Wood Movement, Part 3

Well, I’m finally back with the next post. Up until now, I’ve covered storing wood, milling wood and allowing wood to acclimate to the shop before use. This time I want to look at designing with movement in mind.

No matter how long a piece of wood dries, it will always have some movement with changes in humidity. A poorly designed piece could result in joinery opening up or failing, or even the possibility of a part cracking due to pressures from expansion. Another rule of thumb is the smaller the piece of wood, the smaller the movement will be. If we take a look at a board which is 3 inches wide, its movement will be almost negligible, particularly when compared with a 20 inch wide table top. Why are we just considering width?

Width is the main issue when considering wood movement. There’s almost no movement across the width, and even less along the length. It’s the width which will grow and shrink. Think in terms of a dresser drawer. Ever had one that just refused to open in the summer, but worked flawlessly in the winter? During the humid summer months, the sides of that drawer are drinking in moisture from the air causing them to swell and bind. This kind of thing is what we’re looking to avoid.

With drawers, the solution is fairly simple. Just size the drawers around 1/6″-1/8″ smaller than the opening they’ll live in. There are other areas to consider this also though. Take a cross grain situation. By this, I mean a situation in which the long grain of two pieces runs perpendicularly. A classic example of this is the breadboard end.

The idea of the breadboard end is to keep a wide panel from cupping- yes, it’s a way of handling wood movement. The breadboard is placed on tenons at a 90 degree angle to the grain of the panel, usually a table top. It’s generally secured in place with pegs driven through the tenons. If you were to glue the breadboard all the way across its joint with the panel, the panel would have no room to expand across its width. The way around this is to glue only the center tenon and to oblong the peg holes in the outside tenons so the panel can move across the pegs without binding.

Another potential problem area is when attaching a table top to an apron. Because the aprons will expand vertically across their grain and the top will expand horizontally across its grain, the forces involved could result in catastrophic failure if the top is simply screwed or glued to the apron. There are several solutions to this dilemma. There are several commercially available fasteners sold for this application. Another possibility is to cut a groove in the aprons and make blocks with tongues to fit into the grooves. The blocks secure to the top with screws and are allowed to float in the groove. I prefer to keep things simple and cheap. I use oversized shank holes in the aprons. What does that mean? If the screw requires a 1/8″ hole for the shank of the screw to pass through, I’ll drill it at 3/16″ which gives the screw room to move back and forth with the top

Perhaps the most problematic thing when it comes to movement is the frame and panel. You want the panel to fit nicely into the frame without rattling, but if it’s too tight, the panel could push the frame joints apart or possibly crack if the joints don’t give way. This assumes, of course, that we’re talking about a solid wood panel. Plywood or engineered sheet good panels won’t move like solid wood, so they may be an option if you’re doing a flat panel. If you’re doing a raised panel, though, you probably are looking to use sheet goods. Ideally, you want to dry fit your frame first. Next, measure the height and width to the bottoms of the grooves. Once you have your measurements, size your panel around 1/8″ narrower than the overall width measurement and about 1/16″ shorter than your height measurement. But how do I keep it from rattling in the frame? That’s easy. Dabs of glue at the center of the top and bottom grooves will keep the panel from rattling. Because the panel is only secured at the center, it can still move across the width as it needs to. Perhaps one of the most important tip on frame and panel is to finish the panel before final assembly. If you don’t, you may end up with unfinished areas showing when the panel contracts. In addition, there’s the possibility of a film finish like polyurethane acting like a glue and rendering all of your careful design pointless.

I’m sure there’s more to know on this subject, but I think this is all I know about it. Hopefully I’ve explained everything effectively. If you still have questions, I’m happy to answer them. You can just drop me an email or leave a comment here. Don’t forget to check out my social media. If you prefer video, I’m on YouTube too. Until next time, always be a knothead!

Wood Movement- Part 2

Well, I guess I kinda left you hanging. In the last article, I talked about how wood moves and some of the reasons it does, but I never mentioned what can be done to stop it. Nothing. That’s what can be done to stop wood from moving. The answer isn’t in stopping movement, it’s in designing to allow for it.

Let’s start from the beginning. Seems like as good a place as any. Wood, as we all know comes from trees. Once a tree is cut, its main source of moisture is removed. It’s been severed from its roots. It’s at this point that the wood begins to dry. The key to minimizing movement due to moisture loss at this stage is to maintain some control over how quickly the moisture is lost. It’s also critical to try to maintain an even amount of drying throughout the whole piece of wood, whether it be a log, a slab or a board. If you’re planning on air drying lumber at home, the best way to do this is by sealing the end grain.

