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. This lack of stringiness makes it an excellent carving wood (much like ebony is) because you can come at it from most any angle and it will leave an exact track of what your gouge has done. This may not always be a plus if your carving skill matches mine, but it is incentive to up your carving game.

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.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

working notes: rift sawn oak

Whether you like it or not, a ring porous wood like oak, ash or hickory will always have a prominent grain affecting the look of your project. This can really make or break the look of what you have made. Wood is a natural material and its grain is part of that, no doubt about it. But there are times when a prominent grain becomes a distraction to the overall design. I have an entire blog post on this subject here and will not repeat it all, but let's just review the visual differences in how wood can look depending on how the log was oriented on the saw.

First, a sample of PS white oak, the most common and cheapest cut (where the board face is parallel to a tangent of the log round):

Here is a sample of PS red oak:

Next, a sample of QS white oak (where the board face is along a radius of the log):

Here is the QS cut in red oak:

Here is today's subject, a RS sample in white oak that comes from a board that is somewhere between the two cuts above:

A RS red oak sample:

You can see at a glance that the RS wood has a quieter grain with the vertical lines of those annual rings lining up just so without the medullary ray flecks that the QS wood displays. I think this makes rift sawn oak easier to work into a design than either of the other two cuts. And not only for the frame in frame and panel work; see how well mannered it is as panel too:

[photo missing]

 So the answer when you want to use an oak but do not want the prominent grain shouting over the overall design is to use RS wood. You get oak's strength, more stability in use than PS stock, and a quiet unobtrusive look that lets the shape of the design get a word in edgewise. A table leg is another obvious situation where this becomes important. In fact, I'd prefer RS wood for the table's rails too. Only for the table top would I consider one of the other cuts, probably preferring the QS material for its stability. Save the PS wood for panels or pieces that go into sight-impaired homes.

In any case, if you pay attention to grain patterning in your work, the results will be visually more pleasing and you will find yourself searching for RS wood. This is why we have our red and white oak inventory segregated by cut.

Monday, June 9, 2014

working notes: Tupelo (black gum)

We sawed our first Tupelo log a year or so back. I tend to forget about these things as they air dry, but since it was our first attempt at a species we had not sawn before, I was anxious to run it through the kiln. We quartersawed the log since we figured it was like sweetgum or sycamore: one of those species that moves so much when drying that quartering is the best way to get usable lumber.

I will jump straight to the bottom line: This log has yielded a higher percentage of wood that screams "Keep me!" than any log we've sawn since that curly AND burly soft maple in 2005. I believe the log was lightly spalted - no black line or soft areas, but tons of colors waving in soft flames vertically up the board. Tans, yellows, purples, darker browns, cream, all in undulating striations that really popped with one coat of oil. See for yourself:

Each and every board has these colors throughout the entire board!

I am rearranging my shop schedule to make something out of this wood as soon as possible. Gorgeous wood does that to me. I found a table design I had set aside a while ago; this is the wood for it. I can't wait. The wood is lighter weight than the sweetgum, but it has the same diffuse porous structure that makes the kind of surface that begs to be touched.

Oh, pricing. To be honest I began by pricing this wood like our sweetgum - around $4. (We also just pulled some sweetgum from the kiln, and one of those boards migrated to Tom's Private Stash, along with four for Joe's Stash), but the more I look at it, that is not right. This wood is unique. Other pictures of Tupelo online do not look this spectacular, so the best pieces of this wood will be $8/bf, about what you would pay for normal wood from other places. And this is far from normal. 

First come, first serve.

As far as working characteristics, I may have more to say on this later, but for now it does not appear to be particularly difficult. Naturally it seems much like sweet gum (which may not help you much), although as mentioned these boards are lighter in weight. The sample above shows some tear out from the planer, but it saws, planes, glues and screws just fine. Perhaps soft maple is a comparison that is helpful. When wood looks this good I am willing to tackle some difficulties but I honestly do not foresee any.


October 2015 NOTE: It is possible that the species shown above is sweetgum, not black gum. Sweetgum heartwood, aka "red gum", can have the look shown above. The "tupelo" (black gum) identification is not guaranteed.

Monday, March 17, 2014

working notes: QS cherry

I will not be dwelling here on the working characteristics of cherry. Most of us have experience with it already, and those of you who do not simply must try it; it is (along with walnut) a premier choice for fine woodworking for many reasons. One of those reasons is the way it looks. Its natural color improves over time to a distinctive rich burgundy and its diffuse porous grain begs to be touched. Could it get any better?

Well, yes. Below is the plain sawn (PS) face of cherry, which presents an interesting and beautiful pattern:

But the quartersawn (QS) face of cherry presents a rarely seen side of this gorgeous wood, with smaller medullary ray flecks giving the whole board a subtle yet distinctive sparkle to compliment the slightly undulating annual ring lines.

