home artifacts rants shows blog Etsy Shop wood commissions other projects

"homemade" wood ........................ and distinctive purchased wood

I got into woodworking through wood. Before you say "well, duh!" let me explain. In 2002 with my new chainsaw I cut down a large tree, for reasons I don't remember. Logging it for firewood I noticed that the wood was a glowing orange-red and smelled good. Most of it went into the fireplace before I realized that it was cherry and valued for making things. So I tried to shape some pieces into boards on my crummy old table saw. Luckily, I survived that with all ten (fingers). But the thrill of making some crude cooking spoons out of that wood launched me, and I have now supplies of cherry, walnut, ash, maple and box elder from my own chainsaw. Of course I buy wood now, but mostly to extend my range as well as to use as accents.

And I don't try to shape lumber on even my big new table saw; I call Pete and Mike and they bring their sawmill and experience to the tree.

They know how to turn and saw logs to maximize the drama of the figure in the wood. Sometimes it's quartersawing, but for walnut it's going through the crotches flat. The result this time was about 400 board feet of light wood (it will darken with age. . . ?), about two thousand bucks' worth in finished planed boards, all for a lot of sweat on my part and a few hours of Pete and Mike's very modest hourly rates (you should raise them . . . but don't!).

The rule of thumb for air-drying is one year per inch of thickness. The two stacks of walnut were outside from March to October, when I moved the smaller one into an empty garage bay. The one you see above on the right was too big to move, so I tarped it carefully and will be checking it out with the moisture meter when, if the snow ever retreats (I write this in early March of the endless winter of 2014).

Professionals worry about air-dryed lumber. The guy at the local Woodcraft store told me a horror story of taking a load of air-dryed wood in only to find that powderpost beetles from it had invaded a lot of pricey exotics wood in the next pile. But when you know your wood, and handle it as often as a cellar rat racks a vintage of wine, you know whether or not it's buggy. Mine ain't.


But I can't entirely supply myself from the neighborhood, and how limiting that would be. Still, I shy away from home center "lumberyards." Two years ago, I made some built-in bookshelves from poplar from Home Depot, wide boards planed and jointed on all four sides. They were beautiful boards, but you pay a big premium to have those four finnished surfaces; for the amateur, DIYer without equipment, there's no choice. But now I have a good planer and a rehabbed jointer from the 1930s. Then I didn't know where else to do; now I do.

Of course there are the big mail-order places, Rockler, Woodcraft and the specialized yards. But shipping wood doesn't make sense beyond small amounts. I explored a local tree service that set up a sawmill and kiln, but they don't answer the phone or return calls half the time and really want to do special orders for builders. So I kept looking, and found a wonderful place by chance when taking my kids to see their grandparents in Middlefield, Ohio. Did you know that Middlefield is the center of a huge Amish community? If you're in Ohio, you think of Holmes County, where the Amish are outnumbered by those trading on them and tour busses crowding the streets. But Geauga and Trumbull counties east of Cleveland are at least as populous and much less touristy. On a recent Saturday when the snow was still melting, things were busy.

Just down the street from the in-laws' formerly Amish farm I stumbled upon a great place.

I stopped in after being turned away at a place with 10,000 treetrunks and a Mt Blanc of sawdust; a factory operation. But here I found the motherlode:

Wow, wow, and wow. It's like a museum with helpful curators who wrap up the Picassos for you! There may be places like this all over Amish country (a furniture maker goes south to Holmes County, but has been shy of revealing where exactly!).

All this wood is local, so no question about responsible harvesting, and so well milled and dried and displayed. I'm going to bring my trailer next time!