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To predict how furniture components will expand or contract In the future, It Is important to know the working conditions In the shop. Hack uses scraps to create a seasonal barometer of wood movement (top). By tracking and recording this moisture board's width throughout the year, he can measure the board on any given day and assess the seasonal humidity of the shop. For tasks such as fitting a drawer, Hack consults the moisture board to predict how much the drawer front will expand and/ or contract and to decide the amount of gap to leave along the drawer opening (bottom).

boards drier inside than on the surface. If I have time, I cut parts to rough dimension first and let them acclimate further for a few days. I do the same when I'm milling parts to their finished thickness. When planing, work both sides evenly and let the parts acclimate again. Planing only one side can cause moisture-induced warp.

Gauge and plan for seasonal movement

Even after careful seasoning and milling, wood's moisture content will continue to balance itself with the relative humidity in the surrounding air, fluctuating with the seasons. This means that the same piece of wood can have slightly different dimensions at different times of year or if moved from the shop to an environment that is markedly wetter or drier. It's important to know how to estimate these changes ahead of time and plan for them when building furniture.

The best way to predict how dimensions will change from season to season is to measure the wood movement in a board over the course of a year. For this purpose, I have a few "moisture boards" hanging in my shop. One is a wide, white-pine plank and another is a crosscut scrap from a cherry tabletop. I use the white pine to estimate the movement in drawer bottoms and case backs; its movement is similar to that of basswood and aspen, other woods I use for those tasks. Cherry moves much like other hardwoods.

I measure the boards' width throughout the year and mark the readings on the boards. Because they mirror what the rest of the wood in my shop is doing, as well as the moisture content highs and lows, I use them to gauge how tightly to fit drawers or panels in any season.

Here's how it works: When I'm ready to fit drawers into a case piece, for example, I consult the moisture board. If the board measures 14 in. wide at the driest time of year and 145/}2 in. at the wettest, and measures 14V}2 in. today, I know to expect a slight amount of shrinkage and much more expansion during the coming year. If the drawers are 7 in. wide, or half as wide as my moisture board, I can calculate fairly accurately how much movement to expect (about half of what the board says, or Vi6 in. expansion and Vfci in. shrinkage). If I'm unsure, I tend to err on the side of a slightly larger gap.

Work with dry wood and heat your shop

I prefer to work with wood as diy as is practical, so that table-tops or case sides will expand slightly before any shrinkage occurs. If the parts expand first, they can work against any tight fasteners and create some slack for later contraction.

On the other hand, on frame-and-panel work such as cabinet doors, I don't worry so much about a little excess moisture. I'd rather have the panels shrink a little instead of expanding and blowing out the joints.

To help avoid dramatic changes in climate when moving a finished piece from my shop to its destination, I heat my shop as I do my house. This results in a moisture content somewhere between 7% in winter and 11% in summer. Also, a good finish will slow moisture transfer (but won't stop it).

There are a variety of ways to outfit a shop with heat, but if this isn't practical, you could always store your lumber in the dining room—if you can get away with it.


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Wood Working 101

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