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


Monday, September 25, 2017

Friday, September 15, 2017

Autumn Events for Those Who Desire to Go Wood

The only thing good about the end to a beautiful Pennsylvania summer is the beginning of an even more beautiful Pennsylvania fall. Cool air blows away the summery haze producing a brilliant blue sky, the leaves begin changing colors, and the notes of high school bands practicing their routine down the block wafts in the breeze.

And our wood calls us back into the shop (or laboratory, as it may be.)

It's also a great time to get out on the road and learn a few things.

For instance, on September 29th and 30th, Hearne Hardwoods of Oxford, PA is holding its annual Open House, and it's a great place to meet like-minded folks, swap outrageous stories, and find that perfect piece of wood for your fall project.

For those of you that will be a little farther to the north that weekend, there's a great little woodfair that is happening in Woodstock, Ontario, for the 32nd straight year.

In October, the Wood Pro Expo returns to Lancaster, PA on the 19th and 20th. No better place to spend a day or two than the heart of traditional American craftsmanship.

And later in October is the sweetest little jewel of woody education. Once again, Randy Wilkinson is holding his Wood ID workshop on the premises of Fallon Wilkinson, LLC, and at the Yale University Furniture study.

Did you ever look at a piece of wood and wonder what wood it is? And why it looks the way it does? Were you ever confused about which wood it is: mahogany, walnut, cherry, or poplar?
This two-day hands-on workshop will answer all these questions and more. It is designed specifically for curators, collectors, antique dealers, appraisers, and woodworkers. The goal of this workshop is to familiarize the student with the physical properties of wood and recognize species specific structures. 
On Saturday, basic wood anatomy will be introduced, including grain, figure, fundamental differences between softwoods and hardwoods, and more. The student will learn to identify common hardwoods that are used in antique furniture using a 10x loupe.
On Sunday, the class will be held at the Yale University Furniture Study. Students will get a rare opportunity not only to see one of the finest collections of American furniture, but also to identify woods used in a selection of great objects in a one-day intensive and hands-on inspection.
I've always thought this class was the single best wood educational event I've ever attended, because of Randy's extension knowledge and effectiveness at teaching, the personal attention each attendee receives, and the facilities used during the course. Learning about wood in the Yale Furniture Study is probably the strongest and most lasting wood learning experience you can buy.

The best money I've ever spent on a class. If you haven't yet attended, but it feels like you should, set aside the weekend of October 28th and 29th, and register for Randy's class. Hurry, the class is small and the seats are usually filled quickly. Or here is an even better idea...reward that great employee of yours with a business-related educational trip that he or she will never forget. What a great way to show your appreciation to that employee who makes a real difference in your business.

Finally, to end the fall in style, you pros can attend the Woodworking Machinery & Supply Conference and Expo, being held this year on November 2,3,and 4 at the International Centre in Toronto. If it isn't at this Expo, they don't make it.  Unfortunately, the Maple Leafs are playing out of town that weekend, but watching them play the Blues in a Toronto pub will probably be just as good.

Hey, have fun this fall getting out and Going Wood!

Getting the Penn State Xylarium Organized

In the last few months, I've been entering data on the Dennis Brett collection into the Penn State Xylarium database. We're now nearing 5,000 specimens, and I still have about that many to go.

But a couple of weeks ago, an opportunity to get a little more organized presented itself. It began simply enough...I received an email saying that someone in the building was looking to get rid of some old filing cabinets. Now, I've been stumbling around piles of old boxes of wood specimens for a couple of years now, when I moved all of Dennis' samples into stacks around my desk in the lab to make room for the visitors I was expecting during the World of Wood event we hosted back in summer of 2015. These piles of boxes were chest high and were rather daunting. The possibility of bringing in some file cabinets and putting them "away" while I organized the collection sounded like a good one.

But the file cabinets were very, very old, and all different sizes and colors. Looked bad. So I decided against bringing them into the Xylarium. But it got me thinking, and I paid a visit to the Penn State Surplus building a couple of blocks away.

Well, what do you know? Some dorms had been renovated this summer, and they had dozens of identical chest of drawers that had been removed in the process. Not bad, either...light oak plywood sides and fronts, poplar and maple rails, styles, and backs, and thermofused melamine tops. After taking a few measurements of the drawers, I decided they would work. So I bought fifteen of them for $15 apiece, and paid another $10 apiece to have them moved over to the lab. Not too bad, eh?

Each drawer holds 98 standard size samples, stacked in two rows on their sides. With five drawers in each chest, times fifteen chests, I have storage capacity for 7,350 specimens...for only $375!

But not so slight problem I had not anticipated. When the drawers are loaded as in the picture above, I found that the drawer bottoms began to bow and would certainly creep more over time. With enough creep, they would pop right out of their frames. Then I would have a mess.

But a little wood engineering knowledge provided a relatively cheap and simple solution. I went to the local Big Box and bought two sheets of 19/32 (4-ply) pine plywood that is commonly used for sheathing here in the States. It's strong, and stiff. I was able to get 78 strips about four inches wide and 29-1/2 inches long from the two sheet. I then screwed these braces to the underside of each drawer, and problem solved!

I also bought some 1x2 strips to use as dividers inside the drawers. I was going to screw them in place, but I decided to leave them unfastened, so that they could slide to accomodate other sizes of specimens, since we have so many non-standard specimens in the collection. I call them "sliders" and they work nicely.

This project also differed from your typical woodworking project in one unique respect. One by one, as I emptied the chests to clean them and check for any signs of bugs, I found more than a dozen articles of decidely feminine clothing, most of the underwear and sportswear variety. The chests must have come from the girls dorms. Fortunately, I have daughter who is just starting her freshman year at Penn State, and a few of the garments are her size. Only problem came when I was caught carrying the items out of the building by my least he acted like he believed my story.

No bugs, but quite a few shorts and shirts, etc., etc.
So another $100 for the modification to the drawers brought the total bill for the project to $475. Custom cabinetry for the same purpose would easily have cost ten times as much, even here in Pennsylvania where every other small business is a cabinet company.

So, storage is in place...problem solved, right? Well...a few of you can guess what my problem is now. How do I efficiently and correctly transfer the 7,000 or so specimens into the drawers? Because even though I moved the boxes (again, for the third time) they still need to go away.

The specimens in the boxes are in no particular order at all. So even though the temptation is to just unload the boxes into drawers and then sort them out over time, you see the problem if nearly all the drawers are filled with random samples. No where to put the ordered samples.

So, patience is once again called for. I have to first enter all the specimens into the database, and once that is done (by the end of the year, I hope) then I'll be able to sort the entries by Family Name, divide them into 98-entry blocks, assign them drawer locations, and then, finally, Finally!...put them away in their proper place.

Yes, after considering several different schemes over the last couple of years, I decided to order the collection by Family Name. The original collection is stored by Accession Number, which is really a bother because that is basically random storage. So if I want to compare several different species of oaks, for instance, I typically have to search them out in that many different drawers. Which is not covenient when I am trying to show something to a Xylarium visitor.

I was leaning toward storing them by geographic region, so that, for instance, I could keep all my Australian specimens together, or that all our Pennsylvania woods would be together in one or two drawers. But I finally decided that following the scheme used at the Forest Products Lab in Madison was the best way to go, especially since the Penn State Collection will be used mostly for research projects. So, hopefully, by 2018, we'll all know how many specimens of each family, genus, and species are in the Penn State collection....and where they are!