Monday, February 8, 2016

what a visit to Lumber Logs is like

Many of you already know - and maybe some of you will never know - but I want to describe the atmosphere at Lumber Logs on one of our retail Saturday mornings. Why not? Pictures of cool wood will always show up on this blog, but a building full of woodworkers enjoying themselves deserves its own post. Hopefully you will add your own thoughts in the comments.

Retailing lumber is a second job for both Joe and Tom; this is why we are only open for retail four hours per month (first and third Saturdays, 9 - 11 am). The effect of this bottleneck of opportunity is that the building fills with woodworkers of all types during those hours. This has been a fascinating study for me, as interesting as discovering sycamore or osage.

Let me just list a few observations:

  • Most visitors are males. Maybe 80-90% of our buyers are guys, but women and children and controlled pets are all welcome and make it all more fun. Our neighbors are an iron works, a trucking company, and a brickyard, so expect a testosterone laced industrial environment. We do not have a coffee machine, climate control, a restroom or running water. We do have a wood stove in winter and fan in the summer. I come home dirty after every visit.
  • Most people are happy to be there. I am likely not the only guy who rarely enjoys "shopping", but when the environment is a building full of my favorite material, then "shopping" becomes this experience full of imagination and hope and promise. (Maybe my wife feels the same way in a shoe store?) Finding the wood I need is easily one of my favorite woodworking steps because I haven't yet screwed anything up! Perhaps others feel this too since the building is full of happy people who share a love of this material.
  • People are understanding and patient. This strikes me as extraordinary (perhaps because I am often not particularly patient), but when there is a backlog of buyers waiting to have their selections scaled and priced, without exception these people show admirable flexibility. What happens next is really interesting.
  • Once somebody has met their particular need, they are free to engage others. And they do. Discussions about design, finishing, and teenage children flow naturally and without any posturing. A guy helps another with a large slab. Another shares an experience with an unfamiliar wood species. Ineptitude gets mentioned on occasion and it is always with laughter. Mistakes sound like fun; I'll have to try that.  
  • Most people find what they want. If they came looking for 2000 bf of black locust for their deck, then they will go away disappointed, but for a smaller scale project we have the goods. I am especially encouraged when somebody tries a new species they have not used before. The diversity that grows around here and thus that we stock should excite any worker of wood. Our local forest is an exceptional resource. Tell us about your project and we can suggest something that may surprise you. If we do not have what you want, say so and maybe we can improve. We have been cutting thicker oak as a result of multiple requests even though drying it is a challenge. Since our entire business is composed of Joe and Tom, if you get one of our ears you can affect what we do.
  • Not once in 12 years has anyone complained about us rounding all transactions to the nearest dollar. I wonder when pennies will go out of circulation.
  • Lumber haulers come in all shapes and sizes. We are especially impressed by the driver of a two-seater convertible who buys 100 bf of wood, the old dilapidated pickup with duct tape connecting rusty panels (for sale; this could be yours!), the jaguar driver, and the 16' trailer owner who buys one board. My story of 300 bf in and on a Subaru seems to encourage those who feel challenged with bulk.
  • Not even counting the business side of the experience, I always come away energized by the people who visit. This is not my universal reaction to crowds of people, so there is something special about woodworkers that I must like. These people are genuine optimistic doers. They understand challenge, failure, success, and making something that others treasure. They usually work alone but obviously get along with others. This combination of self reliance and sociability in a welcoming environment must be the formula for happiness, or at least temporary joy. At least, it seems to work that way. There is a natural and unforced woodworker's scene in St. Louis. Come experience it.




Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Pictures from the yard

Here are some photos of lumber we have had come in from our sawyers:

Natural edge spalted maple.


Here are some others dry and ready to go:



The cherry slab inventory is full:


Big wide quartersawn white oak table top material - these are extraordinary:


8/4 osage, some of it quartersawn:


Spalted QS sycamore:


Elm slabs with burl figure:



Huge thick heavy oak slabs (those are keys, for scale):


Another shot of the elm on left, oak on right:


Box elder turning blanks (kiln dry):


Last but not least, crotch figured chunks in a number of different species (above the mantle pieces):


Monday, April 13, 2015

Pear turning blanks

There are few woods as fun to turn as pear. We rarely have any blanks of any size in stock, so I am mentioning now that we DO have pear in sizable chunks for turning. We started with some big sections:


Some became thicker boards:



Some became bowl blanks:


A couple of the bowl blanks include some swirling figure:





    (The white is wet Anchorseal). Some blanks are only $5. Come and get 'em.






