Last weekend I made my first trip to a local lumber yard for the Holtzapffel bench project. After much deliberation, I had made a firm decision on White Ash as my choice of wood. I’ve not been to many lumber yards, and I’ve never gone to pick out my own rough-cut slices before, so this was quite exciting for me. In my haste, I planned poorly for the hauling of big, heavy woods and had to rent a Home Depot truck for the duration. I drive a Mazda3 which, while Zoom-Zoom and utilitarian as a sporty hatchback, doesn’t make for an ideal cargo hold of lumber.
I have never been so excited over massive amounts of cellulose fiber in all my life. The array of wood products captivated me and I had a tendency to want to touch and smell the most interesting ones. I also brought along some scraps I wanted to identify for fun (Mahogany, Hickory, and stressed Walnut). I was brought to my choice in Ash and learned that it was actually a local tree cut 2+ years prior and had been air-drying. That really sealed the deal for me – just for the fact that this guy cut it down on his property and sliced it up to sell. It’s very Renaissance Man, and I’m continually reminded of the rich history of the art. I pick out my pieces – most over 2” thick, 18” wide, and 14’ long. It’s at this point that a very important point dawns on me – you can’t buy the exact number of board feet needed for a project unless the boards are pre-milled, which these are most certainly not. Some of them even have the natural edge still attached (a beautiful touch, I might add). My first lesson is that I have to spend a little time calculating my dimensioned lumber within the rough stock laid before me. How many pieces can I get from this board? You have to consider board defects. You have to consider board defects on both sides of the board! In the end, I have more board feet than I need for the finished members I plan to extract from them. My costs are already rising above what I expect, so I cap it off at the amount of cash I have on-hand and make a note of what additional pieces I’m going to need to finish the project.
The guy running the lumber yard is an independent business man. He cuts the trees (or buys the wood elsewhere), dries it, and manages the sales. It’s a business that I think you either have a passion for or don’t. This guy clearly had the fever for it. We spent a lot of extra time touring the yard, examining boards, and talking on the changing likes and dislikes of wood craftsmen and their choices in lumber. That’s about the time I recalled that I had a Home Depot truck sitting around doing nothing (except collecting its hourly rate). Time to hit the road fast and get this load moved.
There’s another lesson learned soon after opening the tailgate on the lumber truck…dense, stiff wood is heavy. More ill-planning on my part. I pulled the 14-footers out long ways and let them tip over so that I could carry them at their middle points. Maybe I misjudged the middle a little bit, or maybe the weight distribution in this product was not manufactured to exacting standards. The result was the same; the board came over nicely and continued right through my pathetic grip onto the ground. Fortunately, Ash is hard stuff and no damage occurred. With a little extra respect given to my lumber, I was able to manipulate all of it to a center point and rest it on saw horses for preparation.
There’s another first at play here. This is my first time ever working rough lumber. I have only vague notions of what needs to be done to get dimensioned lumber. I’m all about hand planes and my modicum usefulness of a table saw, the Ridgid TS2400LS, so there was the idea that some sort of relationship there would result in nice looking wood. My plane is a recent Stanley No. 4. ‘Nuff said. I’m checking into getting that corrected, but in the meantime I did work up the new Stanley to decent enough shape that I was able to plane fluffy stuff off of the rough Ash. It’s really nice underneath! I only worked at a small section – a spot check, so to speak – but I can already see some really pretty figure. Doesn’t much matter for this project though; it’ll all be cut down to narrower pieces and glued up for a dimensionally stable bench top.
I had to break for a bit and read up on the steps recommended to get from rough lumber to something useful. When I returned, I only had time to rip my first board. Depending on how much of this board I can salvage, it may comprise all four of the stretchers. With the holidays here, maybe I can get all the wood I have rough-cut to workable pieces before I have to go back to work. I’m also including a picture this time – not of my progress, but of the intended result. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
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