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Tree IDs #2: collecting wood

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Blog entry by Gary Fixler posted 1976 days ago 5290 reads 3 times favorited 13 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 1: Dendrology Part 2 of Tree IDs series Part 3: The Coast Coral Tree (Erythrina caffra) »

I’m overwhelmed by the love shown in my last post in this series, asking if anyone was interested in learning with me (more like teaching me) about different woods, and the trees from which we get them. You were! I’ve found my people. Let’s get started! cracks knuckles

I thought I’d begin not with a tree, but with something very much related and interesting that I recently stumbled upon in one of my habitual all-night online woodworking research sessions: the IWCS, or International Wood Collector’s Society. I actually laughed when I found it, thinking “Who does that?” followed by “I guess there’s a hobby for anything.” However, it stuck in my head, and later I found myself coming back to to it. I’ve collected a ton of weird things, too. It rolled around in my mind. I joked with friends and coworkers about it. They were equally amused that there were thousands of people around the world collecting wood, on the hunt to collect them all, which is essentially impossible.

For me, I had simply wanted to learn about all of the woods, and memorize everything about them, without keeping any in a ‘collection.’ I had selectively forgotten about my shoddy memory :) I recently picked up noted wood technologist Prof. R. Bruce Hoadley’s two outstanding books, “Understanding Wood,” which I got during a book sale at my local Rockler store (favorite place in the world), and “Identifying Wood,” which I got during a surprise one-day-only 50%-off sale through Taunton (email newsletter alerted me – woo hoo!). In “Identifying Wood,” even Prof. Hoadley recommended keeping samples of wood as a reference for later identification. You don’t argue with Bruce. It got me thinking even more about it. It was too late.

I ordered a box of samples. from Woodworkers Source, another site I’m falling in love with quickly. If you sign up now for their weekly e-letter, you get a code for $10 to use on your next order. The sample box contains 30 randomly chosen woods – about 1/3rd domestic (to the US), 2/3rds imported (Africa/S. America, Asia, Australia, etc). Their site breaks their woods up by world regions, includes a lot of great info about each wood on their pages, and has a searchable library that holds info on far more woods than they offer. The samples box came with a $25USD veneer guide for free.

30 IWCS-sized wood samples from Woodworkers Source w/ veneer guide

The veneer guide is really nice, if a little off in many of the species’ colors. There’s also a nice page in the back with a big grid of pictures of each of the many figure types, like wavy, curly, ‘muscle,’ and fiddleback, which really helps me, because I have a hard time remembering which is which, or later identifying the difference between curly and ribbon.

veneer guide free with 30pc hardwood sample kit from Woodworkers Source, a $25USD value

Samples, as defined by the IWCS are 1/2” thick × 3” wide × 6” long, cleanly cut and sanded pieces of wood. Woodworkers Source actually cited the IWCS, and that their samples conform to that spec. I liked that a lot. Now it wasn’t going to be about finding giant logs. These were postcard size. I could do that. Prices – they said – ranged from $0.75-$6USD, and members sold and traded them, too. Even better. For anyone unfamiliar with the US dollar, that’s a small amount of loose pocket change through maybe enough for a small lunch at a fast food place. Not bad.

30 IWCS-sized wood samples from Woodworkers Source

I copied all available samples from their site over to a Google Docs spreadsheet, available to view here. In it, I’ve highlighted the ones I received in green, so you can see what kind of random sampling you might get. The ones in red (and w/o prices) are woods they either don’t sell, though still have a page for, or are woods for which they don’t have samples, though they may have other things (boards, veneers, etc). I’m going to be ordering the remaining 60 over this year in 6 orders of 10, each at around $30US, or about 3/4 the cost of one of Bruce Hoadley’s hardcover wood books.

I should also note that I added up the samples I received, and it came to $117 worth of separate samples. The box is $99 with free shipping, though it’s available through Woodworkers Source on Amazon for $89 + $6.99 shipping, which works out to only $96. That may seem like me being cheap, but that $3 is going to pay for a sample of cedrillo wood :)

Here’s a good place to note that domestics (US) are usually $3.50, sometimes $4 or $5 or so. Imports are usually $5, with some getting closer to $10. The 3 standouts are Kingwood at $12/sample, Tulipwood at $14/sample, and the impressive Ebony Gaboon at $17/sample. I thought that was a typo until I looked it up. $99/bft! I could remake my 12bft desktop (3’x4’) in poplar for about $30, or in ebony gaboon for $1200. Difficult choice… It wasn’t until I started learning about hardwood pricing last year that I finally understood why people would be so ‘cheap,’ going with veneered furniture all the time. I get it now. It’s also nice not to destroy the more limited supply of rich hardwoods in the world by building everything entirely out of them. Anyway, here are shots of all the samples I received in my kit. What fun!