Take a look at this cross section of ash. Each of the areas that looks like a hole in the wood, actually is. I’ll use the cliche analogy of a piece of wood being like a bundle of drinking straws. The long grain (face and edge grain) surfaces are like the sides of the bundle of straws, not much moisture is going to leak out of them. In fact, some ancient cultures actually used wooden pipes to bring water to towns. It’s the openings at the top and bottom of the straws where moisture is going to be quickly removed. Due to this, the ends of a piece of wood will dry out much more quickly than the center section. In order to stop this from happening, the end grain should be sealed as soon as possible after the tree is felled. There are commercial products available which will do a great job of sealing end grain, but something as simple as some leftover latex paint you probably have in your basement or garage will do nicely also. Keep in mind that this is not at all a perfect solution, the wood may still warp or crack, but it gives you more of a fighting chance.

Once you have your logs milled, how you stack them to dry is every bit as important as sealing the end grain. You need to make sure there’s adequate airflow around as much of the surface of each board as possible, and the worst thing you can do is to pile the boards directly on the ground. As you might expect, laying a board directly on the ground will not only keep it from drying, it can also draw insects like carpenter ants, termites and powder post beetles looking for lunch. It’s best to put down a base to raise your stack about 1 1/2″ to 2″ off of the ground. Some 2x4s on edge or a couple of old pallets will take care of that. After you put down your base, you can begin stacking, making sure to place stickers between each layer in the stack.

What’s a sticker? Well, we aren’t talking about scratch and sniff here. (Yes, I know. I just dated myself.) A sticker is just a spacer which will provide a gap for air to be able to move between the boards in the stack. I use scraps of 3/4″ plywood which I rip to 3/4″ wide on the table saw, and have had good luck. Your next concern is how long to let this green lumber dry before it can be used.

There’s no real hard and fast answer for that question. As a rule of thumb, one year per inch of thickness is generally agreed upon, but that can vary. If you live in a humid area, this could be longer, or shorter if you live in a drier climate. Ultimately, what you’re looking for is equilibrium. You can’t determine if your lumber has reached equilibrium without a moisture meter. How? Periodically take readings from the center of the board(s) you want to use. Once the readings are fairly consistent, within 2%-3% each time, you’re there. So, if you take readings each day for a week and your readings are between 10% to 13%- about normal for my area- you’re probably good to go.

So you have your lumber all picked out for your project, and you’re ready to mill it for your project. Well, hold on a minute. How long have you had these boards in your shop? Have they acclimated? If you’ve air dried the material yourself, you have no worries. If you brought it home from the lumber yard, or bought it online and had it delivered via a big brown truck, you’ll want to sticker it in you shop for a few days before getting into it, even with kiln dried stock. This will allow it to come into balance with the humidity in your shop, which may be different than the humidity level where it came from.

Can I mill it now? Yes, by all means. Go ahead and rough mill it. Wait, rough mill? Yep, mill it to within about 1/16″ or so of your final thickness and sticker it again. Just overnight this time, although longer is better. This way if any movement does occur, you can plane it flat when you mill to final thickness. You also want to do the best you can to remove the same amount of material from both sides of a board, especially when using thicker material. The thicker the material, the more likely it is that the moisture content is higher towards the center than it is on the outside surface. Remember, we’re trying to keep everything nice and even here.

With everything milled to thickness, you would think you can just go to town and build your project. Maybe. If you’re working from a plan, odds are, you can just go to town. If you’ve designed your own project, there’s more to consider. I’ll cover that next time.

Thanks for stopping by. Please leave me a comment, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Be sure to check out my social media and YouTube channel by clicking on the links above. Until next time, always be a knothead!

How do you handle wood movement?

Wood moves. The one thing in woodworking that is unavoidable is wood movement. The best part is that it never stops moving. As long as humidity changes, wood will move. Am I overstating it? Maybe, but in order to make a piece which will stand the test of time, you need to know how and why wood acts as it does.

