The heft and feel of a well-worn handle,
The sight of shavings that curl from a blade;
The logs in the wood pile, the sentiment of huge beams in an old-fashioned house;
The smell of fresh cut timber and the pungent fragrance of burning leaves;
The crackle of kindling and the hiss of burning logs.
Abundant to all the needs of man, how poor the world would be
Without wood.

Everard Hinrichs, quoted by Eric Sloane in A Reverence for Wood


Saturday, October 29, 2011

Jacqueline's Jewelry Chest: The Base

I completed the base this week. I used 1” thick maple and cut it into 3” wide strips for the frame. I mitered the edges and used a biscuit jointer to attach the entire frame. I then attached two more 3” strips to the inside of the frame in order to support the frame of the drawers that will sit on top. To attach these strips to the frame I used pocket screws.

I then attached the mahogany legs to the bottom of the frame using pocket screws again. Finally I added a ½” thick by 2” wide maple skirt around the outside of the legs to give the base a clean finish.

And last but not least…. SPOIL ALERT…. I couldn’t help myself but to mock assemble all of the pieces so far. Here is a sneak peak of what the final product should look like!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Firewood and Forest Pests

It's the time of year when we're all scrambling for a little  more firewood because we didn't get quite enough over the summer. I always try to get my wood as close as possible to my home, if not off my own lot, but then again, I live in central Pennsylvania where wood is everywhere.  Many of you folks live the cozy life in cities made famous by pro sports franchises (ok, I'm a little jealous), and you need to go a ways if you buy or collect a large amount of firewood.

If you do, the USDA APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) wants you to limit your firewood transportation to a maximum of fifty miles. So much so, that they made this video just for you... least, they made it for somebody. And lest you laugh, consider that this video has won an award! From the website of The Nature Conservancy:
"As fall settles in across the country, cords of wood are being stacked and fireplaces, wood burning stoves and campfires are ablaze. There’s a romance to this season, but did you know that moving firewood long distances can spread invasive insects that kill trees?
The Nature Conservancy’s Don’t Move Firewood campaign is raising awareness about this important—and costly—issue. Across the country, invasive insects and diseases like the Asian longhorned beetle, emerald ash borer, and sudden oak death are destroying street trees and forests.
The Conservancy has created numerous humorous videos to help spread the word. Most recently, Super Rangers and the Legion of Bugs–an animated video featuring a Legion of Bugs’ plot to overtake the nation’s forests – won a Yosemite Film Festival Sierra Award for Animation. The video, which warns about the dangers of moving firewood, fits with the film festival’s mission to “recognize and award progressive, eye-opening, independent cinema and writing of all genres and to foster an appreciation and understanding toward the preservation and majesty of our natural world.”
Invasive insects can be devastating for communities. In Worcester, Mass. an infestation of Asian longhorned beetle discovered in 2008 required the removal of 30,000 of the city’s street trees. In 15 states across the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic region, more than 20 million ash trees have been killed by the emerald ash borer.
Not only do these tree-killing insects destroy the shade and beauty of our communities, but they are adding up to major damage to our wallets. A recent study funded by the Conservancy estimates that the costs of damages associated with these pest infestations in both urban and rural areas are nearly $1.7 billion in local government expenditures and approximately $830 million in lost residential property values, totaling more than $2.5 billion dollars annually. Many of the insects featured in this study, including the emerald ash borer and gypsy moth, are known to move frequently on infested firewood. 
Do Your Part This Fall and Winter
Follow these tips from the Don’t Move Firewood campaign:
  • Obtain firewood near the location where you will burn it – no more than 50 miles from where you'll have your fire.
  • Don’t be tempted to get firewood from a remote location just because the wood looks clean and healthy. It could still harbor tiny insect eggs or microscopic fungal spores that can start a new and deadly infestation of forest pests.
  • Aged or seasoned wood is not considered safe to move, but commercially kiln-dried wood is a good option if you must transport firewood.
  • If you have already moved firewood, and you need to dispose of it safely, burn it soon and completely. Make sure to rake the storage area carefully and also burn the debris. In the future, buy from a local source.
  • Tell your friends and others about the risks of moving firewood – no one wants to be responsible for starting a new pest infestation."
- The Nature Conservancy 
This world of invasive pest monitoring and control is one that governments all over the world take seriously. Next post, I'll share how our research at Penn State with wooden pallet systems led to our attending a meeting in Canberra, Australia...and how folks in that part of the world deal with the issue.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Ski Table Legs

