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?
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