Thursday, December 29, 2011

Log sets and a couple of small slabs, organic wood

I have had some questions about log sets. So I thought the best way is to blog about it and take some pictures.

Log sets are what I get when I can sort out the lumber and get all the boards from 1 tree in a group. Its easier said then done. I can't ask the mill to sort it, they are way too busy. Besides, sorting 10 boards from several thousand is not their business. But it is mine. Years ago, I never paid much mind to sorting boards except for some bookmatches. I was using plain cherry, walnut and ash, oak, etc. Doing a kitchen, it never made much to do about grain matching or color matching.

As I grew into more and better furniture building, it made sense to look for , say , cherry that was all the same color. Made it much easier to color and finish. When I started to get into building figured wood, I was so excited to find it, I didn't care if it was from 1 tree or ten thousand. I took what I could find. Got some great stuff and some not so great. As I get smarter{I hope} I look for the best and what makes it that way. Its how I meet Charles Neil years ago. I had bought trees before meeting him and knew about matching lumber. What I didn't know was how much better any piece is because of log sets. Especially in figured woods. Now I still buy lots of wood and I don't get a lot of matched sets. But I do try and pull what I can when I do find them.

Yesterday, I was bringing lumber into the shop and needed a set of hard tiger maple for an upcoming piece. I pulled out a set I had put aside this fall.
Notice how is it all nice bright white? I have trimmed the ends, so I can't show you that. But the ends are the best way to pull a log set for me. I look for the same cut on one end, then look for any knots, bark ect. that all comes in the same spot. Its pretty neat when you get all the boards pulled and you can see how they all show the same quality and figure and color.

When you see figure this nice in rough lumber, you know it is going to be great. The boards run from 4" wide up to 11" wide. All are eight feet long. Stock like this is not inexpensive. The going rate I sell it for starts at 10$ per board foot and goes up. This is hard curly maple , which is much more scarce the soft curly maple. I can buy 500 feet of soft curly, or more for every foot of hard curly I find. And  most hard curly does not have this intense figure. I have never found any hardwood grading rules for figure, except from the musical instrument industry. They give A ratings . I am not sure how that works, but after looking at many sites and wood pictures this is as good as I have ever seen. Tight consistant and goes all across the width of the boards. This will make a spectacular piece.

The last piece I did with a matched set was this step back cupboard.
Yes the lid lifts and it is a secret space. But the grain showed up from 50 feet away. This was soft curly maple. The customer really liked it.

Here is a shot of the end of a board that I cut off the log set above. It's how I ask loggers to look for figure in the log.

See the ripples? That is how the curl looks under the bark.

Now about the slabs. I did a few benches/ tables out of some black ash and hard maple. I get these small slabs and they make nice small benches and coffee tables/end tables.

This is a slab of red oak with a nice limb section in it. The bark comes off real nice. I also brought down a couple hard maple ones that are a book match.

These will be cut in half so they are about 48" long. The bark will be taken off and then the edges and ends treated like this.
It makes  for a better sell to the customer.

I think that is all for now. Email me. Let me know if you have any questions. Thanks, bob

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Shaping box sides and running molding

I have had some questions about how I shape the box sides for the kits for the Charles Neil box.

I start with rough sawn 5/4 curly maple.

I cut this into 24" long pieces and run 1 face over my old jointer to get a somewhat flat face.. I then take it and plane to 1 and 3/16" thick. I then joint 1 edge square. Take to the table saw and rip to rough width. I then joint 1 edge again. The rip to final width, in this case 4 and 3/4" wide.
Now the fun part starts. Can you feel the grain in a fresh planed board and tell what direction it goes? I have to, no choice. I first mark to top face of the board in chalk. I then look at and feel the edges to see which way the grain runs. With figured wood , its like cat fur. Its not easy, but you best figure it out. When I run this through the molder, I can't lose it with chips being ripped out and grain torn. Makes expensive charcoal. [That's another story for another time. Yes I do make charcoal out of scrap wood] It not a perfect method, but it helps if I can tell which way the grain runs , so I can see where the piece will feed the best through the molder. I mark an arrow showing me the way I want it to run. Then I have to figure out which way the molding will go through the molder. It all takes time.