For this week I focused in on the detail, or at least the beginnings, of the coffee table legs. After using the CNC Router last week, I used a hand router to curve the edges and give a smoother look to the legs. Following this, I inserted a different bit into the router to cut the mortise for the mortise and tenon support joint. Since the mortise is located in the center of the leg, I had to use the hand router over other machinery in wood shop. Next week I will begin work on the tenon to be inserted between the two legs. The part of the tenon that extends past the legs will need to be smaller than the center to provide support and so the joint works properly.

I forgot to mention in the last post that a groove has been cut in the top of the legs to allow for the laser cut tile inlay that will be added in the later stages.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Best of the Rest - Bungendore Wood Works Gallery, Part 2

Some details in the life of David Mac Laren, founder of the Bungendore Wood Works Gallery:
"My wood working career started in 1971 when I responded to an 'apprentice wanted' notice in the window of a woodworking gallery on Lexington Avenue and 27th Street in Manhattan...we made stack laminated furniture much in the style of Wendal Castle as well as natural edge furniture in the style of George Nakashima...As I shaped and sanded, I saw gorgeous black walnut and zebra wood and cocobolo glisten with a deep lustrous finish. I was possessed, obsessing with finishing, and hooked on woodworking. 
"In 1978 I returned to Australia...[and] settled on a rural property south of Bungendore...opened the Bungendore Wood Works Gallery in 1983. I gave some American Black Walnut to seven or eight woodworkers in the region from Braidwood to Tharwa, and said 'make something with it.'
"My personal design 'ethos' has been to consider hardwood as a basic starting point. I resist using veneers or bent laminations...I developed the 'X' frame table and various styles using that basic design...and this design is derived from considering hardwood with its basic and simple characteristics: its hardness and strength.
"I devote all my time to the Gallery now. It has grown to become a premier, world class gallery..."

Indeed it is.

I'm going to have a hard time culling them down, but I'll share with you a just a few more of my personal favorite pieces currently in the gallery, selected mostly on the interest of the wood species used.

Let's start with this rocker. Stunning. A chair too beautiful to sit in. Made from Quilted Queensland Maple, which seems to be one of the favorite woods in the gallery. Crafted by an artist named Tony Kenway, this is the chair I hope my kids decide to buy me when they learn to appreciate my grouchiness and think me cute in my old age.

Mr. Kenway also performed the wondrous "Cunji" dining set featured in the last post.

How about this hall table for an eye catcher? Made from Blackwood and Eucalypt Burl, it kind of reminds me of the movie "Zulu". Great movie, great table.

And while on hall/display tables, take a look at this one. That top is Birds-eye Huon Pine, and it has Blackwood legs. Didn't catch what the vase burl was. I still see the shimmering of that table top in my minds eye, and it stayed with me throughout my days down under. Great story on Huon Pine, from an official Tasmanian website...

"Huon Pine

Huon pine is one of the slowest-growing and longest-living plants in the world. It can grow to an age of 3,000 years or more. Only the bristle-cone pine of North America lives longer.

Huon pine is found in western Tasmania (not far from Strahan), on the Central Plateau and in the Huon Valley.

Huon pine is a relic of Gondwana - the first pollen records date back 135 million years.

International headlines were made with the discovery of a stand of Huon pines on the west coast still growing from a base root more than 10,000 years old. All the trees are male and are genetically identical. No individual tree in the stand is 10,000 years old; rather, the stand itself has been in existence for that long.

