New York has a lot going on and a lot going for it – space is not one of those things. If you are not a people person, it probably isn’t the city for you. If you like to have room to work and a place to put your stuff, it definitely isn’t for you. Luckily, I am used to working in a tight space with a lot going on, and I don’t mind it. It doesn’t speed anything up, but as long as everyone isn’t too grumpy, working in tight quarters can be kinda fun and exhilarating. It only becomes less fun when it is time to get your stuff done and there is no way to actually get to it.
Our first installation trip in New York had both the joy of working closely with all of the other trades and the exasperation of having those same people in your way most of the time. I often feel like our shop is too small, but after going to New York and having 15 guys, a truckload of cabinets, a bunch of fridges and everyone’s tools in 1,200 sf. of showroom, I feel like I should shut up about it.
Click on the video below to see how much stuff we were able to put in a 5 lb. bucket.
Well, we got our cabinets to New York, off the truck and up to the 6th floor job site, but not without some excitement. I didn’t get it on video, mostly because it’s not easy to video while everyone is yelling at you, but I can tell you it would have made for some great TV. Will he get the truck unloaded on time? Will the other contractors let him live? Will the honking ever stop? All of these questions and more will be answered on the next episode of “This May Not Have Been a Good Idea”.
It started out great. The driver was there by 6 a.m. He pulled a magnificent u-turn in the corner intersection and got into the loading dock rather expeditiously, and everyone was joyous.
The marching orders from our general contractor were to get in early, claim your spot, unload the truck and ignore everyone else. That’s not really how it normally works for me, but hey, I’m in New York. You do what you got to do, and we did it. The first 30 minutes went great. Everyone we saw was still riding the adrenaline high of getting the truck in the loading dock. Then the mood started to change.
Other contractors in the building began showing up, early mind you, and couldn’t get in because we were in the way. Pedestrians started heading for work, also early, and couldn’t get by. Drivers trying to beat the rush could only use one lane. I know it’s hard to picture here in suburbia where we are used to having space.
We unloaded the truck as fast as we could, but it wasn’t fast enough. The yelling picked up and so did the honking. It seemed like everyone was on the phone talking to somebody else about how they were trying to speed up the process and get us out of there. Finally, the employees in charge of the loading dock said we were out of time and made our driver pull out and park in the street.
We focused on the truck. We got him unloaded and out of the way and at least stopped the honking. At that point I thought we were on easy street. The truck was gone and more than half of the stuff was up to the job site. All we had to do was get the rest of it up the freight elevator, and we had all day to do it. Wrong again. Turns out freight can’t be delivered after 8 a.m., so as not to disrupt the other businesses in the building. Fine concept, I just didn’t know about it. I have never worked in a building where the freight elevator can only carry freight before 8 a.m.
Right at 8 a.m. one of the building managers, popped out of the freight elevator, violently waved her arms as though she was calling a runner safe at second and yelled, “No more, no more!” She disappeared back in the elevator and we stopped moving. I didn’t know how to handle this one.
We stood there in the basement for awhile, knowing we had to do something. The freight elevator is big and we decided that if we got one more shot at it we could fit everything else. So, we went New York style, loaded up the elevator, made sure we got it in one load and headed to the 6th floor. We did not see the building manager and had everything officially off of the elevator and in the job site before 8:20 a.m., just a little past curfew.
Then our general contractor turned his phone back on.
Apparently, you just need to get used to people yelling at you when you work in NY.
It’s official. I’m going to end up with three installments about quartersawing. In an effort to not bore everyone to death in this video, I had to keep out all the important details, like why are we even bothering to do all of this extra work? There are a couple short answers (it’s pretty, it’s more stable) but since I like to give long answers, I’m going to need more time.
My focus for the last video was to show how I deal with oversized logs and this week I show how to actually quartersaw. I think it will help a lot for everyone to see, in a video, how riftsawn and quartersawn lumber are produced from the quartersawing process and see how I tackle the task.
Quartersawing a log takes much more time because each log essentially produces four individual logs (quarters) and each one needs to be processed separately. Throughout the process, lots of decisions need to be made to produce the most and best lumber.
Click on the video link below to see how the quartersawn lumber is cut and to see some really pretty boards.