Monday, April 6, 2015

Scenes from the yard

Let's see if this new smart phone camera is any good. Here are some recent shots from the Lumber Logs' headquarters:


We finally bought fork extensions for the lift and can load the kiln without sweat:



We just got some nice wide cherry table top material from the sawyer. The biggest are 20" wide (before drying):



We have some green pear in sizable chunks:


Some pear still needs to be sawn into blanks:


If you want a piece of osage orange to turn then Joe will chainsaw off a chunk for you, leaving a pretty sight (if you like yellow):






Speaking of Joe, he has decided to decorate his workspace with a portrait of his niece. She is showing that you can pose with a (plastic) chainsaw and still be pretty.




Friday, October 10, 2014

Lumber Logs makes its Disney Hall debut

Two members of the LA Philharmonic recently joined the four members of So Percussion  for a performance of "Timber" by Michael Gordon at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. The members of So made the walnut pieces being struck from Lumber Logs' wood. How cool is that?


photo credit Lawrence K Ho of the LA Times

 



Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Problem,The Opportunity

According to Stephen M. Bratkovich from the USDA Forest Service:


"In the United States over 200 million cubic yards of urban tree and landscape residue are generated every year. Of this amount, 15 percent is classified as 'unchipped logs.' To put this figure in perspective, consider that if these logs were sawn into boards, they theoretically would produce 3.8 billion board feet of lumber, or nearly 30 percent of the hardwood lumber produced annually in the United States."


In most areas - and in St. Louis until 2004 - only a small percentage of those unchipped logs get sawn. Higher grade logs of desirable species have always gotten attention, but even all of these do not get used. (Nothing ruins a walnut log like a deeply buried bolt). It is keeping the gnarly pin oak from being dumped into a landfill that we at Lumber Logs are most proud of. Pallet boards, railroad ties, and blocking are not glamorous ends, but they all beat a landfill.


The reason these lower grade logs rarely get used is that collecting and getting them to a sawmill is simply not economic, at least not without the 5-10% that fall into the desirable category. By taking all of their log waste stream, we save tree removers time and money. By supporting Lumber Logs by buying your lumber from us, you are a key part of The Solution. I thank you for that.

Monday, September 8, 2014

working notes: persimmon

Persimmon is an extraordinary wood in several ways. First is its hardness. As the only domestic wood in the ebony family, this is no surprise. No wonder it is the wood used in golf club heads. This means you need to be super sharp to work it with hand tools, but it is not as difficult to work as its hardness suggests. In fact, it melts away beautifully under a rasp in any direction, I suppose because it lacks any of the stringiness you find in oak, hickory or black locust.

Once it is shaped, it will take a very high polish, so sand it to the highest grit you own. It will shimmer like marble.

Contributing to the marble-like appearance is its coloration. The only jet black parts are inevitably near a check, so the usable wood is mostly a cream color with wisps of smoky grey streaking through it. I find this attractive on its own - like marble - but compared to the clear single color of a nice maple or gingko some might consider it "dirty" looking. Personal preference I suppose. Even more than the maple or gingko its lacks any prominent grain or annual rings.



Not that you will be making many loom shuttles, but this wood has high wear resistance, probably due to its high silica content. I am guessing this is another side of the high polish characteristic. In any case, if you have a situation calling for lots of rubbing, consider persimmon. I have used it for drawer sides and runners and I doubt they will wear in my lifetime.

Persimmon moves a lot when drying but I have noticed no particular issues once dry. As mentioned above, the black heartwood is a very small portion of a board and this part inevitably checks as it dries, so between warping and these checks, finding high grade boards can be a challenge. We do our best, but we end up with a number of smaller boards as a result. If you want to make a table top of persimmon, expect it to include character. This can be very effective. Take a look at the vanity one of our customers made from persimmon:


You can dress it up too. Here is a crotch piece with a blackwood accent:


We get a few persimmon logs and saw it 8/4 most of the time to assure we have something usable after it warps. The pieces are certainly larger than any ebony you might find, and at $5/bf, it is much cheaper.

I personally have very little experience with ebony. I am put off  by its environmental reputation, so I am glad that my experiments with india ink and sanding to high grits are a very successful substitute:


I hope you can tell that I love persimmon. It is a favorite discovery in domestic hardwoods.