In the early 1820s, convicts on Sarah Island, in Tasmania's remote west, constructed ships from Huon pine. The wood contains oil that retards the growth of fungi, hence its early popularity in ship-building. Later, piners on the Franklin and Gordon rivers felled Huons and floated them downstream.

Today, the tree is wholly protected and cannot be felled. However, wood on the forest floor, or buried in river beds, remains usable after hundreds of years and is still prized by modern woodworkers."

There were many great wooden boxes on display in the gallery, and my favorite was, what the heck, I'll show you several...

Red Cedar
Huon Pine

My favorite...Lignum Vitae...but this is the Australian lignum vitae, probably Bulnesia spp., not to be confused with the hardest commercial wood in the world, Guaiacum officinalewhich is listed as an endangered species. Still, pretty darn hard. This box will set you back $4,400
 Where to stop?  Well, for its uniqueness among the pieces in the gallery, I'll close with this clock, made entirely of wood, gears and all. Zebrawood, ebony, and silver (mountain) my opinion, worth every penny of its $28,000 price tag. Where would you get another like it?

Well, back of the gallery, and one more stunner. This piece practically glows as you look at it.

Australian Blackwood



For any more, you'll have to visit the Gallery's online store. I'll vouch for the fact that no wood aficionado will be disappointed in anything they receive as a Christmas present from the Bungendore Wood Works Gallery.

A Go Wood hat's off to David MacLaren and his gallery...what a great life's work and contribution. If you ever find yourself passing through New South Wales, you have to find time to make a side trip to'll never regret it.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Bungendore Wood Works Gallery

Since I had a day free before the IFQRG meeting began, I drove over to Bungendore, a small town on the Kings Highway of New South Wales near Canberra. It was there, at the Bungendore Wood Works Gallery, that my introduction to Australian woods began.

And what a beginning it was. The first piece that meets your eyes in the gallery is this dining table and chair set, made from blackwood. From the gallery's website:


Acacia melanoxylon
Blackwood is distributed naturally from north-east Queensland to Tasmania but is most common in Victoria and Tasmania. The strong dark wood is well figured and has an exceptional lustre. It varies in colour from golden honey to a rich chocolate brown, with white sapwood. It is used for furniture making, decorative wood work, turning and as panelling. Valued as a shade and ornamental tree it is also known as Black Wattle, Hickory and Sally Wattle.

A wonderful young lady named Tess showed me around the gallery, and in the following video she explains that the gallery has held several national prize-winning pieces of furniture-art including the table. A bonus of the video here is that as I scan the table top, you get a sense of how deep and rich the blackwood figuring and color really is. Tess speaks softly and the audio could be better, but it will give you a sense of being in Australia. Tess even points out a chair covered in kangaroo fur that was inspired by the "Ned Kelly helmet"; at the time, I had no idea of what she was referring to, but as I mentioned in the last post, Ned and the other bush rangers were a frequent topic of conversation in the parts of New South Wales I visited.

Another piece in blackwood in the gallery was a wonderful display case. To give you an idea of the rarity of blackwood, you can purchase it for $15 - $20 per board foot in standard pack...and these artists obviously had their pick in selecting their pieces. Both the dining set and the cabinet are priced above $50,000.

Now you might be wondering what kind of magnificent tree must produce this great wood. Well, surprise...blackwood is a member of the acacia family, and is commonly called back wattle by the country folk, and it is quite unassuming. By chance, one of my later stops had a blackwood tree out front, and I snapped these pictures...

Another species that really caught my attention was Jarrah. Again from the gallery's website:


eucalyptus marginata
A magnificent tall tree that can reach heights up to 30-40m, Jarrah only grows in the south-west corner of Western Australia. It is one of the world’s best hardwoods. The timber is straight grained and dark red to reddish brown in colour and is popular in furniture making. The forests are being threatened by bauxite mining and water borne fungal disease that attacks the roots.
This tallboy cabinet was made from jarrah...