I spend a lot of time talking about quartersawn lumber with customers and have always wanted to get my thoughts about it into one place. Turns out, it is probably going to be in at least two places when I get done covering it. There is just too much to know and the more I try to explain it, the deeper in the weeds I get, and staying out of the weeds is not my forte.
Since I have spent over twenty years discussing it with customers, studying it on my own and generally just worrying about if I am producing the best quarter sawn lumber as efficiently as possible, I have come up with a lot of talking points. Luckily, for you, I am not going to get too deep into it until the second installment, when I finish producing the quarter sawn lumber.
In this first video, I was most excited to show how I get a log which won’t fit on the sawmill prepared for quartersawing and to get a chance to use my chainsaw (which I do whenever I can). Click the link below to see how I get the large logs ready to be milled.
Recently, I got a question from a customer regarding a crack forming in his solid wood countertop. He built the top out of flat sawn white oak lumber and he wanted to figure out what caused the crack and hopefully, how he could repair it. Luckily, the repair is simple (just some glue and clamps), but he really needed to address the cause of the problem or the countertop would most likely crack again.
When he sent me photos of the crack, he also sent me photos of the how he attached it to the cabinets, which was very helpful. The vintage metal cabinets have a bracket in each corner with a hole just large enough for a screw, but not large enough to allow for any movement in the top. In this case, the wood was stuck in place and had no choice but to split when it shrunk in width.
I recommended to simply make the holes in the metal bracket bigger and to add a washer or use a large-headed screw to allow the top to move side to side while still being held down. The secret is to tighten the screws just enough to hold the top in place, but loose enough to allow it to move if the wood starts to pull.
This particular solution was pretty simple, but only because I have seen it many times before, and I knew what caused it. Without understanding how wood moves, the diagnosis wouldn’t be so apparent. Even though most people don’t worry about wood movement as much as I do, I always try to get them to understand the most basic premise, which is that wood moves more in width than it does in length, and you need to allow for that movement.
In woodworking in general, this disparity in movement is referred to as a “cross-grain situation”, when two pieces of wood come together with grain perpendicular to each other, then they want to pull in opposite directions. It happens all of the time in furniture construction, and it must be addressed to avoid catastrophic failures. In the example above, the setup was the same as a cross grain situation because the metal cabinet will not change in any dimension, while the wood moves in width.
When attaching wood tops of any kind, whether it be a wood countertop to a cabinet or a table top to a table base, you need to allow the top to move or it can split. The good news is that there is more than one way to attach a top and still make allowances for this movement.
The first and most common way, as mentioned earlier, is to make an oversized or elongated hole and to make up any differences with a washer or large-headed screw. Assume that any problems will be caused by excessive shrinkage and make sure that your holes are big enough and that your screws are placed in the holes so that the top has room to shrink.
Another method, which I like to use on tables, is to make blocks to fit into dados on the insides of the aprons. They don’t take too long to make and can easily be added wherever necessary. The blocks should be made so that tightening up the screws will just pull the top snug, like a perfect fitting tongue and groove joint and placed with a little separation to make sure nothing binds. They work great, and I think they look great too.
When attaching a top with a propensity to move, understand that all of your attachment points don’t have to have play in them. For example, you can firmly attach a countertop to the front of a cabinet as long as you allow the top to move in the back. Or, on table tops, you might choose to firmly attached the top in the middle of the width and allow the outside edges to move. This is perfectly acceptable and keeps the top centered on the base.
The main point to remember through all of this is to allow the wood to move. You can only really cause a problem if you don’t allow it to move. And remember , if you find that it is moving too much for your liking you can always go back and firm things up once you understand the potential problems.
For a more thorough description of wood movement click on these two earlier posts Have Your Heard About Shrinkage? or Why Quartersawn Lumber is so Stable: The 0-1-2 Rule In Action, to read a link on the subject. I think it is probably the most important subject for any woodworker to fully understand.
Since I started milling lumber, determining the difference between red oak and white oak has been a challenge. I’ve got a good handle on it now, but there are plenty of times (at least once a week) when a customer has a piece of wood that they want to identify. It is usually some old barn lumber and usually some sort of oak.
I have had a lot of practice trying to figure out what kind of oak I am dealing with since many of the logs I cut are salvaged. Often they are old, without leaves or even bark, and a challenge to identify. Even just raw, newly planed oak lumber can sometimes be tricky. The secrets lie within the structure of the wood itself.
