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JULY/AUG 2004
Volume 47/Issue 4


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Hardwood Information You Should Know - Pt 1
 
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From the Shopsmith Woodworking Academy
Hardwood Information You Should Know -- Part 1 of 4
Printer friendly PDF copy of article (20K)

The heft and feel of a well-worn handle,
The sight of shavings that curl from a blade;
The logs in a woodpile,
The sentiment of huge beams in an old-fashioned house;
The smell of fresh-cut timber
And the pungent fragrance of burning leaves;
The cracking of kindling and the hiss of burning logs.
Abundant to all the needs of man,
How poor the World would be without wood.
----Everard Hinrichs

If you look closely enough, you just might get the feeling that you're peering in on the surface of another world - a terrain very different, and yet so similar to our own. Textured lines are suddenly caught in a dense spiral, only to escape into a wavy, multi-colored ribbon. Bands of sharp ridges cut across smooth fields of red and gold; waves of highlights seem to dance on the surface like sunlight on water.

With all the features of a strange topographic map, wood is exquisite to contemplate and stimulating to the touch. Our American ancestors knew this well, for from a small oak cradle to a sturdy pine casket, each one lived a life surrounded by the beauty of wood. To plow the Earth or traverse it on wheels, wood was their means...their staple - their World. And no doubt, for thousands, perhaps millions of years before our forefathers, humans all over the globe were instinctively drawn to the intricate beauty and unlimited possibilities of wood - just as we are today.

Botanists have classified woods according to two broad groups of trees - hardwoods and softwoods. However, the terms hardwood and softwood are really misleading, in that they have little relevance to the actual density (hardness or softness) of the wood. There are differences, though, which separate the two groups, and several ways to classify them. The easiest way is according to the shapes of the leaves and whether the leaves are shed.

Softwoods are cone-bearing trees, otherwise known as CONIFERS . They retain their leaves or needles year-round. Hardwoods, on the other hand, have broad, flat leaves and are deciduous. That means they lose their leaves (usually in the Fall), every year.

Of the two groups, hardwoods usually rank the highest in overall beauty and durability. Most woodworkers would agree that hardwoods are a step-up from softwoods; the higher the craftsmanship of a project, the more reason to use hardwoods to build it. As you progress and improve in your woodworking skills, each project you complete is a little better than the last. That's when it's time to start moving up to working with hardwoods.

What's right for your project?
There are thousands of hardwood types and species, both domestic and foreign...in all, well over 4,000 species. There are, however, a few factors to consider that will affect your lumber choices. To name just a few: (1) quality, (2) aesthetics, (3) hardness and durability, and (4) grain pattern and color.

With the virtual explosion of mega-sized Home Centers popping-up around the Country, finding premium-quality domestic hardwoods is much easier than it was just 10 or 15 years ago. However, if you live smack in the middle of Northern Kansas, you may have to travel a little further. The trick is to find higher grade material that's free of knots, checks, warpage and twists...which all ad to the waste factor.

It's important that you carefully check EVERY board for these defects, then ask about the drying and storage processes used for their inventory. The traditional measure of 6% to 8% for kiln-dried lumber can be deceiving if you don't know exactly how or where the wood has been stored AFTER drying.

Continue . . .