... as was a stunning stairway in the gallery, shown in the following video. Tess tells us a little about the stairway, makes fun of my Texylvanian pronunciation of jarrah, and then points out the beautiful floor in the gallery, made of Tasmanian oak...which is not really oak at all, but another species of eucalyptus. I discovered later in my visits to the sawmills that there are over 700 species of eucalyptus in Australia.

Well, this post has gone quite long, and I've only covered two of the 50 or so wood species I photographed, so I'll quit here and try to get all the "best of the rest" in the next post.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Jacqueline's Jewelry Chest

After visiting Lewis Lumber Products, I decided on two really great woods to use on my jewelry chest, lacewood and light maple. Lacewood comes from a tree Australia that is very tall and straight, usually 100 feet tall with a diameter of 48”. The natural color of the wood is reddish-brown and matures to a brownish color, and the grain is just absolutely beautiful. I chose this species because the intricacy and size of the grain reminds me of jewelry. The grain contains patches of rays that also seem to shimmer as polished jewelry would. I think these characteristics are perfect to highlight the drawer fronts of the jewelry chest. The lacewood has an open grain and I therefore chose to use maple, a closed grain wood, on the pieces surrounding the drawer fronts for visual contrast. The maple is also a lighter wood, almost white in color. I am so excited to get working with these and see how they compliment each other when finished! Big thanks to Keith and everyone at Lewis Lumber Products for their help!!


On another note, I constructed the seven drawers that make up a majority of the storage in this chest. I used an oak plywood that I picked up from Lowes in 2’x4’ sheets. Note to all amateurs: DO NOT use plywood for drawer sides. The wood has tons of knots and chips that broke off everywhere after they where cut to size. Hardwood should always be used whenever making anything that involves box cuts, which is the system I used to assemble the drawer sides. While trying to fit the grooves together the plywood just did not want to budge. I therefore had to file every groove on every drawer side. Not the most efficient use of my woodshop time but all seven drawers are put together and are faced with the lacewood! Next step, the maple side doors.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Going Wood Down Under

I've been on the road for the past three weeks, including twelve days down in Australia. I was there on three different missions: 1) to participate in the annual meeting of the International Forestry Quarantine and Research Group (IFQRG) in Canberra; 2) to tour the laboratory and port facilities of AQUIS, the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service; and 3) to visit various Australian wood industries, galleries, and attractions.

In so doing, I was able to take literally hundreds of photos and videos...most, unfortunately, don't precisely capture the essence of what I was trying to convey.  Those of you who've been to Australia will understand what I mean. But in my next few posts I'll try to organize the images and topics into something that makes a little sense for purposes of sharing perspectives of wood-related issues down under.

Before getting into the wood, though, I must share with you something of my base of operations while I was there. I knew I would be working in a rough triangle between Sydney, Canberra, and the southern coast of New South Wales, so I found myself a place to stay near the middle of the triangle...a place that was either the middle of nowhere, or Brigadoon, depending on one's perspective.

The actual name of the place was Araluen, a small town of about 200 inhabitants roughly halfway between Bateman's Bay on the coast and Canberra. Araluen today is a smattering of houses, a few sheep farms, an abandoned old Catholic chapel, a hotel/pub, and an old courthouse that has been converted to a bed and breakfast. It was at this last that I spent 7 of my 8 nights in Australia.

I had hoped I would be getting some of the flavor of authentic Australia by staying in the country, with real folks...and so I did. Dave and Pauline, my host and hostess at the Old Courthouse made me feel almost like one of the family during the stay, and even their dog took me in after a few days. And as I frequently found myself winding my way down into the valley near sunset or later, I found the dinners and the company at the local pub to be delicious. Here's a shot I had to take of my dinner one night...a mouth-watering medley of fried lamb cutlets, topped by "chips" and a salad, and washed down with a real Australian beer, Carlton draught. (A secret they don't want you to know...they don't drink Foster's Lager in's made for Americans who want to feel like Crocodile Dundee as we dine at The Outback.)