For beginners, what exactly did that board do when it moved? Did it cup, twist, bow, crook, check, or split? Cupping is pretty much what it sounds like. When the edges of the board curl up across the grain, that’s cupping. The top and bottom two boards in the graphic are cupped.Twisting occurs when opposite corners of a board move in a different direction than the other corners. It looks like this: A bow occurs when the ends of the board move in the same direction causing your board to look like if you tied a string across the ends, you could use it to shoot an arrow. As you can see in the graphic here, a crook is similar to a bow, but 90 degrees opposite from the bow. Checks and splits occur when the wood grain opens up. A check is a crack appearing on the end of a board, while a split usually happens in the middle of a board. Why do all of these things happen?

Well, that’s a great question. No easy answer here either. Most wood movement problems are a result of expansion and contraction due to moisture. How quickly moisture is gained or lost can determine whether a board will check or split or just warp. A rapid loss of moisture can cause the wood fibers to shrink unevenly and separate from each other, resulting in a split or check. If the wood gains moisture too quickly, uneven swelling of the wood fibers can occur with the same result. A more gradual gain or loss of moisture will generally result in bowing, crooking, cupping or twisting. Sometimes, though, it has less to do with moisture and more to do with where the board was in the tree or where the tree grew.

Trees tend to grow in such a way as to structurally support themselves. That makes sense. the wood in a tree which has to say, support a large branch or hold the tree on a hillside will have internal stresses put on it, much like winding a spring and holding it once the spring is released, it will spring back to its resting form. Reaction wood, as it’s called, will always spring opposite the direction it was being held in. For example, a board which was holding up a branch will tend to spring toward where the branch was in relation to the board.

Most of these are, of course, extreme examples. A typical board from the lumber yard which has been kiln dried is pretty stable. It will still expand and contract, but mainly across the growth rings. More often than not, this is the type of movement we, as woodworkers, will have to deal with. For simplicity, I’m only going to talk about plain sawn lumber here. Depending on the species, a board can increase and decrease its width by up to 1/16″ (this is a guess) depending on the width of the board. Any increase in thickness or length will be negligible. Wider board will tend to move more than narrower ones. The we get the bright idea to do a panel glueup. Now the movement in a single 6 inch wide board is multiplied by 2, 3, maybe 4 times. So how do you stop it? Simple answer- you can’t. You have to allow for it.

Of course there are a number of wood movement calculators on the internet, and most likely several smart phone apps you can download, but I’ve never used them. Woodworking is not an exact science. How much movement you’ll see in a board depends on sets of circumstances. A project which will stay in the same geographic area as your shop will likely move very little. If you’re sending it from a temperate climate like here in the northeast U.S. to a desert climate like the southwest U.S., you’ll have a lot more movement. Most wood movement is humidity related after all.

Now that we know that wood moves mainly due to the fibers expanding and contracting as moisture is gained and lost, how do we allow for it? Well, that’s an article in itself. I’ll cover that in my next post.

I hope you found this article useful. Leave me a comment and let me know. I’d like to thank Glynnis Anderson-Smith for inspiring the article after a great discussion on Facebook. You can check her page out at Southern Gal Woodshop Thanks for stopping by, and don’t forget to check out my other posts if you haven’t already. Until next time, always be a knothead!

…Details to Follow

There’s much going on in and out of the shop right now.  I recently completed the build for Woodworkers Fighting Cancer- a kids table and chairs.

A table and chair set built for Woodworkers Fighting Cancer
A table and chair set built for Woodworkers Fighting Cancer
This was designed by Marc Spagnuolo "The Wood Whisperer" Specificly for Woodworkers Fighting Cancer.
This was designed by Marc Spagnuolo “The Wood Whisperer” Specificly for Woodworkers Fighting Cancer.

I filmed the build with the intention of submitting the video for the charity donation, but that didn’t work out. For whatever reason, my computer doesn’t want to cooperate with me. I’m still working on editing and hope to upload soon.

After two consecutive projects, my shop was a total disaster. In fact, I’m not sure how I was able to get the WFC build done it was so bad. I decided it was time for a bit of a hiatus to clean up and reorganize. Then I got a text from a customer.

This is the project I alluded to in my Facebook post the other day. Here are the details. Apparently she purchased a dining table online. When it arrived at her house, the top was badly scratched. She was able to get the company to send her a replacement top after some aggravation, but the second top came…not in good order. I’m not going to get into the problems now because I intend to do a seperate article on that. Long story short, she wanted to know if I could repair the second top. Naturally I told her I could so the top is now in my shop.