This is a look that can really elevate a small box or a drawer front. It does not shout from across the room like curly maple or spalted birch, but cherry's color draws the viewer in and when they get closer they see this subtle surprise. It MUST be touched!  Plus of course you get the superior stability that QS wood has over PS cuts.

That's it. Cherry is a spectacular hardwood by any standard, and its QS look is rarely seen and deserves more attention. That is why as soon as we unload our first kiln load in a few weeks we will have a bin of cherry that is exclusively QS material. Ask for it.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

PS, RS, and QS in oak frames and panels

Here is an article I wrote years ago that appears on a couple woodworking forums:

Paying attention to grain patterns with ring porous hardwoods like oak and ash is an important step in a woodworker's maturation and a big part of whether a design succeeds or not. I still have a piece or two I made before I discovered this and frankly, they are hard to look at now. Even though I have since learned to pay attention, I have never seen a systematic review of what different effects were available. So I made three oak frames and three oak panels, stained them to highlight the grain a bit, and interchanged them based upon the grain patterning of how the board was cut from the log. There are nine different combinations. (I was not too exacting with my finishing). 

To review, below you see the three frames, with the quartersawn (QS) one at bottom with its annual rings running vertically in the picture and the medullary rays, which radiate from the pith outward, being horizontal. Where the ray surfaces on the face of the board is what yields the showy figure. In the middle is the riftsawn (RS frame, with both rings and rays on diagonals. The plainsawn (PS) frame on top is more like most boards you buy when you buy oak showing the prominent grain patterning of the annual rings on its face. 

Here are the three combinations all using the PS frame with PS panel first, RS panel next, and the QS panel third: 

In my opinion, none of these are particularly satisfying combinations because the wild uncontrolled grain of the frame is so distracting. And since PS is what you usually get when you buy without paying close attention, this is reason number one to think these things through when you design and when you select boards for a project. 

Next, the RS frame with PS, RS and QS panels: 

Notice how the frame recedes and lets the panel be the focus? If you are going to use a ring porous wood, I'd almost always default to the RS frame for this reason. Note how quiet and unobtrusive the RS/RS one is? I like the effect but it could be considered almost too quiet; the action of the other two panels can be used to quite good effect, keeping in mind what happens with the other parts of the project that aren't frame and panel construction. 

Next, the QS frame with PS, RS and QS panels: 

These aren't subtle, huh? Yet i could imagine finding a way to make the last two work. The PS panel is just an outta control visual, like watching a group of leopards go at it with a family of tigers. The RS panel might be a way to calm down a piece with lots of QS material. Most ww'ers seem to like the boisterous use QS with QS; a few craftsman era pieces depend on it. 

Anyhow, draw your own conclusions. I've sprinkled mine in here and they are only my opinions. What do you think? 

Friday, February 21, 2014

working notes: ginkgo

If you search for "ginkgo" or the less correct "gingko" you will not find many vendors. Two, in fact, as I write this. Let's talk about it.

Ginkgo is a softer wood that is a pale buttery color with a tight grain. I recently made some picture frames from both soft maple and ginkgo and the experience was similar with each. Ginkgo might be a bit softer, it does not tear out nearly as much in the planer (but it will tear out if you go dead against the grain), but in most ways it works like a soft maple. Its looks would be more easily confused with a white pine. One notable point is that there do not seem to be any bad boards; all knots including the pith are tight and will stay in place. It is easy to hand plane, glue and screw into. Like soft maple, being on the soft side of many of the woods we work is an advantage to a project like a picture frame where you are gluing up miters. (Miters with softer wood go together faster and with less fuss, at least in my shop).

Maple on the left, ginkgo on the right. Both are unfinished:

Michael Bauermeister, an experienced woodcarver, offered me these comments on working ginkgo: "Ginkgo is a nice carving wood that can be worked with hand tools. While not as easy to carve as basswood, it does cut cleanly and holds a nice, crisp edge. It is similar to butternut in terms of carving and grain but lighter in color."

I have not turned any ginkgo, but I imagine that those characteristics mentioned would make a nice looking bowl if you can finds chunks to work with. We sell 4/4 and 8/4 boards. I could see it used as a secondary wood in place of maple or poplar if you wanted something with a slightly different look. Its color is much more consistent than either maple or poplar, at least in the logs we have sawn. Because of this consistency, we chose it for the signs on our lumber racks.

The tree can grow fairly large and magnificent, and it remains much as it was when the dinosaurs roamed. Not many species have been around as long. We see very few logs which might help explain why such a fine wood is not seen commercially. Like poplar or maple or butternut, it probably does not offer much rot resistance so it should be used indoors, but it is such a pleasure to work that I keep trying to think of more uses there.

Our ginkgo sample: