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Schwartz Workbench #1: Selecting and drying Douglas Fir

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Blog entry by Paul Lewer posted 09-10-2020 02:49 PM 671 reads 0 times favorited 5 comments Add to Favorites Watch
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Though I am an aspiring woodworker, I seriously doubt the thrill of cutting into fresh boards will ever get old. Ripping through clear, tight-grained Douglas Fir is a thrill!

Chris Schwartz’s free ebook, The Anarchist’s Workbench, couldn’t have come at a better time. I had just decided that I could get into woodworking as a hobby after all. With no garage and just a 10’x16’ shed for storing everything you’d normally find in a garage, there was just no way that I’d be able to manage a table saw, jointer, planer, bandsaw, etc. Then I discovered the hand tool route, much to my delight. I soon discovered that a proper workbench would be the foundation of hand tool woodworking. Christ released his book soon thereafter. I tore through the ebook, but can’t wait for my print copy to arrive! After reading through the book, I asked my friend Jason (professional woodworker) if he wanted to build a workbench together. He said ‘yes!’

Step 1 of sorts is buying all the lumber. Living in Boise, ID, Douglas Fir is the natural choice. Not quite as dense as Chris’s favorite, Southern Yellow Pine, but it’ll do quite fine it seems. So over two days near the end of July, I visited every Lowe’s and Home Depot within a 90 minute drive. Somewhere on the order of ten stores. My friend Jason (professional woodworker) was with me on day one when we visited about four stores. Day two I was all on my own. I think that over the course of two days, I sorted through the equivalent of a railroad car worth of lumber. We (or I) started looking at endgrain of 2×12 @ 16’ but also looked at different lengths and 2×6. We were super picky. At many stores, we only bought one or two “needles” from the haystack. But we were delighted to find a good many boards with super tight grain and ZERO knots. Some had only a few very small knots.

We had our lumber cut to 8’ and all 2×12 ripped in half within a few days of buying it. I couldn’t quantify just how wet at the time, but it was WET! Since then, I purchased a Delmhorst J-2000 which I love. On August 21, I took my first readings and things ranged from 17-24% moisture content. The Douglas Fir both in my friend’s shop and my shed (soon to be workshop/shed) was around 7%. So it seemed prudent to wait. Further readings were taken on August 28th (the wettest board was down to 18% from 24%) and September 9 (same board down to 12%).

I’d be starting soon, but my friend is going in for a shoulder surgery in 12 days. One thing we know: once he gets better – we’ll be moving on to Step 2!



5 comments so far

View BigMig's profile

BigMig

485 posts in 3458 days


#1 posted 09-10-2020 06:01 PM

Hey Paul. Welcome to the group! Looks like you’ve got some great material to work with and a super outlook. Looking forward to progress photos (at your pace)

-- Mike from Lansdowne, PA

View Thorbjorn88's profile

Thorbjorn88

174 posts in 987 days


#2 posted 09-10-2020 06:21 PM

Wow that is some amazing looking doug fir! As someone who also had limited space when I was getting my own workshop set up I can say that not having room for a jointer was the best thing to happen to me. That’s what got me into hand tools and started my hand plane addiction. I find it way more satisfying than when I’d use friend’s fully equipped power tool shops.

-- Dave

View Paul Lewer's profile

Paul Lewer

4 posts in 13 days


#3 posted 09-10-2020 09:44 PM


Hey Paul. Welcome to the group! Looks like you ve got some great material to work with and a super outlook. Looking forward to progress photos (at your pace)

- BigMig

I appreciate the warm welcome. I am looking forward to sharing my progress. Now if I can only pause here and there to take photos ;)


Wow that is some amazing looking doug fir! As someone who also had limited space when I was getting my own workshop set up I can say that not having room for a jointer was the best thing to happen to me. That s what got me into hand tools and started my hand plane addiction. I find it way more satisfying than when I d use friend s fully equipped power tool shops.

- Thorbjorn88

Isn’t it amazing?!? Same here with plane addiction. First time I “used” a hand plane, it was dull as a spoon and the wood was not properly held by anything. It was magical. Like you, I am hooked.

View Richard's profile

Richard

3 posts in 754 days


#4 posted 09-12-2020 02:20 PM

I can’t match the quality of that stack, but here’s my current modest Douglas fir collection which also comes from picking patiently through pallets of construction lumber. The only nearly clear boards I can find are are all sapwood, and these often have some wane (occasionally even a little bark); or the sapwood-heartwood transition. I live at the other end of the continent so I suppose we don’t rate the good northwestern stuff.

By the way there are suppliers that carry higher quality Douglas fir. I contacted one in OR or WA and found the shipping to Philly cost more than the wood. )

Your bud is an expert so I’m sure you’ll do fine. Douglas fir is tough to work – it likes to splinter and the fibrous grain can pull and twist cutting tools. For example, hand chiseling mortises, I’ve ended up with crooked mortises. I put the chisel on “straight”, strike it, and the grain pulls it into alignment with the grain as it goes in. You won’t have this problem, but it also pulls the band saw off track along the grain and then pops back to the next ring. Keep your tools sharp!

If you resaw it, it has a powerful tendency to cup, and some board will have stress that makes them twist. I suggest another waiting period after resawing to let all these gremlins show themselves.

But the finished product is beautiful and quite hard.I use a light oak finish which makes the color glow.

This piece gives an idea of the beautiful color you can get by carefully selecting pieces with the sapwood-heartwood transition:

-- Richard - near Philly - frustrated engineer taking it out on wood

View Northwest29's profile

Northwest29

1703 posts in 3335 days


#5 posted 09-12-2020 06:44 PM

Paul, another welcome to the group. Lots of great and helpful folks here. You did an amazing job selecting your Doug Fir, hardly even resembles construction grade material. You will have a great looking bench when completed. Please take us along on your build journey.

Would also like to take my hat off to Christopher for his free eBook – a very generous thing to do and well worth the read.

-- Ron, "Curiosity is a terrible thing to waste."

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