6 of the hardwood samples in the 30pc set from Woodworkers Source

6 of the hardwood samples in the 30pc set from Woodworkers Source

6 of the hardwood samples in the 30pc set from Woodworkers Source

6 of the hardwood samples in the 30pc set from Woodworkers Source

6 of the hardwood samples in the 30pc set from Woodworkers Source

I’m going to be building a wall rack for these, holding them in this fashion, though wall-mounted, smaller, and wider than tall – something ‘Golden Rectangle,” likely. I want it to occupy the position and size of landscape painting on a living room wall. It’ll be all at once a fun collection to add to all the time, a bit of warm, woodsy pop art, and a great reference tool. The samples will help me identify woods in the future, and also let me compare woods under different lighting conditions to see what looks good together for future projects. It’s nearly impossible to tell from books and the internet what wood looks like, and certainly not what it smells like. I had no idea walnut smelled so delicious, especially when cut in my band saw (like warm, chocolaty, cinnamony bread pudding :) until I bought some, and I had an entirely different concept of what wenge looked, and would feel like until I actually held a piece in my hand at Rockler.

I think these IWCS people are on to something here. In fact, when I got the samples, 2, maybe 3 in particular gave me that “I’ve seen this before” feeling. Later, I went through my 4 boxes of hardwood scraps I got through Rockler earlier this year, which also turned into a big ID party, with more spreadsheets ;) and found that one 2×2 turning blank in there that I hadn’t ID’d yet was African Mahogany – looked exactly like the sample thereof. I was able to match another wood, too, and a third one seemed quite similar, except that they had radically different smells.

The IWCS also sells samples on its site, through a more old-fashioned downloadable checklist mail-order form. Will anyone in here be interested in trading around samples one day? I don’t have any extras of anything yet, but I’m curious as to future prospects :) In fact, is anyone here already doing this? Got anything for sale? Of course, I’m pretty adamant about getting exactly the right species on them before I tag and shelve them, so that will be a factor. I can make my own samples from small bits of wood, too, and am skipping sample orders I can get locally. I checked before posting this for “IWCS” through the search box. No results! Could I possibly be bringing new info to this popular site?

If you read all of this, you’re a trooper! I promise not all of my Tree ID Series posts will be anywhere near this long.

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator



13 comments so far

View trifern's profile

trifern

8132 posts in 2363 days


#1 posted 1976 days ago

You may want to check out GaryK's project. He built this for his wood collection. He has also done a series of blogs about his wood library.

-- My favorite piece is my last one, my best piece is my next one.

View Gary Fixler's profile

Gary Fixler

1000 posts in 1977 days


#2 posted 1975 days ago

Wow! His collection box is gorgeous. I can only hope to be able to make things that beautiful one day. I’ll have to wander through his projects list. Thanks for the heads up, trifern!

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator

View GaryK's profile

GaryK

10262 posts in 2584 days


#3 posted 1975 days ago

Hello Gary,

Great name by the way!

If you really want a good collection with 70 different types of wood you can check this guy out.
I really didn’t want to spend that much money for little pieces of wood.

He’s local to you, but his prices are high. It’s worth the drive just to check out his stuff. He has
2 or 3 semi trailers full of wood.

Let me know if you are interested in good places to buy wood in the LA area.

http://www.eisenbran.com/cbSearch.asp?Category=Collector%20Sample%20Sets

Eisenbrand Inc.
Exotic Hardwoods
4100 Spencer Street
Torrance, CA 90503
(310)542-3576

-- Gary - Never pass up the opportunity to make a mistake look like you planned it that way - Tyler, TX

View Gary Fixler's profile

Gary Fixler

1000 posts in 1977 days


#4 posted 1975 days ago

Wow, his prices are high. Still, great selection. The one annoying bit is that his samples are all 0.38” thick. I was really hoping to keep everything to the IWCS set size of 0.5”. I feel like Eisenbrand is cutting corners wherever possible. Maybe it’s necessary in this economy.

I would love to hear about any and all wood places in LA. Here’s the list I have so far:

Home Depot
Anawalt Lumber
House of Hardwoods (known about for a year, still haven’t been, though it’s close by)
Anderson Plywood (just went back for the 2nd time in years – I’ve been missing out!)
Rockler (in Torrance)

That’s about it so far. Thanks!

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator

View GaryK's profile

GaryK

10262 posts in 2584 days


#5 posted 1975 days ago

You didn’t say what part of L.A. you are from but all of these are worth the drive.

I always went to Lane Stanton Vance in the city of Industry. The have a great small lot section.
Also liked Reel Lumber in Anaheim a lot.

Both the above have a great selection and prices.

