How Much Wood Are You Willing to “Waste” (Long)

I see so many solid wood pieces which have wonderful proportions, fine woods, well executed joinery and well done finishes. The makers obviously have both the eye for good proportions as well as the technical skill to successfully execute their designs. And some of the pieces stand out from the rest because of the way the grain is utilized - some because of the function of a component, but mainly because the grain pattern for drawer faces, door panels and tops are obviously carefully chosen to exploit the beauty of the wood without detracting from the overall piece.
Many of the furniture plans available include a cut list and cutting diagrams that minimizes waste. While that might work for MDF, melamine or wood which will be painted, it doesn’t acknowledge the grain of the wood if the wood is to remain visible and the finish is intended to be transparent or translucent. You can minimize waste or “waste” some of a board or two and make a fair piece better or a good piece really nice.
When I first got into woodworking I wanted to use every piece of each board or each sheet of a furniture grade plywood. Any scrap was a waste of wood. I saved the small scraps figuring I could use it for a drawer pull or a feet on a box maybe. I made things that fit together and worked - but I began noticing that the grain on a drawer or a panel didn’t look right. The space was filled with wood - but it didn’t look right - or rather, it didn’t look as good as it could if I’d “wasted” some wood.
When I first got into woodworking I’d look at a board or a piece of plywood and see its price tag first and only then its grain. It was like that when I first got into making jewelry. $300 worth of gold casting shot will only fill less than a quarter of an inch of the bottom of a pill bottle. A thousand dollar stone won’t cover half my little fingernail. After a while gold just became a material I could make into a form I wanted. Eventually, a diamond or an emerald or an amathyst was just an element of the piece.
That process has been repeated in my woodworking journey. Building a stash of woods, some that just come my way, or that I seek out without an immediate need, or bandsaw out of a mini-log I find, means there’s far more wood in my shop than I need for my current project. Much of my wood stash has been in the shop long enough for the cost of any particular board to be forgotten. Now its just wood - nice wood, interesting wood, some very special wood - and its value is the color and grain. The dollar value is gone. I don’t save receipts for wood anymore.
No matter what my initial intentions, almost anything I build, even what starts out as a slap together stand for a machine, soon becomes a series of decisions about what wood and what grain is available and which would work best for a particular component of the current piece. As the piece evolves the significance of each choice becomes more important - to me. Often that will cause a search through my wood stash for possible “fits”.
And then the dilemas
Though a particular piece of wood, or rather a part of a particular piece of that wood, is the best “fit” for the piece at its current point.
a) should I use this piece of wood now for this piece or save it for some future piece and keep looking
b) should I waste perhaps half of this special board to get that special grain that’ll “fit” this specific part of this specific piece. ?
Case in point - the rail and stile paneled doors for a sharpening center cabinet I’m making. The carcass started out as a slap together face framed ply cabinet, two drawers and two, possibly three, doors. The ply turned out to be cherry and, with a coat or two of dewaxed garnet shellac, warranted a maple face frame. That in turn lead to maple rails and stiles. Which then lead to what to use for the panels. That prompted a search through my wood stash, turning up the “Bear Clawed” pine, or fir, I’d bought from a woodworker friend who was moving out of the area and was parting with the less precious of his thirty year old collection of special woods.
These 12 boards, 6 at 7 1/5” wide by 4 feet by 3/4 inches, and six of the same in 5 foot lengths, are once in a lifetime boards. I’ve got about 33 board feet of this stuff - no more and never to be replaced. The Bear Clawed grain patterns is striking, especially after being scraped smooth and hit with a coat or two of shellac. The tight, light and dark, straight grained wood is interspersed with what literally looks like dark, deep bear clawed “scratches”, though the surface of the board is in fact flat and smooth. The grain around the claw marks play with light like a hologram the tree invented. Move around a piece of this stuff and it does amazing things to light in an interesting and pleasing way. These are very special boards.
But the bear clawed pattern isn’t uniformly distributed on the face of the boards. Rather, it is a series of horizontal areas with 8 or 10 inches between “clawed” areas. It’s as if a bear returned each season and, able to reach higher as he got bigger, worked his way up the tree trunk. The “gaps” between the claw marks registered his growth, like the pencil lines on the inside of a child’s closet door which record the child’s growth, noted by proud parents and quite significant at times to the child, young boy/girl, and less so to the young man or woman.
In this grain you have a part of the growth history of the tree AND, with a little imagination, the growth of a bear. These are not ordinary boards and they’re not to be squandered.
Resawing seemed a natural way to stretch each piece of a single board. And the resulting bookmatched pieces would be perfect for panels in the doors. Three 16 inch piece of one board, some resawing, a few passes through the drum sander - three beautiful bookmatched pairs - perfect panels for three, cabinet doors.
Then the plan changed. Three cabinet doors didn’t look as good as two, one door almost square, divided into two tall narrow panels, one door tall and narrow.
But that meant that none of the resawn panels I had were tall enough. The missing panel would only need to be a little over 9 inches wide and HAD to be a book matched panel. Use more of this very special wood - the necessity for bookmatching meaning that close to half of it would be scrap - or go back to the three doors idea?
By that point there was no question. The cherry ply carcass, pull out shelf and slant front pull out box for scary sharp plates already had 15 or 20 coats of dewaxed garnet shellac and banded with nice flecked quarter sawn oak. The cherry ply top for this cabinet had wonderful grain, enhanced by 30+ coats of dewaxed garnet shellac and I had pieces of maple ready for a frame for the top. If it took two of the six four foot boards of the Bear Clawed grain to get the right panels for this cabinet then that’s what the piece demanded and would get.
But it still bugs me that about half of those two special boards are now scrap. The remnants may become a small panel in the top of a small box or the sides of a pencil box.
So how much special wood have you “wasted” in order to get the “right” piece for a part of one of your projects? And, despite knowing that it was the right choice, does it still bug you a little?
charlie b
ps - have posted three pictures of the sharpening station cabinet in its current status to alt.binaries.pictures.woodworking for thos interested in seeing the cabinet that this long ranting story is about
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"charlie b" wrote in message

