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”
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
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
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
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?
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