Many woodworkers can end up spending a lot of time fixing things that happened during the build of their woodwork project, that could have been avoided with a bit more knowledge and preparation before they started building ... and that's what this article will cover, prepping and understanding wood.
When you build a wood project, and spend all the time and money on plans, tools, wood under most conditions, you want your project to turn out well no matter what it is. This is especially true if you are building furniture or other items around the home that you want to look good and often to also withstand everyday use and remain in good condition.
The very beginning of any project depends on the wood you choose. They type of project you want to build will dictate what kinds of wood you will want to choose. For most furniture, hardwoods are best but some softwoods can be used for ornamental items that are not subjected to wear and tear. The first thing to consider when choosing wood is either hardwood or softwood and then, what is the moisture content of the wood. If the wood is too wet, it will cause endless problems later on in shrinking joints, finishes lifting off, blotchy finishes and generally not less than adequate long term usage. Unless you live in a very hot dry climate, the target level for moisture content in furniture building is often around 9 or 10 percent.
Don't be fooled by "kiln dried" wood, very often this wood is actually "partially" kiln dried, and to be used in furniture making may need to sit around your shop for a few weeks or more in order to get down to the moisture content that may be better for your locale.
We always look for the straightest lumber we can find at the lumber store, then bring it home, let if finish drying a few more percentage points, then, often when we go to start using this lumber we find it has warped after we brought it home. This is very common. The good new is that many of the woods that we purchase are NOT "sized", that it they are rough planed so we can see the grain of the wood, but they have not been planed to a working size, which means we still have a bit of wiggle room to joint the boards flat and still size in the planer to a proper working thickness.
If a board is warped badly, or at least badly enough that if you were to joint one face side you would loose so much wood it's not work doing, now is the time to start cutting the wood to a rough working length for you project. What this almost always means is "less waste of wood" because you are working around the twisting and warping and using as much of the wood as you can.
One of the things to look for, no matter where you purchase wood, is as (or look) to see if the wood has been "end sealed". In and ideal situation the log when it is cut down is end sealed .. THEN it is cut into lumber. End sealing wood is a sign the someone who is working with the wood knows what they are doing and are end sealing the wood to help reduce or eliminate the ends of boards for cracking (which is called "checking"). Boards that are severely checked on the ends should be reduced in price as this end checking is only going to be cut off and discarded. That's why it's important for a mill or sawyer to have the wood end sealed.
Even end sealed wood can twist and warp, and here is where knowing ahead of time what your project is going to be, including width and length of wood, you can rough but some of your wood to length which means you can salvage much more lumber than you might otherwise get.
Normally the next step after you have "sized" your boards, or using what you have ... is to first of all take you boards to a jointer or other facility that you may be using for flattening ... and now you need to flatten on side of your board. If the board is still a bit warped or twisted it could take multiple passes.
Before you begin the process procedure, which in this case is normally flattening one face side and one edge side, in all cases you should clean off your wood and it's best use a wire brush for this. Some people use coarse, 60 grit sandpaper, but I find this too coarse and can live very deep etches in the wood that can be very hard to joint or plane out. A wire brush will get rid of the dirt and small rocks that may be embedded in your wood and dull or even pit the edges of your jointer or planer knives.
Another good reason for the cleaning, especially with "urban acquired wood", you never know what you can come across when cleaning the wood, nails are quite common and I have heard of bullet embedded deep into some woods, but have never found a bullet deep in the wood until now. I counted the rings on this one because there was one live edge and it was 62 rings to the edge, and I have had the wood for 10 years so that bullet was shot into that tree about around 1950 when the tree was much younger.
Clean the Wood with Wire Brush and Watch for Anomalies (like nails or even bullets)
When you have one face side flat, next you will need to make one edge of your board straight and even. This is done by placing the newly flattened face side against the fence of your jointer and making enough passes that the edge is now straight and even. Only now is that board able to take either to the planer to have it thickness planed to the thickness you need, or taken to the table saw to have it trimmed further according to your needs.
Joint One Face Side First
After One Face Side Has been Flattened, Make one Edge Straight and Flat
Now the Wood is Safe for Thickness Sizing and Width Sizing
All this is the proper sequence for prepping wood. This system is used by virtually every woodworker to get their wood to the point of beginning to build their project. If you are using man made woods like MDF, Plywood or even some prepared natural woods, you can often skip many of these steps. For example some boards are pre-flattened, thickness planed and edged ... and some are even sealed in plastic to make sure they maintain their lowest moisture content. You will pay a lot for these boards, but you don't need all the machinery for prepping the wood that you would normally need, so if you want to build things and don't have the room or tools, these are another alternative for woodworking.
If you are saving wood, and buying direct from a saw mill, you will save money, but it will cost you in time ... time to dry the wood down to whatever percent level you will need, you will most often need a jointer, planer and table saw at the minimum ... but that's what woodworking is all about, using the tools to create woodworking projects and enjoying the process of preparing the wood, designing or picking a design of something you want to make, they moving forward to make it ... all the joys of woodworking.
Copyright Colin Knecht
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