them. Those boards were super nice and didn’t stay around the shop long. The boards I used for the signs were some replacement boards made from southern yellow pine, which were painted and were never going to be purchased in the shop, so they were the perfect pick for this job.
I still have a few signs to finish up, but click the link below to see how the first one was made:
Installing a Live Edge Spalted Sycamore Bartop
Last week we delivered and installed a bartop after a nice long drive to the customer’s house, which made for some nice quality time in the truck with Tom.
The live-edge sycamore top was nicely spalted, so it had some extra character. Spalting happens in all wood (some more than others) when it starts to decay. The trick is to mill the logs at the right time, so they have more visual interest but haven’t rotted too much. For sycamore, the right amount of time for the log to sit for optimal spalting is around the one-year range. However, the wood can be spalted and still useable for up to three years. This timing is widely variable depending on climate and storage conditions, and you can’t really know the results until the log is milled.
The customer plans to install decorative brackets later, but we still installed steel plates, which add support and give us a place to fasten down the top. Before finishing with Krystal conversion varnish, Tom milled slots in the bottom of the slab with the CNC router to accept the steel plates, which tuck in underneath. To see how it all came together, check out the video below.
Milling a 5-year-old cypress log
We have a kitchen remodel which we are working on in the shop and the wood of choice is cypress to match a door I built about 15-years ago. To match the rustic setting of his cabin, the customer recently decided to cover a wall with cypress and we needed a little more lumber. I had a few remaining cypress logs that have been there for about five years, so I took a gamble and milled them to see what I could get. It was a small gamble because cypress is very rot resistant, and it is common for us to find logs in this condition and still find plenty of good wood inside (click here to read more about milling rotten logs). The sapwood was starting to rot, which happens first in all species, no matter how rot resistant they are, but most of the heartwood was fine.
Check out the video below to see the process and hang out with me on a nice winter day at the sawmill.
Asian-inspired mahogany shelves fit right in
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).
Badass live edge walnut conference room table
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.
Big live edge slabs
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.
Building and Installing Live Edge Walnut Countertops
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.
The Great Sweetgum Debate
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.