How To Get Wood.

Aside from the obvious lewd hilarity, this is a real problem for many woodworkers.  Sourcing lumber, not the other thing.  I have received several emails from woodworkers having trouble finding species of lumber outside the often mysterious "white wood" offered by most big box store lumber yards.  Some lumber yards will occasionally have a "hobby woods" section which typically offers a small selection of S4S (surfaced on all 4 sides) oak, ash, aspen, balsa, and occasionally cedar or maple.  These are often only available in 3/4 inch and smaller thicknesses, and usually in varying widths from 1 to 6 inches.  But what if you need a big old slab of walnut, or a chunk of ebony, or a dimensional piece of white oak?  Short of cutting down your own tree, stealing your grandfathers stash, or milling up some firewood, this type of specialty lumber can sometimes be difficult to find.

My recommendation is always to do a quick internet (Google) search for "exotic lumber near (insert your location)."  Beware, however, this can yield unexpected results and may end with an awkward explanation of your internet browsing history to your significant other.  Even though you may be looking for a lumber species native to your specific geographic area, many lumberyards that cater to woodworkers throw 'exotic' in their name or company description to separate themselves from your local construction grade lumber retailer.  Another keyword to use in your search is 'hardwood' which is another method of distinguishing a lumber yard that might carry bubinga from a run of the mill big box lumber yard.  If you are lucky enough to be located near a mill, you may be able to find what you are looking for among their racks.  

Another internet resource that has worked well for me has been woodfinder.com.  They have a great searchable index of lumber yards, many of which cater to woodworkers.  If you find a lumber retailer near you, be sure to call ahead as some of the references on woodfinder are a little outdated.  That being said, it never hurts to call ahead anyway.  Due to the specific nature of specialty lumber retailers, and in an effort to minimize overhead, they often keep odd hours and sometimes aren't open every day.  Woodcraft retail stores are another source of specialty lumber, though their selections are often limited by retail space (more space for TOOLS!), and their prices can run a tad on the high side when compared to exotic lumber retailers.  

Once you find a good lumber retailer near you make it a point to talk with the staff.  Many of these retailers offer additional services which may come in handy such as milling and re-cutting.  They often have equipment to surface or cut large pieces of lumber which may not be available to you otherwise.  Additionally, if you are looking for something specific many exotic wood dealers have the means to order you what you are looking for, or can recommend another retailer or a mill close by.  In short, play nice!


Learn. Practice. Share. Learn. Repeat.

One of my favorite sentences to hear is "so I have been thinking about getting into woodworking..."  Fair warning to anyone near me thinking of leading into a conversation with those words, I love to talk.  Recently, my cousin made just such a mistake.  He mentioned that he was interested in learning to woodwork in order to make himself some tool storage for his profession, and because he is more like a little brother to me, I felt it was my responsibility to indoctrinate him.

I tried to figure out which tools he'd need to start some small projects, and thought I'd start him off with those as Christmas gifts.  He doesn't have much space for tools so I tried to keep his initial woodworking set pretty bare bones.  I walked into my shop and closed my eyes and tried to think about which tools I couldn't live without if I was going to start woodworking in a small apartment.  The first thing to come to mind was a saw.  I found a Mini Dozuki from Rockler.com which is great for some of the small work he is hoping to get involved with.  I have one of these, and it is excellent for cross cutting small pieces and cutting dovetails.  One added benefit is that the blades are replaceable, so he won't have to start out learning how to sharpen a saw before he knows if he actually enjoys woodworking.   I also thought he'd need a coping saw to clean out dovetails (a project he was interested in).  I learned on a cheap one from an old hardware store that still works great, so that's what he'll get.

The next item I use without fail on a regular basis is my set of chisels.  I have a couple sets of chisels and many antiques that I have collected over the years.  One of the best starter sets I have ever used, however, is a set of Marples Blue Chip chisels (now made by Irwin).  The steel is decent, holds an edge well, they are easy to sharpen, and are not super expensive.  I'd recommend the set of 4 if you are just starting out and aren't sure if you are going to like woodworking.  The set of 4 comes with every size you'll need to at least get started butchering some lumber.  Last but not least, he'll need to be able to sharpen his chisels.

I am putting together a glass and sandpaper sharpening setup for him that I'll post on very soon.  To get him started, however, I set him up with a great little Marples sharpening jig and taught him the basics on my setup while he was visiting for the holidays.  With about three minutes of instruction, and fifteen minutes of practice he had the technique nailed.  The Marples sharpening jig is far from the nicest one I have ever used, but it is simple and effective enough to get the job done well.  The jig has projection distances (the distance the blade projects from the front of the jig to achieve different bevel angles) stamped right on the tool and comes with oil and a rough stone.  The stone that comes with the kit leaves a lot to be desired, but would work as a coarse stone in a pinch, this is why I am getting him set up with a sandpaper sharpening set.  Now he will be able to have sharp tools to use while he is learning.  I am convinced that many woodworkers give up on hand tools because they don't know how to sharpen properly, and dull tools are incredibly frustrating.

