Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Wasting Wood

Have you ever had one of those days where it seems like you aren't getting anything done?  For me that was today.

I was all set to cut out the rough pieces of my upcoming project, a Shaker side table in cherry.  Perhaps even plane a few pieces to close to their final dimensions.

Instead, life goes on.  I wasn't able to get in the shop until around six o'clock this evening.  I am, however, extremely excited about what I did accomplish.

I know, it doesn't look like much.
Yesterday I bought some lumber at the lumber yard.  I got a wide board (shown) and a narrower board.  I had to cut both of them at the lumber yard to fit them in my car.  In my previous post, I mentioned that I usually wind up paying about twice what I could if I was careful at the lumber yard, and this is why.

I decided to be super anal about what the stuff I am using for this project looks like.  I started with the top, as it will be the most visible and require the widest boards.  I wanted the top to be made from two boards, each 9 inches wide to make an 18 inch square top.  Also, I decided to take Christopher Schwarz' advice about setting up the top to look as beautiful as possible. 

I laid out a half of a top on one end of the big piece.  I set it up with the cathedrals lined up in a straight line directly down the center of this board.

Unfortunately, I noticed when I was done that the knot I barely avoided was pointed at an angle toward my piece, and there was another knot at the other end.  Both of these would have showed on the end grain of the finished piece.

Darned knots!
This isn't the end of the world, as there is plenty more from which to choose.  I found another place on the board to use, and used a piece from the short board, too.

I thought there might be enough wood on the side of Top "C" for a leg or two, but the heartwood does not go all the way through.

Next was setting up the drawer front, and the three side rails.

I don't think I have ever set up a board this way before.  If you can't see what I did, each piece here has the cathedral running through the exact center of the piece.  I think if I set it up differently, I could have saved a lot of wood. 

In a couple years, I would probably regret having not done it this way.  With cathedral grain running off of the edge of the piece rather than down the center, this piece would not look nearly as elegant as I envision.

Even so, I will be able to get most of the entire piece out of this one board.  Only a leg or two, and the back rail will come from the other board.

This whole process took me about two hours to lay out today.  At one time, I would have started cutting things up and been half done with the project in that amount of time.  We'll see if this effort pays off.

Let's see if I can keep from jacking up the joinery.


  1. Hi Brian,

    I wouldn't worry about any "wasting" of wood, nor how much time it took you to get everthing laid out. Speaking from personal experience, I think not enough up-front time is spent at the front end of projects, before the first tool gets put to wood. Ten years from now you will appreciate the beauty of the wood, and almost immediately you'll forget about any wasted wood. Small hardwood offcuts can get used for all sorts of things, anyway.

    I hope those sticker stains aren't too deep. Oh, and thanks for pointing out the "Knot" in the wood.:)

    Good luck!


    1. Thanks, Eric.

      The way I look at it, I could have squeezed out more parts from that one board, and saved what, $20 worth of lumber? I am pretty sure this will be worth it in the long run.

  2. I wish Chris's video on the shaker side table had started like you are doing. Can't wait to see how yours unfolds.

    1. Haha, there are a few things I would have like seen added on Chris' DVD, too. I think he was concerned that 4 1/2 hours was too much. Funny, you can't please everyone.

  3. People who are thinking before doing are rare those days.
    I wouldn't mind 4½ hours, you just need an extra large popcorn to go along with the coke.
    Do you use a soft pencil for the marking or a permanent marker?
    I agree with Eric. Thanks for pointing out the knots.

    1. Jonas, I believe you would enjoy a 20 hour woodworking DVD.

      I marked this out with a Sharpie so it would photograph better. I'll try to stay outside the lines when I rip and clean up with a plane to finish thickness.

      I usually use a pencil, but my 0.5mm lead breaks easily on rough stock.

      Looking at the photo, I see what is so funny about pointing out the knots. My intention was to show that those knots will show on the finished piece, but it looks like, "Hey dummy, if you didn't know what this is, it's a knot!"

  4. Lately my personal design idiom wants to embrace and actually highlight knots by placing them off in some asymmetric location on a table top. Maybe I'm channeling George Nakashima

    1. Hi Shannon,

      I often don't mind knots in my work. As long as they can be stabilized an an attractive way, the grain around a knot is beautiful. However, I wanted a fairly traditional look for this piece.

  5. I go through a similar process when it comes to making furniture. I can usually say that I have a very small scrap pile at the end of most builds. At the same time, would the piece have turned out much nicer if I had been very selective and used more wood to select better grain patterns? It's tough for me because I consider wasting wood as not only wasting money, but also wasting a resource. Yet, sometimes to make something truly memorable you may have to burn through a few extra boards

    1. Lucky thing wood grows on trees, right?