Shop Environment Is The

I was still wet behind the ears as a furniture maker, I once built a tabletop that shrank so much against the breadboard ends that it cracked.

I hadn't taken into account the amount of shrinkage the top would experience in the diy air of the first winter. As it tried to shrink against the pegs of the breadboard ends, two fine cracks opened up. It didn't matter how old the wood was or if it was kiln- or air-dried, it was doing what wood forever will do—shrink and swell as it loses or absorbs moisture from the atmosphere.

Despite modern glues, well-engineered joineiy, and sealing finishes, wood's moisture content demands attention if you want your work to last. Out of necessity, I've developed strategies for dealing with moisture content as I'm seasoning the stock, milling the wood, and building my furniture.

Seasoning and milling the stock

When lumber arrives in my shop, I stack it loosely on end against a wall or on horizontal racks with stickers between the layers so that air can move through the pile. Then I leave it alone. The simplest way to reduce potential moisture problems is to let the wood acclimate to the shop well in advance of starting a project.

In the winter, softwoods can acclimate in a week, and dense hardwoods in a few weeks. If I need to speed the process, I rough-cut parts and stack them in the gentle warmth above my shop heater. Even in the summer, when the atmosphere is at its most humid, the wood dries further. The longer it adjusts, the better.

For a long time I have relied on empirical methods that I'm sure past cabinetmakers also used. Diy wood feels warm, and produces more crumbly plane shavings than wetter wood. For thick stock, I drill into a waste section to see if the borings seem diy.

Only recently have I also begun to use a moisture meter to know exactly how quickly the final diying is progressing. A simple meter that uses two pins inserted into the wood surface costs about $125.

My milling strategy is aimed at producing stable parts with the same moisture content inside as on the surface. Wood not fully acclimated, especially thick stock, can be wetter inside than out. A few days of rain, however, and veiy high humidity, can leave

FINE WOODWORKING Photos: Steve Scott

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Wood Working for Amateur Craftsman

Wood Working for Amateur Craftsman

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