For a lot more of the exotics try Tropical Exotic Hardwoods in Oceanside. Worth the drive!
If you ever get around Solana Beach try Cut and Dried Hardwoods.

http://www.lsvlumber.com/
http://www.reellumber.com/
http://www.anexotichardwood.com/
http://www.cutanddriedhardwood.com

Check out my blog for Tropical Exotic Hardwoods – Lots of pictures.

http://lumberjocks.com/jocks/GaryK/blog/3390

-- Gary - Never pass up the opportunity to make a mistake look like you planned it that way - Tyler, TX

View Gary Fixler's profile

Gary Fixler

1000 posts in 1977 days


#6 posted 1975 days ago

You’ve really done your homework! This is a good list. It’s a shame they’re not all right in my neighborhood, which, btw, is Culver City. I live in the middle of coffee, juice, and trendy fashion stores. I’m not into any of that stuff. I keep wondering why I’m here.

That store in your blog post is wonderful. If I ever win the lottery, I’m going to splurge a little there.

Thanks for the list! Even though they’re not super close, it’s really nice to see my options expand so much.

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator

View GaryK's profile

GaryK

10262 posts in 2584 days


#7 posted 1975 days ago

Well, I’ve lived there for my first 48 years so I should know of a couple of places. I’ve been to almost every place in LA area that sells wood and I found these to be the best.

Just go north to the 10 east to the 60 east to the 57 south the 91 east to the 55 south to the 5 south to
Oceanside and you will have gone to within 2 miles of everyone of them.

Make a day of it!

-- Gary - Never pass up the opportunity to make a mistake look like you planned it that way - Tyler, TX

View Gary Fixler's profile

Gary Fixler

1000 posts in 1977 days


#8 posted 1974 days ago

Wait… the best? You mean there are MORE!? :)

I think I will definitely have to take your tour of the wood sellers in the area one of these days. What a fun trip that would be. I imagine I’d be taking a cab home, having used up all my money, and traded in my car for the last few bits that I simply had to have.

Thanks again!

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator

View GaryK's profile

GaryK

10262 posts in 2584 days


#9 posted 1974 days ago

You will be surprised at Lane Stanton Vance.

Probably 6 plus acres of lumber stacked about 50 feet high.

There is a small building there they call their small lot sales. They have everything there from plywood, to mahogany to maple. They also have exotics, and every once in a while something new. I got the most amazing piece of curly Koa there for only $7 a BF!

My last trip to CA I bought some canary wood and had is shipped home

http://lumberjocks.com/jocks/GaryK/blog/3396

I’ll be back out there in April to make the rounds again.

-- Gary - Never pass up the opportunity to make a mistake look like you planned it that way - Tyler, TX

View Gary Fixler's profile

Gary Fixler

1000 posts in 1977 days


#10 posted 1974 days ago

That is a ton of lumber. Is it mostly just construction-grade stuff, like fir 2×4s? I can’t imagine finding a place full of plywood-stack sized mountains of rarer stuff. It would be a dream.

Good find with that canary wood, too. It looks amazing, and will probably incredible when finished. Did you ever find a use for it?

So far I’ve mostly trolled the Home Depot aisles, waiting to see if they’ll get something unusual again, like that 1 day I saw euro beech there (and got some), or looking for more interesting bits of birch and poplar, like this heart/sap mix wavy birch that stood out from the rest I’d seen there. I don’t mind the mixes like that most of the time, especially when it’s doing cool things like this.

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator

View glennl's profile

glennl

24 posts in 2223 days


#11 posted 1961 days ago

Hi Gary:

You’re a man after my own heart!
I certainly “wood” be interested in (when i have a decent supply) trading samples, informati9on, pictures, etc.

I also found that by ordering pen blanks (although not the “official” size) I could get some exotics at a relatively inexpensive price. They are roughly 3/4” x 3/4” x 5 or 6 inches. Many of the catalogers sell them (Rockler, Lee Valley, Woodcraft, etc.). Sometimes they offer specials, etc.

-- GlennL, New Jersey

View Gary Fixler's profile

Gary Fixler

1000 posts in 1977 days


#12 posted 1961 days ago

Thanks, Glenn!

Same here. I don’t have a lot of wood yet, but I’m considering cutting up samples to trade whenever I get my hands on unusual stuff. I have a local Rockler store, and have waded through the aisle of pen blanks. They have so many varieties. I took advantage of a sale late last year for something like 20 larger blanks, about 1.5” square, 12” long each, 2 each of 10 or 12 species. I haven’t done anything with them yet, because I don’t think I’m good enough.

I won’t be able to use them or pen blanks for my collection, though, as I’m trying to follow the IWCS standard of 0.5”x3”x6” pieces. Part of the reason is that I want to use those dimensions decoratively in a wall rack, where all the end grains face out and create a kind of modern pop-art display. Silly, I know :) I’ve actually considered resawing some large turning blanks, jointing them, and gluing them up into blanks, but that’s just cheating.

I sure make things difficult on myself.

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator

View BarbS's profile

BarbS

2433 posts in 2681 days


#13 posted 1599 days ago

Great blog entry, Gary. You now have me interested in making up samples of my home-harvested woods. I hope I don’t become addicted enough to be spending lots of money on samples, but what a great collection to start! Thanks.

-- http://barbsid.blogspot.com/

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