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Selecting and drying Douglas Fir

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 Schwarz'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!

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Brown Wood Rectangle Floor Plank

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Furniture Wood Wood stain Floor Flooring

Brown Shelf Shelving Wood Publication

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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.

Table Furniture Wood Sports equipment Outdoor table

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

Wood Wood stain Rectangle Hardwood Plywood


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