What about color? Color can help, but it can also be misleading. While white oak is less red in color, red oak can range from very red/pink to the exact same color as white oak. I use color as an indicator only if the board is very red, which most likely makes it red oak. Anything in the tan range needs to be investigated further. Note that newly cut white oak lumber turns a bright pink when exposed to the air and then goes back to tan after drying (read more about that by clicking here).
How about the grain? The grain or texture of oaks is very similar. Even when finished, both just look like oak. There are subtle differences, but if you only have one oak in front of you and you aren’t sure what it is, it still just looks like oak. White oak is, on average, a finer texture, with tighter growth rings and a more refined appearance, but there are plenty of red oaks out there with tight growth rings that look similar. Red oak as a family has several members that are fast growing like shingle oaks, willow oaks, laurel oaks and pin oaks, while all white oaks are usually slower growing. If you find an oak board with wide growth rings and a coarse appearance there is a good chance it is a red oak.
Isn’t white oak water tight? Now, we are on to something. White oak, as compared to red oak, is water tight and is used to make wine and whiskey barrels. White oak can hold water because the “open” pores are filled with tyloses, which looks like foam – red oak is not. If you look closely at the pores on an oak board (and your vision is good) you will be able to see grain that either has open pores or pores that are filled with tyloses. On a very small level, especially with a magnifying glass, you can see the difference, and it is usually very clear.
How about the rays? Finally, we’ve got it. The big difference is in the rays. White oak has long, showy rays, which are especially visible in quarter sawn lumber and give quarter sawn white oak it’s one-of-a-kind appearance. However, the rays are also visible on flat sawn lumber, which is the main way that I discern between red and white oak. On the face of flatsawn red oak lumber the rays look like little short tick marks, usually no longer than 1/2″ long. The marks are very visible and strongly contrast with the surrounding wood. White oak has long rays, and on flat sawn lumber the rays look more like straw. The rays are so long that they blend together and are often hard to tell apart. There may be a few shorter ones here and there, but on average the rays are well over 1/2″ long.
The main reason it is necessary to discern between red and white oak, besides general appearance, is to determine its durability. White oak is water-tight and great to use both indoors and outdoors. Red oak is more like a sponge. It will tend to soak up water when it can and quickly rot. Red oak can be used outdoors in vertical applications, like barn siding, and last for quite a long time, but in horizontal applications, especially where the wood will dry out slowly or not at all, it wouldn’t be uncommon for red oak to decay in just a season or two. My unofficial testing of both species used in my own garden for tomato stakes showed a major difference between the two species with red oak rotting and breaking off at ground level in just one summer/fall season, while the white oak showed no symptoms.
The good news is that while it may be difficult at first to tell the difference between red and white oak, it isn’t impossible and actually pretty simple if you look in the right places. Remember you can check out the color, gawk at the grain and peek at the pores. And, if all that doesn’t work, you can always just rely on the rays.
The final touches have been put on the natural playground structure for Immanuel Lutheran preschoolers and they have already been putting it through its paces.
The deck, climbing wall and steps are made from white oak, the posts are eastern red cedar, and all of the twisty branches are osage orange. The three species of wood were chosen for their ability to weather the elements, while the white oak and osage orange have the added benefit of being exceptionally strong.
Thanks to the staff at Immanuel for being great hosts. They always greeted me with a smile and sometimes, even with cookies.
A couple of years ago, I was called by Dan Hellmuth of Hellmuth and Bicknesse Architects to work on a new green building that they were designing. I had worked with Dan previously on Washington University’s Living Learning Center and was glad to hear from him again. For me, the new job was similar to the Living Learning Center – trees from the property were going to be milled and the lumber was going to be used to make finished products throughout the house. The new building wasn’t trying to be the greenest building in the U.S., like the Living Learning Center, but it was designed to be very energy efficient with structural insulated panels (SIPS) and geothermal heating and cooling.
The property had about 80 acres of forest comprised of eastern red cedar, oak and hickory, along with a sprinkling of sugar maple and ash. The best trees were white oaks in the 24″ diameter range, some of which had veneer-grade butt logs (which means they were perfect, straight-grained and knot free). Most of the trees were slightly lower-grade and smaller, but still nice. The smallest were the cedars, which are considered invasive and were scheduled to be removed.