Once that is all done and marked on the board, I lay out the molding on the end of a piece, so I can cut rabbets down the piece to make it easier to run the piece through the molder without taking so much meat out in 2 cuts. Yes this molding is done in 2 cuts in figured wood with a 1984 Williams and Hussey molder. Pretty darn good machine.
Here is what the rabbets look like in the boards.

Next , you set up the molder and check your depth of cut. You need 3/8" on either side of the molding for the feed rollers to grab on to. You can see the heartwood in some of the pieces above. I can still get good stock out of all that, as long as the heartwood does not show up in the front side. It does not bother me if there is heartwood in the inside of the box. Plus the figure deeper in the log is always better.

 Next I start running the pieces through. Here is the first pass. I need to get a dust hood for this machine. It is blowing out lots of shavings and pieces. If you stand in the way , its like getting peppered with buckshot.
After everything is run through once, you make 1 turn of the handle and do the second pass.
Once they are done with the second pass , comes quality control. You look at each piece and cull out any with chips, torn grain or dark heartwood on the show face. I have a pile of stock that I have set off to the side. I can still cut side pieces from it, it just will not be all from 1 board. Some will just be burned. I want to give some away to the local high school for kids to try and make some boxes. They don't have to be the same size of box. But at least the kids can make some use out of it.

 This is what they look like after the first pass.

 Here they are after the second pass. This run turned out real nice. I am sending out about another 8 kits today. Let me know if any of you still want some sides or kits. Other wise I will tear the machine down and change over to something else. I can always make up more, but it will not be the fast turnaround as right now. Thanks for reading. Hope this is interesting.

Pretty nice looking grain.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A note to woodworkers

I have gotten a number of emails about the lumber I use and sell. Just wanted to let you all know, I really appreciate the emails and business. If you are looking for figured domestic hardwoods, let me know. I carry a lot of things in curly cherry, flame birch , tiger maple and birdseye maple. You can email me at
info at
   Just replace the at with @.
I do send out newsletters with wood for sale listed. I also have lots of things on hand , like hard maple burls and some 1 of a kind pieces. Check out my web site and see what I build. I am always happy to answer questions or help get you the right lumber for your project.
 This is the stepback with the secret space under the lid and secret drawers
This is the ogee bracket foot off the stepback above

This is a tiger maple slab table I did with a good partner who does all the metal and stone work. Hope you enjoy. bob

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Loading the kiln

Came home yesterday with a load of beautiful wet, green lumber. I got 8/4 birdseye maple, 8/4 and 4/4 flame birch and 4/4 curly hard maple. There is about 800ft, maybe more or less. I was driving with a friend of mine and we had his V10 ford truck. Nice truck. And I am not a ford guy. It was noticeable pulling this load. The roads were icy and sleet and snow was falling. Weatherman said it was sunny. Somehow, I need to find a job like that. Got the load back about 6 hours after we left home. Took it to the sawmill and drykiln guy I use. His name is Bob to. Come to think of it, the guy I drove with was named Bob too. 3 Bobs. No comment...
The load was too big to lift off the trailer with the bobcat[another bob]. I got on the back end , but it didn't do anything. So, we pulled part of the load off and dumped it on the landing. He came back and again I climbed on the back of the bobcat, this time it almost lifted it without coming up on the back end. Thankfully, my butt was enough to hold it almost down to get it unloaded.
Today, Bob called me and said it was time to load the kiln, but he was busy with his own project, so I went over and loaded. Good God , that stuff didn't get any lighter over night.

This is a piece of 8/4 birdseye, almost 14 or 15" wide and 12 feet long. It weighs about 32000 lbs. I think...
This is some 8/4 and 4/4 flame birch. Notice the red heartwood in the birch. It is the color of cherry. This is what they call unselected for color. Means they allow both heartwood and sap in the same piece. I dye this a cherry color and it looks great when its done. I can't wait to turn some legs from the 8/4 stock. All this stuff is just beautiful.

