About ten years ago, I made an uncharacteristic decision. I decided to get rid of all of the lumber that I had stored in my workshop. I made some furniture out of the biggest pile, and I started working my way down to nothing. Nothing! Nothing at all! I decided that I would buy the wood I needed for each new project, cut the scrap into kindling and keep a neat and tidy shop. It was going to be a new era of woodworking for me. Well, it was a good idea while it lasted.
After I had made some pretty good progress toward the goal of “no lumber in stock,” I got a call from my father-in-law. Actually, my wife got the call, but the message was:
“I have great news for Dan. I have a friend who has to get rid of a pile of nice lumber and I told him that my son-in-law was a woodworker and that he would love to have it.”
His friend was a woodcarver who had to give up that craft for various reasons. The pile of lumber was mostly out-cuts from a cabinet shop that the woodcarver had a relationship with. I once owned a cabinet shop; out-cuts were the odd bits of good lumber that just couldn’t be easily used. I used to cut them up for kindling. Burning them or giving them away is cheaper than putting them in the dumpster.
This pile is short stuff; the longest piece in the pile was 42” but the next longest were closer to 32” long. The pile is mixed species; we’ve found maple, cherry, cedar, walnut, oak, mahogany, pine and a few species I no longer recognize. My father-in-law passed away two years ago, at which point his gesture took on new meaning, the pile became special. My daughter and I decided that we would make a series of projects from the pile, but that we would only use wood from the pile in those projects. Due to the characteristics of the pile, that decision has haunted us.
The first project consumed most of the cedar. I decided to use that do a little trim work in a 3/4 bath in our basement. I used a few boards to make a shelf, and to cap a plumbing chase. There was just enough left over to build a medicine cabinet – cedar sides, back, door and shelves – all from the pile. The cabinet is small, but it’s as big as I could make it.
That’s the curse of the pile! We are driven by the the idea that the wood has to come from the pile. If we have to alter dimensions, so be it. If we have to mix species, so be it. If we need a bracket, it shall be cut from the scrap from the pile.
The next project was a three-legged stool that I made for my wife. It seemed appropriate that she should get a project from the pile. I was trying to use a plan from WoodSmith Magazine, but the pile couldn’t supply the necessary lumber. I found the wood to turn the three legs, but the seat just wasn’t there – or was it? OK, so it isn’t the symmetrical shape the editors at WoodSmith suggested but it works and it’s from the pile.
To date, the most ambitious project from the pile is my daughter’s coffee table. This project was a challenge from day-1 – partly because of the attributes of the pile, and partly because Faith tends to be driven by her artistic nature. I’m not going to reveal too many of the construction details because I think Faith might describe those in her blog. Suffice it to say that we had to be creative. We had to cut sacrificial boards to test joinery techniques and to establish machine and jig settings. We had to run samples (not from the pile) through machine processes to insure that the setup was correct. We had to provide support to pieces that couldn’t support themselves in a machine operation (pieces most woodworkers would have discarded). Check out the nearly finished product and I think you will agree, the work was worth it.
We have had fun building these projects. One nice thing is that I have a lathe and I enjoy turning so, when we get to the point that we can’t make furniture, we can make bowls. The next project might be a kitchen utility cart, inspired by but not nearly as large as a recent WoodSmith project (we don’t have the wood for those turned posts). The good news is that it will have a butcher-block top – we can make that. The bad news is that it has to be tall enough to work on, and we’re running out of long boards (but Faith does have a set of orange casters that will give us a lift). The challenge is fun, the projects are nice to have and the effort honors a wonderful man – that feels good.