Yep, you can look at my scrap pile and tell immediately how much it "bugs" me.
I've found the old saying about "you make your money when you buy" to be especially relevant when chosing lumber for a project. If I make an honest effort to have everything planned out, and a good cut list with me, I can go a long way to putting more emphasis on grain match on a finished piece before I leave the lumber yard.
However, as good furniture grade hardwood becomes less and less available at any price, the problem gets worse.
Thus, I am often, however reluctantly, much less fussy about grain match when "eating my own dog food" and the piece is staying here. I figure by the time my future grandkids get a piece I make for the house, anything made of good hardwood will be a novelty and they won't know grain match from zippo.
Client pieces are another story ... but then I usually am forced to do a more thorough job of planning on them. Thank gawd for a good cut list program where you can figure the cost of materials for a piece both ways quickly and accurately, then shop with grain match in mind.
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I was interested and anticipated a good lesson on wood use and matching until this point. I cannot offer any insight as I cannot see myself having any such problem with respect to shop cabinets. They are lucky to get "good" construction grade plywood, let alone cherry plywood and emotionally baggaged book matched bearclaw pine paneled doors. Still, after reading the rest I am glad there are those who get so introspective on their shop furniture and assume their in-the-house furniture must be fantastic.
Dave Hall
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David Hall wrote:

Dave:
Sorry about disappointing you. If nothing else, perhaps you'll make the grain in your next piece a major consideration - or not.
Since I'm a relative newbie, each piece of shop furniture is an opportunity to try new to me things - from joinery to finishes. Each piece of shop furniture does what it was intended to do and, sometimes - looks nice - to me. It doesn't have to look or be fantastic. I do try to do the best I can do with what I've got and what I've learned so far. And yes, I have an emotional attachment to the woods in my shop, something that was missing when I made jewelry. Even then I looked for unusual stones and unique ways of integrating them into a piece.
You'd be surprised at how an interesting story about a piece can influence a potential customer and what that can do to the price. Even if it's just a story to you - then think in terms of your bottom line.
I'm blessed with the time, the tools, the eye/hand coordination and the wood to be able to make things that satisfy me - both in the making and later in the enjoyment of the finished piece. For some reason, wood just seems to find me - 8/4 spalted maple- 10" wide by 10 feet at 75% off. the bear clawed boards or the Mae West quilted maple at least 75% off,
AND this stuff talks to me - here are some of the conversations (all one line) http://home.comcast.net/~charliebcz/MT/ConversationsWithWood.html
I've got a place full of chinese rosewood furniture so the only place I can make pieces for is the shop. As a woodworker, I'm sure you understand how humbling it can be to live with furniture of that quality and the lesson in humility such furniture provides - daily. OK - so kitchen cabinets are a "house furniture" possibility and the sharpening station cabinet is great practice.
If you thought I had a lot of emotional baggage connected to the bear clawed wood - wait 'til I get to working with the pieces of The Sentinal I band sawed from mini logs of this 300 year old sycamore that the City of San Jose took down! (actually they took most of it dow - it's still alive though now much shorter). (al one line) http://home.comcast.net/~charliebcz/SentinalSawing.html
babble and ramlble mode - OFF
charliel b
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wrote:

Whatever it takes. The additional expense in wood is minor compared the total cost of wood, hardware and all the other supplies that get used up in the process of making a piece the way "it ought to be made."
Never regret it. "Settling" for less is what we do when we have to _buy_ ready-made furniture. Life's too short to make something that will last for generations and not do it to the best of one's ability.
That's my two cents, anyway. But you didn't ask for my opinion on whether I'd use rare bear-clawed wood on a piece of shop furniture. ;>
Now Charlie, you know I love your work, love the play-by-play on the bench, and hope you never stop sharing your learning experiences on your website.
But, bear-claw for a sander table? Have you bumped your head? :) Do you have any idea what the upcharge is on a hand-built guitar when a client orders a bearclaw spruce top? Yikes!
Michael
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Michael B wrote...

LOL! We really need to see a picture, Charlie! Put one up!!
Jim
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on a mere table - wouldn't be proper. Besides, where would the Japanese waterstones, DMT plate, the Baldor slow speed grinder, the Scary Sharp plates, the Veritas Sharpening Jig and Angle Checker, the India stones and the hard Arkansas stone, along with a set of Japanese waterstone gouge slips ... go on just a table.
Jim Wilson wrote:

Done!
Haven't hung the cabinet doors yet or framed the cherry ply top yet but the 5 inch locking swivel wheels are on and the thing's finally off the bench and on the floor.
Wish they'd come out with hologram digital cameras - current images don't even begin to convey what they do with light. Anyone?
charlie b
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