Another shot of the flame birch.

Notice the wide board on the bottom left? That is a 17" wide piece of 4/4 hard tiger maple. I got the stock from 1 tree and its all nice wide clear heavy tiger maple. Its the same as the 8/4 birdseye stock. That all came from 1 tree also. I call those log sets. Once they are dried, I keep all the pieces together. That way, the color for a project is all the same. The price on logs sets is about double or triple regular stock. I don't get things like this very often at all. I have to keep track of these and it takes space and time.
This is some of the birdseye stock, it was from a veneer log that wasn't white enough, I guess. Sure am glad I got it. This is all 12 feet long.

Another shot of the birdseye.

More flame birch.
Notice the top piece? It is called bark inclusion hard maple. Very striking. Its one of those woods you either really like or not. I happen to like it. A lot. Again all from 1 tree.
From the bottom, birdseye maple, bark inclusion hard maple and hard tiger maple.
In the middle of loading this, I had to run to pick up some pieces from a show I did last weekend. I got the truck loaded and came back and finished. I am now home, took some ibuprofen and will eat some dinner. Its been a long day and my butt is dragging. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Lumber shipping, and all the related fun

This past week has been a flurry of cutting planing,measuring, cutting, measuring, cutting cardboard,wrapping and measureing and weighing. I don't think the sisters who taught me would like that sentence. My apologies Sisters.

I have been cutting and wrapping and sending box kits out all over the USA for Charles Neil's box build. As  a one man shop, I have my furniture to build and business to take care of. Then you get about 25 orders and it kind of takes away what you are doing. Not that I am complaining at all. I love the contact with folks about lumber. I enjoy buying lumber and all the related things that go with it. Lifting , hauling, more lifting, more hauling. Hey , its good exercise.

When making up the kits, I always try and give a little extra. Mistakes happen. I have made so many, well, I am just glad I am still here.I got a list from Charles and then started going through piles and piles and pulling stock. Then you crosscut and figure and flip and flop boards. I found I had a lot of 5/4 with some heartwood on 1 side. I can deal with it, but a lot of folks don't know how. So I have a big pile of stuff for me to use on something else. That is an issue when you buy material. You can spec anything you want, but the more you want, the more it costs.
I try and give out all the material they will need and I also look at the grain and what the piece will be used for. I had some nice quartersawn curly cherry that went into some of the kits for feet and trim. It will look very nice. One thing, with small pieces like these tend to be, you kind of lost the curl figure in the cherry, because your parts are small and the figure is more broad. Flame birch wouldn't really look like much on a small box like this. You could use it for the sides. Then you will get to see the curl. But small parts are just that. Too small to show much.
I also try and mark the face or show side on the tiger maple. For whatever reason, tiger maple is the wood the shows best on the bark side of the board. The figure on the other side is never as good and does not show as well. Don't try book matching it. One piece looks great and one looks like plain maple. Its one question I really want to ask the big guy upstairs. Flame birch is kind of like that too. No issues with curly cherry or curly walnut. This is one of those weird wood facts you can use to astound your friends. Yeah, I wonder why I don't have more friends....
Anyway, I got a bunch gone and some more packed up. I am waiting on a few more folks to get back to me with some answers and then I will finish those too. Then you load the truck and drive to Green Bay,[home of the Packers], yes I am a big fan. I use Fed EX for shipping so I get to print out labels, tape them on to my wonderfully packaged wood and ship them on their way. I am understanding more why companies having shipping and packing departments and how much supplies cost. I spent  150$ just on cardboard. Then you get strapping stuff and time, well, its not a money maker. But it is good fun to talk with folks and tell stories.  Hope I didn't bore to tears, but this is part of my business too. Thanks to the folks who buy my wood. I do appreciate it. Hope you like what you get. Any issues call the boss. Thats me. I will always make it right.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Figured lumber and how I find it.

