March 13, 2011

An Introduction

It is a bit intimidating to start with this blank slate. 

I’m not much of a writer.  My wife is the English major with a masters in Speech-Communication who taught composition and grammar.  Whoa…now maybe that is why this is a bit intimidating!  I believe I’ll have to forego her critiques and corrections, or I believe I would freeze at the possibility of making a grammatical mistake.  Nevertheless, as I was saying, I’m not much of a writer, and I’m not really looking for a new hobby (blogging).  I am an avid woodworker of nearly 25 years (and I’m only 40).

A recent bucket-list foray into building a set of five Windsor chairs for my family awakened a curiosity of wood species.  I think that prior to this I realized that different species have different properties, but I had been approaching wood mainly for its color palette (maple = blonde and walnut = brunette).  The Windsor is the poster child for wood technology.  Traditional Windsors are usually constructed from at least three, and as many as five, different types of wood, each selected because it excelled in a particular area:  oak bends beautifully; maple turns crisply; pine carves easily… (I built my Windsors from white oak, hackberry, ash and poplar).  This opened a whole new train of thought for me and left me with a number of questions about a subject that I thought I knew something about…wood. 

I emerged from the Windsor wormhole with two new passions:  a passion for woodturning and a passion for experiencing new species.  There are so many tree species that I know very little about.  I want to know more about the woods readily available to me.  I want to better learn how to accurately identify trees and lumber.  I want to learn everything I can about how I should expect these woods to behave.  What are their positive and negative attributes?

This is where the blog arises.  I have read several of the “right” books; I have read Hoadley’s Identifying Wood cover-to-cover.  I have been to several of the “right” web sites; I have often perused Purdue’s thorough website.  I have talked to several of the “right” people; My Grandpa is a treasure-trove of tree knowledge.  But, for some reason, the in-depth knowledge I seek doesn’t seem to stick, and many of the sources that I reference don’t contain information directed at woodworkers.  That fact was driven home after I retrieved several sections of mystery log from a nice lady’s yard. 

Planera aquatica (Water Elm)?

She had no idea what kind of tree it had been, and the tree service had removed all of the secondary information necessary to make a diagnosis using a forestry service handbook.  As I looked through the handbook, I became frustrated.  Even after Grandpa identified the wood as Water Elm, the handbook had almost no useful information for me, the woodworker!  “Light brown with thick whitish sapwood, fine textured, lightweight, soft.  Scarce and not used locally”DOES NOT HELP!!!

I want to right this wrong in my life.  I don’t really care to work with exotic woods from the rainforest, but I do want intimate working knowledge of exotic woods from the local urban forest!  I want to learn to ID the trees around me.  I want to obtain sample logs from a whole host of native and ornamental species.  I want to turn these samples.  I want to mill these samples.  I hope to chronicle the discoveries of my journey.  Hopefully, it will be informative to you as well.

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