Academy Notes and Tips
the Shopsmith Woodworking Academy
The heft and feel
of a well-worn handle,
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.
for your project?
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.