A pile of birdseye maple. Its one of those things that when you find some good stuff, you get as much as you can. I have a lot of lumber around my shop and old shop and , well a few other places. I am a lumber junkie. There I said it. I love to find great figured wood. I get log sets and try and keep them seperated. That is not easy.
These are racks of flame birch, curly cherry,curly hard maple and slabs of spalted sycamore. There is some applewood on the floor along with some heartwood curly maple.
Here are some flame birch, curly hard maple, 8/4 plain maple, some slabs, some wide 6/4 white pine and 16/4 clear white pine. More birdseye and somewhere in there is some plain hard maple.  You just never have enough. My shop is full also. What can I say. I am a fortunate man. I look at each piece as i unload and stack it and think of what I can make with it. Lordy, there is some wonderful stuff in these piles.

Guess i didn't get to where to find this stuff. That will have to wait for now. if you need some, let me know....

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Small chests, figured wood and something different.

I started some keeping chests today. Charles Neil and I made a set of dvds a few years back about these and candle boxes. They are just flat out pretty. I have sold a number of these over the last few years. If you want to see my acting debut and how good Charles is at making these, go here

You can make these any size. I am making these 10" deep, 20" long and 10" tall for the chest. I have made them as small as 8"' by 16". I have seen some made smaller. I like the proportions going by halves.
Here are the 4 I have cut the dovetails on.   

The one on the lower right as you look at the picture is made from bark inclusion hard maple. It is pretty cool stuff. I pulled this from a pile at a mill that was going to the pallet factory. I got 1 board that was wide enough to make a chest.
It is full of holes and bark and swirls and all kinds of cracks. I 'll put up a picture of the back side a little further down. When I cut the tails and pins, I wasn't sure what would happen. There are so many cracks and holes, I thought it might just blow apart when I pounded it together. It didn't.

The other boxes are 1 hard tiger maple , 1 sap flame birch and 1 red flame birch.

This is the red flame birch. It is the heartwood of a yellow birch. Very hard and it is red like cherry. Unlike cherry it does not get darker. This one will get a russet amber dye which is my favorite for red birch. It has some really nice figure.
This is the sap flame birch. It has a little broader curl in it. This is the same stuff as Charles used in his table on his show. Go there and look up his show. He does an excellent job showing how to build furniture. I have been building for 30 years and I learn stuff all the time. Well worth the low cost and if you can't understand something, he will answer you.

Last but not least is the hard tiger maple. It has a nice tight figure. These are always the ones that stop people dead in their tracks at a show. It should be a very pretty one when its done.

Here  is the backside of the first box. It has some reddish brown heartwood in it too. I will get some closeup pictures another time. The stuff is really different.

I will show more as I go. I have the hardware for these, which I buy from Horton Hardware.
Deer hunting opens here this weekend and I am expecting the gunshots to be loud. I love hunters. I have hit too many deer over the years and its great to see kids out with their folks hunting and spending time together. Nothing better then that.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

White pine slab is ready to finish

Got the white pine slab sanded and epoxy in the cracks. Cleaned off the top and have it ready for finish. I use sandpaper from Industrial abrasives and it sure handles this pine nice. They are a nice small American company that really knows customer service and their products.

I am working on some black ash benches. We will see how they turn out. Black ash is soft and easy to work with. It is a very pretty grained wood. Hope to have some shots of those in the next week or so.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Big slabs, trimming and planing and just about killing myself....

Had 5 big white pine slabs. Over  eight feet long and 26" wide. Had to get 4 of them planed up and ready to be picked up. They will go into bar tops. Yep, lots of bars in Wisconsin.
 Its nice when 2 boards cover the width of the truck box

 Got one on the cart, ready to trim off the edge
These are all 2.5" thick, kiln dried with one natural edge. Nice tight knots. All came from 1 tree. Blew down in a storm. The thing is with these, some people like the bark left on. I have 1 slab left and am peeling the bark off. I love the texture the edge shows with the bark off.
I forgot how heavy these can be, even in white pine. I am 215 lbs, but these were close in weight to me. I was moving slow after I got done yesterday. But it sure is fun to work wood that size and shape. Just some very cool looking stuff.  The swirls and knots and figure are just cool. God does create some really cool things.