My choice of logs to harvest was limited by the terrain, which ranged from hilly to mountainous. Only one inclined ridge allowed reasonable access to the better logs. The rest of the forest housed bigger trees that will probably never be cut – it is just too difficult to get the logs out. Even spots that looked reasonably flat were only so in relation to the steep drop-offs. Often it was so steep that I had trouble getting the Bobcat back up to the landing, even if I wasn’t moving a log.
Once I got the logs out and back to my mill, I cut them and either air-dried or kiln-dried the lumber depending on their final use (kiln-dried goes inside, air-dried goes outside). The white oak was used for the deck, the boat dock and interior doors. The cedar was slated to be used as siding for the house, but that was changed to reclaimed barn siding and the cedar was moved indoors to be flooring in the loft areas. The smaller amount of ash, maple and hickory haven’t been used yet and are waiting their turn, most likely for future furniture.
Interestingly enough, two areas of woodwork in the house that I am most proud of, did not use wood from the property. We built the entertainment center cabinets from a mix of the customer’s cherry and cherry that I provided, while we made the front and back doors from WunderWoods walnut.
Overall, the project is nearly complete (I am finishing up the wine cellar racks), and since I never remember to take photos, I thought it was about time.
Here are some photos I took last time I was there (click on any photo to enlarge and view the slideshow):
Special thanks to John Stevens and Dan Draper for their help on many aspects of the job. Also, thanks to Scott Allen and his crew, who took over the general contracting of the house and made sure I always had an extra hand when I needed it.
After the latest tornado to roll through, I have been out looking at logs to pickup. I ran across this White Oak not far from my sawmill that was listed on Craigslist for free firewood. I could tell even from a blurry, out-of-focus photo that it was giant and needed to see just how big. It is 52″ in diameter about 8′ from the base and one of the two biggest White Oaks I have run into (the other is actually a Burr Oak, but it is in the White Oak family. Click here to check it out). Unfortunately, it was hollow all the way up, but I still had to get a photo. Good luck to the kids that want to firewood that one!
Click on any photo to get a closer look:
I have been working on a project for a year or so,nestled in the rolling hills of Augusta (MO) on 200 acres of land that makes me question going home at night. After all (I ponder), if I had a tent I wouldn’t need to drive all the way home just to drive all the way back in the morning. There is a never-ending chunk of woods surrounding a never-fished pond at the end of a never-seen-before creek bed. I picture myself catching fish for dinner and sleeping off the aches of a long day alongside the crackling fire. Of course, I come ill-prepared to camp and don’t really have permission to do so, but I think about it – then head home.
Now that winter has rolled around, I think less about camping and fishing and more about the project at hand, and it is a good thing now that it is finally coming together. There have been a few bumps in the road, but it is on track again and it is time to show some photos. Everyone I talk to has heard about the “Augusta Project”, and I am sure that they are starting to wonder if there really is such a project. Well, I have proof now.
The “Augusta Project” is a timber-frame house that is being built with an earth-friendly approach, though the homeowners aren’t going out of their way to get any particular green certification. I got in on the action through the architect, Dan Hellmuth, from Hellmuth & Bicknesse. I worked with Dan a couple of years ago on a project for Washington University, where the Living Learning Center was crowned one of the greenest buildings in the country. This job has much less paperwork (none, to this point), but I am doing very similar work.
So far, I have been contracted to harvest the trees and manufacture specific products for the building. The exterior decking is made from 5/4 thick white oak and is the first finished product that has been delivered to the job site. The land has a lot of nice white oaks (some that I can actually get to) that I felled, milled, dried and then had molded by Fehlig Brothers in St. Louis. The material was profiled with grooves down both sides to receive hidden fasteners. I have also cut a lot of cedars which are going to become the siding for the parts of the house not covered in stone. There was also a mix of hard maple, hickory and ash that I milled for purposes yet undetermined.
I cannot take credit for the major installed work to this point, which is the timber frame being installed by Trillium Dell Timber Framers. It is made from Douglas Fir and mostly cut in the shop, though some of the trickier cuts are being done on site. I snapped some photos this week of the frame, which is almost done. Be sure to enjoy the view! Click on the photos to enlarge.