Buying Too Much Wood (Again!)

For those of you who don’t already know, I have a habit of buying too much timber for any given product – whether this is actually a bad thing or not; I’ll leave that decision up to you! There was the workbench build back in the summer [see my old UKworkshop Blog], an oak drawer-leaf dining table in September, another extending table in beech for my mum… While my workshop is quite literally filled to the brim with left over wood, today, I collected and dropped off an ‘excessive‘ amount of locally-grown hardwood to the college workshops.

This is for the arm chair I’ve been mocking-up. English ash is rarely hard to come by; the only question was whether or not to buy lots in both 2in. and 1½in. thickness. Bearing in mind that this chair requires less than two-cubic feet’s-worth of ash, I decided (at the suggestion of Gary, my tutor) to buy it all in 2in. thickness. On the one hand, it is more wasteful. On the other, it would also be seen as wasteful to buy a big board of each thickness and use less than half it on this project. At least, with 2in. stock, I’m confident that any left overs can be used again in a future project – they’re ideal for the legs on side tables. Maybe I’ll even get a commission to make another one of these chairs next summer! 😉

This never would have gone in my car at full length!

Since my last update on this chair, I’d firmly decided to hunt out some English walnut for the seat. Not something I’ve used before but, I knew it wouldn’t be as ‘purple‘ as the American breed. I’ve always been led to believe that native walnut is very hard to come by. But, my search told a different story today – several sawmills within a fifty-mile radius of Bristol were able to offer some quantity of locally-grown walnut, 2in. thick. Of course, with my seat approximately 500mm long x 600mm wide, this does play to the advantage of the sawmill as well as myself – it gives them a chance to sell off any offcuts or odd lengths which may have been lying around for a while. That is exactly what I found at Interesting Timbers – David Simmonds informed me of a small selection of 2ft offcuts and was prepared to offer then at a discounted price. They weren’t perhaps the prettiest boards you could hope to see and the thickness did vary from the desirable 50mm. But, I’m very happy with what I have got and, to tell you truth, I’m quite excited to be working with something that is new to me!

Already, I have a good idea of how I'll use this walnut - you can already see a shape for my buttocks!

After a good half-hour decision-making on the walnut (I almost passed on the offer, at one point), it was over to the pile of 2in. ash. In my head, I had a good idea of what I was looking for… “A chair with shaped components requires short and narrow lengths with reasonably straight grain“… Well,the grain was perfect, despite the splits and cracks down the centre. It even curves in a few places and that could influence my decision on where to cut the back legs from. It was the sheer size of these “boards” that concerned me – there’s a good 26in. between the bark, each one more than 10ft in length! I probably could still get all that I need just one of these boards but, as I always like to err on the side of severe caution, I bought a second one as well. So, I spent £200 on almost eight-cubic feet of ash for a chair which requires less than three-cubic feet…!

That’s the trouble with buying locally-grown timber – you have to buy it as it comes. Most sawmills are unlikely to sell you dimensions sawn precisely to your cutting list unless you’re prepared to pay extra for their time and the cost of all machining. I try to abide by the “100% wastage” allowance for waney-edged wood and, as today has proven, always end up almost doubling that again! Yep, any saving made on that walnut is long gone!!

Am I right to blame myself for this? Do I lack self control? Or, is the tree’s fault for growing so tall and wide?!…

In the back of the car it all went [just about, with the boot tied down!]. This load didn’t have an adverse effects on the suspension or under-working of my car, thankfully. Discussing this with Clive (my other tutor) earlier, I think a pickup truck [Toyota, Nissan, etc. – not that open-back transit-type-things!!] would be my ideal woodworking vehicle. Any concerns as to the exposure of items in the back could be solved with a sheet of marine ply, some scrap hardwood and a few evenings’/weekends’ work and it could be removed and stored when necessary.

I would be very interested to hear how you transport your timber. Surely, you don’t all pay for delivery, do you?

Little work with a block plane revealed some spalting, which has also bleached the walnut.

Probably until after Christmas, I’ll leave the board in-stick in the college workshops before I attempt to do any preliminary machining or sawing. Our moisture meter at college tells me the walnut has an average moisture content between 16-18% and the ash isn’t far away from that, if slightly drier in some places. As tempted as I am to rip each board in two right now, there’s bound to be a large amount of tension and stress within the wood right now. That’s something I’ve learnt about the hard way with all the beech I’ve been buying this past year – cut in to it too soon and it’ll split like there’s no tomorrow!

This is someone else's spalted walnut.

That walnut should give me enough usable material for the seat blank. I did come across some spalting on one of the boards, which really surprised me. Another student (in the Monday-Tuesday group) has bought a load of spalted walnut for his project. Not the kind of tree you see every day! You believe me if I tried to tell you that a 4ft length 3in. thick felt almost as light as balsa wood!

Thank you for reading. Feel free to share your wood-buying habits!

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