That brings the story to today. I was working on the table top with one of my chisels when I did something really stupid. Because the part I was wroking on was an odd shape it was difficult to clamp so I was holding it steady with my left hand. Anyone see where this is going? Yep, you guessed it- my chisel slipped and went right into my thumb with a slicing motion. Two stitches later, and it’ll be fine. Use your heads, folks! Don’t do what I did. Thankfully, my wife works with an orthopedic surgery group, so I wasn’t stuck at an urgent care or ER for hours.

After the unscheduled visit to my wife, I headed to the lumber yard to pick up some knotty pine for the project to follow the table top. I’ll be videoing that one, but can’t release what it is as it’s going to be a surprise gift for someone who might read this article. The video will likely be multi-part, so look out for part 1 in the future.

I also have a bunch of narrow cherry scraps which are perfect to combine with some maple for cutting boards. I’ll be offering some of these fir sale when they’re done, so keep an eye out for that too.

Other than these things, I still have three more Memorial Crosses, and a tablet/iPad stand to do. So much for a hiatus. In case you’re wondering, I’ll still happily accept commission work, which will take precident over the crosses and tablet stand (a brother’s gotta earn a living, even if it’s part time.)

I think that’s it for now. Please be sure to leave me a comment, and check out my social media links. Thanks for stopping by!



A bit of philosophy in woodworking

“Why do you do it?” “What drives you to make things?” “You know you can buy that in a store, right?” How many woodworkers (and makers) hear these questions or variations of them? Usually it’s from friends or family members who don’t understand. They’re trying to get it. The truth is, if they don’t get it now, they likely never will. By the way, you can’t buy it in a store.

I think the need to create something from some raw materials is inherent in one’s personality. Either you’re a builder/ creator/ maker or you aren’t. For most of my adult life I’ve been employed in one form of construction or another. I worked as a fireplace and stove installer. I’ve worked for a residential general contractor. I’ve been a commercial electrician. I’ve done service work on fireplaces. I currently work as a building maintenance contractor. The common theme among all of these varied jobs is the use of tools. In fact, in all but the last two, the job specifically involves the creation of things, whether it be building a chimney, or building a courthouse.

It’s the last two jobs which created a dilemma for me. Repairing and maintaining things does give me a fix in terms of using tools, but the challenge of creating something just isn’t there. I think, perhaps, this is why I’ve become so active in woodworking in the last ten to fifteen years or so. I just wasn’t building, yet the drive to build was still present.

My shop is my outlet. I hear about “man caves” quite often. People have asked me if my shop is my “man cave.” The truth is this: I don’t need a “man cave.” These things are merely a fabrication for people who need an escape. I don’t often find a need to escape. When I’m in my shop, I’m somewhere I can forget about the stresses of life and focus. I know, I know. What’s the difference? The difference is the part where I focus. A “man cave” implies that a guy wants to get away from his family, if just for a little while. My family is welcome in my shop. In fact, it’s one of my four year old son’s favorite places to be. A “man cave” is a place for a guy to have his buddies over for a few beers and a game. My shop has no cable TV, and is not a place for beers. Sure, I have a refrigerator with beer in it in there, but those are reserved for hanging out outdoors, maybe after mowing the lawn, certainly never for actual shop time. Alcohol and sharp blades spinning at several hundred RPM don’t really mix very well, at least not if you intend to remain attached to all of your digits. No, I don’t have a “man cave.” I don’t need one because I have a shop.

Nice tangent. Back to building. There is a certain sense of pride which comes from starting with some boards and glue and ending up with something tangible. Just as I can drive around and say “I helped build that building,” or “I installed a wood stove in that house,” or “I helped put a deck on that house,” at the end of every project I can say “Look what I made.” If the project is a good one, I can enjoy the accolades that come with a job well done. If not, I can listen to constructive criticism and learn from it. I’m not sure who said it originally, but we really do learn from our failures. I typically don’t have too many failures, but I am human.

Part of the reason I don’t have many failures, is that I’ve learned to adjust as needed. Take, for example, my current project. I’m working on a wall hanging table. My original design called for squared legs, but I didn’t like the way they looked after they were cut and smoothed. They didn’t look square, probably due to a mistake (or mistakes) on my part while cutting them. Instead of just throwing them into the firewood pile, I made a “design modification.” Designs are often modified due to screw-ups, at least in my world. The table will now have nicely sculpted legs. Flexibility is a key to being a good builder.

