New Lumber

December 16, 2012 · 3 comments

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Back in the early summer, Henry took down a few maple trees on our place to make room for an access road. The logs were destined for firewood until he got a closer look at a couple of them and decided that they had Red Onion Woodworks cutting/serving board potential. Henry loaded them up and trucked them over to our friend Stu’s place.

Stu has a homebuilt bandsaw mill and does a bit of custom milling for folks, so I had Stu rough cut the lumber up into slabs for me at 1 1/4″ or 1 1/2″ thickness (which, if you’re in the lumber business, would be commonly referred to as “five quarter” or “six quarter”). After milling, the lumber air dried for about five months with “stickers” (thin slats of wood) inserted between layers that allowed the air to circulate around all surfaces.

Then the lumber was dried in Stu’s industrial kiln, which heats things up to over 100° for at least two weeks until the wood gets down to about 7% moisture content (approximately the same humidity of an average house’s interior). Even under ideal circumstances, lumber will warp slightly as the grain compresses during kiln drying, but if the wood hasn’t been air dried long enough or is still too green, it might warp severely or “honeycomb” (where the surface of a board dries faster than the interior, making it all shrunken and weird looking and generally unusable).

After my lumber came out of the kiln, Stu transported it along with some of his own lumber up to a Northwest Millworks in Salem where it was professionally planed. Each board lost 1/4″ to 1/2″ of its original thickness when planed smooth. I don’t have my own planer mostly because I don’t have a climate-controlled shop to keep one in, but even if I had my own, I wouldn’t be able to surface wide slabs or ensure that boards were perfectly flat in the same way that a professional wood processing operation can do. This service costs me a couple hundred dollars per load, but it saves me a ton of time, and the end product is simply better.

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Stu called me on Thursday night to tell me that my lumber was ready, so I met him on Friday morning, and we unloaded the lot onto my brother-in-law’s covered porch (aka my “studio”). I store all my dry wood in a spare bedroom in my brother-in-law’s rented house. It’s not ideal, and it’s certainly not pretty, but it works out well, and I am super grateful for this arrangement with Henry’s brother, Trevor. Henry also builds bee boxes at Trevor’s place, so I have to share my space with miscellaneous bee equipment.

My original plan was to move all the lumber into storage immediately because even one night sitting outside would cause the wood to take in moisture, but 8-foot boards are kind of unwieldy to move through the interior of a house, so I ended up spending then next couple hours rough cutting the lumber into single-cutting-board-sized pieces with my Makita cordless circular saw and Makita cordless jigsaw (both of which I love, by the way). This batch of lumber will probably yield about 130 individual cutting/serving boards. These ones won’t be ready in time for Christmas, but I will certainly have a lot to work on in the new year.

All lumber for my projects comes a fairly small geographic area close to where I live, but this will be the biggest batch of cutting board material to come directly off our property. I don’t know if that makes it any more special than anything else I’ve sold, but if you’re interested in getting a little artifact direct from our homestead, keep an eye on my Etsy shop in the next few months.

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