A long game

Wood swells and shrinks with humidity despite careful construction, drying, and sealing. We call this movement, and most commonly, we see it across the width of a plank or piece of wood. This is why you sometimes see splits in panels of wood. Wood remains a living item despite being cut, resawn, planed, shaped, and coated. All our work in creating from it needs to respect this fact. If you sell your work as I have, you want to control that movement. It’s embarrassing when a cutting board fails due to poor construction. Preparing wood, so it is not likely to move excessively and split is what comes before you carve or shape the wood. It can be a long game, but it results in quality down the line.

That’s why I dug through drawers in the shop the other day. I was looking for my moisture meter. I was about to glue up some blanks for boat portraits, and I wanted to check the moisture content of the wood. This little doodad comes in handy around the shop when you need to build cabinets or construct glued-up cherry blanks for projects like ship and boat portraits or cutting boards. Although I’ve known some woodworkers who thought of these as expensive toys or other junk to clutter up the shop, they serve an essential purpose.
I admit to waiting until their prices came into my budget before buying one. Since then, though, I have faithfully used it.

I resaw my own cherry planks for much of my small work. Recently it’s all air-dried stock that initially came in as small logs. I rough saw it, paint the ends to prevent cracking, and let it sit for a year. Eventually, the small logs get taken to the bandsaw and milled into rough planks. The rough planks are now allowed to dry inside or under cover. All the while, the moisture of the wood is going down slowly. Cherry, which I favor, is a bit of a PIA to dry correctly. Dry it too fast, and it splits. So the rule is to let it take its time. I want the wood to be between 6 and 9 percent humidity when I work it into a box, toy, cutting board spoon, bowl, or portrait.

Doing things this way is playing the long game. It’s more time-consuming than going to a lumberyard and getting Alleghany cherry plank stock that has been kiln dried. But the native cherry has a more delicate coloration and grain that I’ve come to prefer. Of course, my tool and shop limitations make this viable only for the smaller projects, but that accounts for eighty or ninety percent of my work these days.

So sometimes, the long slow game is best.

2 Replies to “A long game”

  1. Humidity can sometimes be controlled by gradual accommodation to new conditions. But it doesn’t work sometimes.
    Ethan fallen has had a good reputation for quality so I’d suspect that the culprit was the moving van. Moving vans tend to get hot and dry, not ideal conditions. and the longer your furniture is in it or parked, or stored in non-climate controlled environments the worse it gets.
    That being said I’ve seen chests in museums that are several hundreds of years old with some very profound cracks, and they’ve never traveled beyond the muggy confines of coastal New England where the wood was grown.
    Sometimes woods going to move, and you won’t stop it.

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