Another reason for my not having many failed projects is that, as my wife says, I’m a perfectionist. While I am aware that perfection is not an option, I strive to come as close as possible. As a builder, I know where every flaw is in a piece I put together. I have learned not to point them out because I’m usually the only one who sees them. In lieu of actual perfection, I guess I’ll have to accept perfect enough where no one can see the flaws. Wood is a natural material after all, and nature is perfect in its imperfection.

Hopefully this little spiel can help non-builders to understand my drive to build. What drives you? Are you a builder? Do you have a creative outlet? Let me know in the comments. Thanks for stopping by, and be sure to check out my social media links. They’re the best place to keep up with what’s going on in my shop from day to day.

What have I been up to?

It’s been quite some time since I posted a blog entry. I won’t bore you with excuses as to why. We’ll just say that I’ve been a combination of busy and lazy and leave it at that. In my absence, much has gone on.

For starters, my YouTube channel is growing as I’ve been posting a bit more regularly over there. I recently began a playlist of quick tips designed to help repair “oopses” and introduce techniques which I think may be helpful to someone. You can check them out here (the link will open in a new window).

I also bought a new-to-me lathe. I recently gave it its first use in my shop to turn a handle to replace one that broke off of one of my ball peen hammers. It was fun and I got a chance to use a new technique. I offset turned the new handle using a cherry blank I’d had laying around for a while. It came out pretty good.

What do I do when a hammer handle breaks? I go to my lathe and turn a new one.
What do I do when a hammer handle breaks? I go to my lathe and turn a new one.

Probably the biggest news during my absence was the loss of Joe, my father-in-law, to esophageal cancer. He and I were pretty close and I considered him a good friend. As a result of his illness, he was in and out of the hospital. With his hospital stays, my wife was tied up between her job and visiting him, so I gave up shop time in order to see to things around the house, and of course my son. I had actually started the Woodworker Fighting Cancer build, but was not able to finish in time to submit and have it count toward the donations. I did ultimately finish the project in time for Easter. I actually built three of them. One toy chest each for my son, my niece, and my nephew. If you’re interested in helping fight cancer through this program, you can find details here.

toy chesttoy chesttoy chest

After my father-in-law’s death, I promise his brother and two sisters I would build them a piece as a memorial. I was at a loss as to what I would build until I asked a friend for an idea. He said, “Just do crosses.” It was perfect. Joe was pastor of Hillview Community Church in Baldwinsville, NY, a small American Baptist church. I decided on using bubinga because on a trip to Rockler, we were looking at some of the wood there, and Joe said the bubinga was beautiful. It’s also expensive, but this was a project which made the cost easy to justify. The crosses are done and delivered to rave reviews from the recipients. I’ll be editing video over the next few days in hopes of putting together two videos, one build video, and one tribute to a great man.

Three crosses built in memory of Joe Folckemer, my father-in-law and a good friend.
Three crosses built in memory of Joe Folckemer, my father-in-law and a good friend.

That’s all I have for now, but keep your eyes open for future posts. Thanks for visiting, and please leave me a comment. I’d love to know what you think.

The Pallet Wood Boxes

Well the Craftsman table project has fallen through, but the good news is I’ve made my first video for YouTube. My sister got married recently and asked me to make her some boxes for a display for cupcakes my wife was making for the wedding. I decided this would be an excellent opportunity to make my first video.
Continue reading “The Pallet Wood Boxes”

The Arts and Crafts Movement

The Craftsman or Arts and Crafts, style of furniture has been somewhat maligned in many woodworking circles recently. Many modern craftsmen are more interested in either much more ornate adornments as seen in Period furniture, or modern style furniture featuring little ornamentation, but featuring complex curves, twists, and few straight lines. My personal taste falls more towards straight lines, but simple construction.
Continue reading “The Arts and Crafts Movement”

On To The Next Project

Well, the craziness that is the holiday season is behind us. That means it’s time to start thinking about what comes next. The easel build for Woodworkers Fighting Cancer was a success, both for me, and for Cancer Care which ended up with donations totaling over $11,000. Thanks again go out to Marc Spagnuolo- the Wood Whisperer, Steve Ramsey at Woodworking For Mere Mortals, and all the sponsors who made it possible to do so much good.
Continue reading “On To The Next Project”

Woodworkers Fighting Cancer 2013

First, a quick update is in order. The Moxon vise is completed. I ended up being able to turn the dowels for the screws on the lathe, so no store bought dowels were used in the construction of the vise. I tried to use them, but they didn’t agree with my threadbox.
Continue reading “Woodworkers Fighting Cancer 2013”