Hand Work, Efficiency, and Material Selection

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12 thoughts on “Hand Work, Efficiency, and Material Selection

  1. Everything you said makes perfect sense. But here is my problem and I think a problem for most beginners… where can I get walnut or cherry boards? I have only worked red oak and pine because that is what home depot has and I don’t know where else I can go to get wood. I seem to be in an area (Tallahassee, FL) that apparently only caters to contractors and only supplies pressure treated, construction grade pine and the like.
    I’ve tried woodfinder.com and it kicks back woodcraft in Jacksonville (about 130 miles away) or some place in Georgia thats around 186 miles away. I am reluctant to try online dealers only because I don’t know enough yet to know if I’m looking at a good deal… is 20 board feet of Walnut worth $170?
    I’m not really sure this is totally within your intended discussion and, as I said, I completely agree that certain woods are preferable for hand tool users but some advise on how to actually hunt down those choice boards would be greatly appreciated.

    • Chris, what you’re describing is definitely common with beginners. It took me a long time to get oriented, too. What helped me the most was making friends with a group of local woodworkers. I learned to look for wood anywhere–in lumberyards, downed trees, salvage yards, Dumpsters, craigslist, you name it. You could try asking around the cabinet shops to see where they get their wood, or at least, some hardware stores that aren’t big boxes.

      Don’t be shy about practicing on cheap softer wood, especially stuff like pine and yellow-poplar.

    • Chris,
      I understand your frustration. When I first started, I had no idea where to get wood, especially good furniture grade wood. The Home Depot by me carries clean pine and yellow poplar in addition to the red oak. You might try those two woods. While more expensive in Home Depot than they are rough sawn from a lumber yard, if you have to drive a good distance to a real lumber yard or sawmill, then the cost of gas may justify paying the higher price at HD. I buy almost all of my #2 pine from HD because I can usually find a couple of really clear boards there each time I go and in all honesty, the prices for #2 pine at HD are just as good and sometimes better than my local lumber yard. You just have to be very picky about which boards you select if you go with #2. Choose only those with minimal small knots (so you can cut around them and save a good portion of the board), and as flat and straight as you can find (since you don’t want to plane them any thinner if you can help it).

      Woodfinder is ok, but not every place lists there. A quick Google search for “lumber Tallahassee FL” turned up the following:

      Tallahassee Moulding & Millwork
      679 Industrial Dr.
      Tallahassee, FL 32310
      *My Note: Moulding & millwork places are good ones to check out. They often supply high end home builders, who often need custom mouldings for high end cabinetry in all kinds of hardwood species, including walnut, cherry & mahogany. Most also sell lumber, even though it is not in their business name.

      Capitol City Lumber Co.
      2501 Lonnbladh Rd.
      Tallahhassee, FL 32308
      (850) 385-6787
      My Note: Looks to be a builder’s supply, but lists specialty lumber as one of the items they specialize in . Might be worth a phone call.

      House of Plywood
      618 McDonnell Dr
      Tallahassee, FL
      (850) 222-1596
      My Note: They list plywood & veneers and woodworking supplies as products. Even if they don’t carry lumber, a call to them should be able to point you in a good direction since they have to deal with suppliers of hardwood logs if they manufacture hardwood plywood.

      Woodford Plywood
      4963 Swamp Fox Rd.
      Tallahassee, FL 32304
      My Note: Same as above. They may not carry hardwoods, but a call to them may give you some leads.

      Crosby Zelotes & Judith
      509 Oak Ridge Rd. W.
      Tallahassee, FL 32305
      My Note: They are listed under sawmills and list custom milling as one of their services. Definitely worth a call. Mills can be fantastic places to get really nice lumber. If they don’t kiln dry, that’s ok. You can sticker it and let it air dry for several months to a year (for 4/4 stuff) and then work it. I actually prefer air dried stock, but it’s hard to come by. It’s cheaper than dried stock as well.

  2. Nice post and well thought out.

    You sort of hinted at it, but kiln dried wood generally takes on different (more difficult) qualities than air dried wood due to the high heat it is exposed to. Of course, it is possible to kiln dry gently or air dry it and bring it inside and sticker it for a month or two until it dries out enough for indoor use.

    Chris, I don’t know what is available in your area, but if there are no sawmills and some timber that could be sawed up, take a look at the Lumber Smith sawmill.

    Isn’t there a lot of yellow and white pine through most of Florida? Yellow pine is tough to work, but not too awful for a lot of stuff if it isn’t kiln dried (in which case you have to contend with copious amounts of resin), but white pine is generally very nice. Steven Shepherd at fullchisel.com uses a lot of it.

  3. Excellent post with so many important points. Those gossamer shavings seen at many demos, often made with a high end plane, may generate sales but they don’t begin to tell the story. And let’s also stress the condition of the plane being used. Is the mouth gummed up with pitch or shavings? Is the blade truly sharp? I love my hand tools and am very pleased to see this addressed.

    And Chris, if you’d care to come to Atlanta, I’d be happy to take a ride out to Peach State Lumber with you. It’s worth the trip just to drool over their stock.

  4. Bob,

    Absolutely right. My shop rate for hard maple is much, much higher than for a real hand tool wood like walnut or cherry. Most customers aren’t willing to pay the markup that I insist on for work maple, so I don’t work it very often. Cherry is about the hardest wood I’m willing to work with only hand tools, unless you count green oak.

    Great work, as always.

  5. Bob. This article was worthwile, because even though we all know how difficult it is to work the hard lumber with hand tools, it’s easy to forget while you are in the thick of things. I have been busy building my workbench out of American Ash, which is like concrete. And often I doubted the sharpness of my tools, or my plane setup, or my strength. And I had to keep reminding myself that this is not the norm, and it will probably be the last time I work this wood. Thanks.

  6. Love it! Thanks for a great article. Do you know if there is much difference in working the Big Box Poplar vs. the Tulip Poplar of old?

    • Dean,
      The poplar in Home Depot is typically kiln dried yellow poplar. Tulip poplar has about the same working properties, though it can be a little denser than yellow. But for the most part, they are about the same.

  7. Great article…

    Recently experienced the joys of hard maple when I made winding sticks out of a piece of salvaged Kraftmade (alright I am cheap)cabinet spacers. As a novice project (complete wit a set of floating tenons as in the Tools for Working Wood blog winding stick design)it had its challenges…

    Thanks again form your insights and your sharing of your knowledge


  8. Hi Bob,

    Another excellent post which you hit dead on. As you know I am relatively new to Hand Tools myself and I have seen and experienced my share of frustrations. Wood is definitely an issue here for a lot of us in Florida, so I guess Home Depot and or Lowes becomes are next best friend for wood. I do have a Woodcraft within 45 to 60 minute drive depending on traffic which offers a nice selection of wood. However they are very proud of their wood, YIKES you talking about sticker shock. I have tried a couple local Lumber Yards and not much better. I am going to purchase from Woodcraft the 8/4 rough sawn Poplar for my bench top though as they have it for $3 dollars a board foot. More than I was hoping for but you mentioned 8/4 for the your bench and that is what I am going to build.

    Keep up the good work enjoy your blogs and pods very much.


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