Sunday, May 25, 2014

New Lumber

I have a couple projects that need some attention before I start a new one, but...

... I had to buy some new lumber.
I know what my next new project is going to be:  the Lady's Desk from Furniture in the Southern Style.

Photo courtesy Popular Woodworking.
Ever since I got this book, I have been itching to do this build.  So, the other day I went out to the lumber yard and picked up more than enough lumber.

As you can see from the first photo, I was lucky to find some real nice 4/4 cherry that varies in width up to about 15" or so.  I wanted lumber that was wide enough that I wouldn't have to do a bunch of unsightly laminations.

I still plan on finishing a project or two before I get started on this, but I wanted to get the lumber early to give it plenty of opportunity to acclimate before I start cutting it and watch it all go haywire.  For example, the drop-front is one board, and there are no cross-battens on the one in the book to keep it flat.  That might be unsightly if on the outside of the desk, and if they were on the inside, it might interfere with the operation of the desk.  If I want this cherry not to bow, it should be nice and dry when it is flattened to give it a chance to stay that way.

I think the best way to allow rough lumber to acclimate is to cut the parts to length, giving some of the wood that is in the center of the board a chance to breath and settle down before I do any real work.

This means layout is in order.  Layout means lots of careful thinking.

Not one of my strong suits.

I decided that the order of this build is opposite what I originally thought I should do.  I thought I should build the base, and make the top desk fit the base.

However I want to use this lumber to it's best potential.  It would be cool if I could get the widest pieces (which happen to be the sides of the desk at 15", according to the plan in the book) out of one board without gluing anything up. 

This could mean that if I can't quite get fifteen inches of width from this board, that the desk would look nice if the depth of the desk were shortened, front to back.  I think the desk would look just fine if it were only fourteen inches deep, depending on the wood I have to use.

The other little tidbit of joyfullness I decided to impose upon myself, is that I think it would be a nice detail if the carcass of the desk had the grain go right around.  That is, the two side pieces and the top all come in order from one board.

Having laid it out, I think this will work.  It could be a little sapwood might prevent the side pieces from being quite deep enough.  I'll see how it looks, and if I need to I'll carefully match grain and glue some extensions on the front.

One tool I find extremely useful when laying out parts is a 48" aluminum ruler I have laying around.   

This 48" ruler has become indispensable to me for layout of rough lumber.
 It in fact is not a woodworking tool, but a tool I used to use when I built golf clubs.
Not a purpose-built woodworking tool, but it should have been.
48" is a real nice length for a ruler graduated in 1/8" increments.
If you are interested, you can get one from Golfworks for $10.99, a real bargain.  It might not be certified to a tolerance of +/- .0001 inches over the length, but I have never needed it to be any straighter than it is for layout work.

A Ryobi saw works great for this.
After laying out the top carcass, I cut the board to length using my trusty Ryobi.  My Diston D-8 would have worked just fine, but in my tiny shop I find this kind of work easier to do clamped up on my bench.  The Dick Saw just happened to be closer at hand.
Rough stock clamped up with spacers for airflow.
If there is much moisture in this wood that needs to come out, these wide boards could look like potato chips by the time they equalize.  In an effort to try to remind them that they should stay flat, I clamped them up with spacers for air flow.
Resting space.
I'm not sure if you can see the cherry behind my bench in the above photo, but this is where this wood will live for the next few weeks while I finish up a couple other projects and otherwise procrastinate. 

I think I have plenty of extra lumber, and I want the look of the final piece to show some attention to detail at the lumber-choosing and layout stage.

I am looking forward to this build, as the desk looks like it could be a lot of fun to build with only hand tools.  None of the parts are really large, so it should be an ideal choice for building in a small hand tool shop like mine.  I suspect the only machining I will do will be resawing the lumber with a bandsaw in order to get appropriate stock for all of the little bits in the guts of the piece.

Keep an eye out, as one of these days I might actually get to start this build.  Please leave a comment if you know any voodoo or witchcraft that might help this wood behave.


  1. This looks like a very challenging projekt to me if only done with hand tools. So I am very interested to see things prograssing. Have Fun!

    1. Thanks!

      My plan is to just take my time. I'm afraid it might not make such exciting blogging,

      One thing that I did try to do to make this project achievable is with the lumber I chose. The original was done with 7/8" thick wood rather than 3/4" (metric is probably 22mm and 18mm respectively), which is what most modern builders would use. It probably doesn't matter much either way, but I ensured to buy lumber that was as close as I could get.

      In this case, the cherry I chose was 27mm in the rough. That means I only have to go from rough boards to flat and smooth, rather than worry about thicknessing to a particular number, or bringing down overly thick wood.

      My plan is to start with the jack plane, if I can, rather than do a workout with a scrub plane.

  2. My best advice concerning acclimatising lumber is to bring it to its final parking place if possible.
    Your approach of cutting it to lenght is a really good idea. I would keep it for some time in the workshop, and then bring it to the apartment for some time before actually working on it.
    After you finish working on it for the day, clamp it back up and take it to the apartment again. That way you have done all that you can, to prevent the wood from misbehaving.
    When I made the drawers for our kitchen, I had made a large cardboard box where I could keep the stock indoor while I was not working at it in the workshop. So I brought the stock with me to the workshop, chopped a lot of dovetails and took everything back inside when I was done. The glue up was done when all the parts for the 25 drawers were done.
    Unless your woprkshop climate is the same as the indoor climate, there is a potential for movement, and it sucks when a nicely made piece is pestered with wood movement problems.
    Jonas (back on the sea again)

    1. Thanks for the comment, Jonas! Unfortunately, I think the desk will live in Garmisch, which is about an hour's drive from my Munich shop. However, I think I won't be in too bad of shape. The shop is inside the house, and I think the humidity is fairly stable and similar to the Garmisch place. At least the temperature down there is constant.

      I think for the most part I am golden once the carcase is glued up. If things move around after that, it should stay flat and square. All except for the desk lid, which has no battens. I am nervous that a flat sawn piece of cherry might bow over time.

  3. I have another idea:
    Perhaps you could drill a hole from the hinge side and almost through to the other narrow side of the panel. Then you could insert a steel pipe that will act as a batten.
    A pipe is considerably more rigid that e.g. a steel rod or a threaded rod, and weighs less. Pipe for hydraulic installations can be obtained with a rather thick wall. You can even get it in stainless if you want to.
    If you drill the holes at the position of your future hinges, no one will ever see the plug that is glued in to close the hole. But the pipes will act as interior battens, hopefully helping to minimize any future bow.
    Does the above makes sense?

    1. Hi Jonas,

      I'm getting better with a brace and bit, but am not sure I'm that good yet.

      I think I'll just go with it the way the original was built.

      I'm thinking of inlaying a leather writing surface. If I do that, I could probably hide some cross-battens inserted with sliding dovetails.

      Or, perhaps breadboard ends.

      That all sounds like making this more complicated than it needs to be, though.