The lamb was from the local fields via the butcher shop up in Braidwood, and it really tasted fresh off the hoof. I had some great meals in Australia, but that one above was the best. Steve, the hotel and pub owner, did all the cooking, and he really knew his way around a grill...and made the best secret brown gravy, that after I had tried it, wound up dipping everything I ate into it.

The Araluen valley (seen here from an overlook on the road down from the plateau above) was a booming goldfield in the 1850's, and had grown to more than 20 pubs and dance halls by 1860. The wealth of the area naturally attracted its share of bad characters, and that era of Australian history had a great catalog of guys known as "bush rangers"; guys like Ned Kelly, Ben Hall, and even some local talent, the Clarke brothers, Thomas and John, who with their gang, became to be known as "the bloodiest bushrangers". The locals will still happily ply you with stories of these colorful characters and their run-ins with the law, and some of them are fairly gruesome details, but they make for great stories in later pub hours. One might get worried that their ancestors are still sipping suds down the bar from you, waiting to jump you on your walk back down the dark road to your lodgings; but I found modern-day Australians a bit tamer and a lot more friendly than their historic cousins.

To close out my description of the countryside of New South Wales, and in order to better give you a flavor of Australia in general, I'll just list a few observations and then close with a video of sunrise behind the courthouse one morning. It's not exactly exciting, but I think it conveys pretty well the feeling one gets, that you are definitely not in Kansas, Toto.

  • Every wild animal seems to be different than what we have in North America. Instead of dead deer and skunks on the side of the road, are dead kangaroos and wombats. (A wombat is a weird marsupial that looks to me like a cross between a pig and a bear, and about that size.)
  • If you studied dendrology in North America, forget it. I recognized Monterrey Pine, which is a non-native species to Australia, but everything else was very strange to me. One place even looked like a scene from Lord of the Rings.
  • The nighttime sky is unbelievable in the valley, and completely Big Dipper up there.
  • The birds have to be seen to be believed...think of the prettiest pet shop birds you've ever seen, and then imagine them twice as large, random colors, and flying around in huge flocks. Pictures can't convey the sense of wonder.
  • Eucalyptus trees are everywhere in the wild, and when you stop to walk around you're overwhelmed by the smell of Vicks VapoRub, in its natural state.
  • Santa comes in the middle of summer there, and for some reason still wears the furry suit. Guess he doesn't have time to change.
  • Solar panels face north.
  • Australians drive the speed limit, exactly. When they pass the sign, they speed up, or slow down. Not before. Maybe because they have speed cameras everywhere...gave me the Big Brother creeps.
  • Woods in Australia are different than we're used to, and can be fantastic in figuring in depth. More on that in following posts.
Enjoy the sunrise and sounds of the Araluen valley in springtime.

But if it's a hair-raising pursuit through the Australian bush you want, then catch my episode with the Wallaby (which I thought at the time to be a kangaroo, but was later corrected by natives.) Those with heart conditions, be warned...

Monday, October 10, 2011

Matt Fink's Ski Table

Hey Bloggers,

After our recent trip to Lewis Lumber Products, I picked out the type of wood I will be working with for this project. Keith helped me decide on "Wormy Maple" for its distinct features and as we described it, "rustic and Scandinavian look." Wormy Maple is also known as ambrosia maple and the small black holes throughout aren't actually caused by worms but rather ambrosia beetles. The beetles bore a network of tunnels throughout the tree and then a fungus creates the black and grey streaks we see. Neither of these features affect the structural integrity of the wood in any way. The ambrosia maple is common to the central part of Eastern United States.

This weekend I received my selected wood from Keith, both planed and glued (Thanks Keith!), and I have begun to cut out the legs for my table. The shape is derived from the curves seen in a skier's descent and the larger shape fits into the rustic appeal. To create the legs, I used one of the newest pieces of machinery in the Architectural Model Shop, the CNC Router. The CNC Router is a spinning drill bit attached to a moving arm, based on a 3d model the router will slowly carve the stock material to your programmed shape.