It Works Well for 12 Bucks
I am certain that I could have come up with a list of tools longer than my arm, but with great restraint I kept his starter kit to these.  The only other thing he will need is a set of clamps.  I made some recommendations on some Jorgensen wooden handscrew clamps that work really well.  With the clamps he should be able to do a load of small projects and start his tool storage solution project right on his coffee table with a woodworking set that fits in the bottom of a closet.  I am sure that within a very short amount of time I will be learning from him!


What? It's February Already?

With temperatures plummeting into the single digits my unheated workshop sanctum sanctorum, the workshop has not been a pleasant place to hang out as of late.  I have, however, managed to use up my spare time planning projects and helping my wife turn our spare room into a craft space.  She is a graphic designer and her day job requires rather strict design guidelines, often leaving very little room for raw creativity.  As a result, we discussed carving out some space of her own to paint, print, make jewelry, scrapbook, sew, and generally create (mostly so we can actually eat dinner on our dining room table again).

Our extra bedroom is now officially her space, although, she did set some crayons, coloring paper and a tiny desk aside that she said I can share with our daughter.  I did manage to accidentally teach myself some things about organization while setting up her room.  I'll post on those ideas as I incorporate them into my workshop this year (if it ever thaws out).  We treated the craft room as her birthday/Christmas present this year.  I always feel a little bummed about combination presents (even when they are awesome), so I decided to make her some small tokens of my affection this year.  

I am not one for wearing jewelry, as anyone who knows me can attest.  I am, on the other hand, fascinated by its creation.  When cleaning out the spare room I came across a small box that contained a ring my wife bought me during a semester she spent in South America.  The ring is made of tagua nut, the nut from a tree commonly known as an ivory palm.  It is a beautiful ring, but like every other piece of jewelry I own it has yet to be worn.  The ring got me thinking though.  I have some rather dense, well cured exotic wood scraps in my workshop just waiting to be used for something cool, why not a ring?

I used up the one warm day we have had lately to get out into the garage and saw up some black palm.  By the way, black palm is a beautiful species.  If you ever decide to use it for anything, be prepared for it to splinter into a million pieces, most of which will end up in your hands.  First, I cut the black palm to size with a handsaw, my little Zona saw worked perfectly for this (it's an excellent $8 saw).  I marked out a rough size for the ring with a compass.

Black palm Scrap

 Next, I centered and drilled a hole for her finger.  To size the hole, I "borrowed" one of her rings and matched forstner bits and paddle bits until I got a near match.  When drilling out holes for these rings drill until the pointy nib pokes through the other side, flip the ring, use the hole to line up the nib, and drill through the other side.  This avoids blowing out the opposite side and ruining some otherwise pristine beautiful wood.  After drilling the hole, I sawed off as much of the excess as I could.  I left the top flat as part of the design I had envisioned.  I tried to drill the hole later in the process but found it was very difficult to hold, even with clamps, while drilling through the wood.

I then went to my disk/belt sander to shape the ring.  I did all the shaping freehand on the disk sander and used the belt sander with a 220 grit belt to polish up the shape and facets.  I faceted the flat top of the ring to expose as many different angles on the spectacular end grain the black palm has as possible.  This entire process could also be done with sandpaper glued to a flat surface.  Just rub the ring on the sandpaper, it'll work a little slower but it will achieve the same results.
Disk Sander
I sanded the finger hole inside the ring with a piece of sandpaper wrapped around a dowel.

Next, in an attempt to clamp the ring in the vise while sanding it by hand, I proceeded to break it in half.  I'd recommend clamping across the grain (squish the grain together) rather than with the grain like I did, this will help prevent splitting when the fibers are compressed a little.

After trying my hardest not to use profane language, I started over.  Once I had the rings sanded, I took them to my cheap-o ($30 at Horror Freight) bench buffer charged with plain old white polishing compound. This did a great job of giving the rings a little luster and shine.  

The Bottom One Got Some Additional Shaping And Polishing
The Facets Reflect And Show Off Some Great Grain
I finished the rings off with a touch of beeswax polish and handed them to my wife.  I followed up this design with a ring in ebony.  I used a slightly different construction method for the ebony ring which I'll post later as it's not yet complete.  She loved these, and immediately gave me some design ideas for some others.  I will get her into woodworking if it kills me!  If you happen to be looking for a handmade gift for your loved one, try making one of these!

Black Palm And Ebony