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The Beginning

Like lots of large projects, this one started a couple months before actually beginning construction. The client, from now on referred to as "Mr. D", originally contacted me with his drawing at right. He was looking for a walnut built-in for his home office to match some of the wood character of his hardwood floor which surprisingly is also made of walnut.

Immediately, Mr. D conveyed what he wanted and saved me a lot of work with this excellent drawing. I also got the impression he was serious about this project so, as in most cases, we arranged to meet at his home where I could see first-hand his marvelous floor. As it turns out, Mr. D is quite the wood aficionado who has his own tablesaw in the basement. Is he a dream client, or what!

Under the shop was quite a stockpile of walnut lumber so when it came time to start, I just had drag in a few hundred feet. This was done about two weeks before beginning the machining process to let the air-dried lumber acclimate to the shop environment.

Each board was stood up against the wall where warm shop air could circulate to all of it's surfaces. When you're using this much lumber for any one project, it's important for all the pieces to have the same moisture content or else you could face some nasty surprises later. Even during the rough-out stage, where each board is assigned it's place in the project, it's fairly easy to keep the boards exposed, when stored flat, by placing thin stickers between the layers. This might be overkill for some, but I prefer to err on the side of caution.

The construction phase officially started on Tuesday, October 17th with the rough jointing and planing of all the lumber considered for Mr. D's built-in. This involved looking at each board, jointing it's face if it's flat enough, or crosscutting it to length if it isn't. A few of the pieces were too bowed to clean up at 3/4" so they were set aside for milling into thinner drawer parts. Fortunately, most of the boards were pretty flat and I didn't need to crosscut too many.

Additionally, you're looking for problems in the wood which might affect safety during machining. Most of the lumber came from long ago when yours truly was half owner of a mobile bandsaw mill. We contracted with a farm owner in Poolesville, MD who evidently took some of his walnut logs from an old fence line. I remember when the mill sliced through the barb wire at right, and the experience wasn't very friendly! Needless to say, jointer and planer knives wouldn't fair too well.

For most of Tuesday and Wednesday, the routine was pretty simple: joint one face flat with occasional side trips to the radial arm saw for crosscutting, or even rarer, a trip to the tablesaw to rip out a split or divide a cup into something more manageable.

After all the boards were sorted with one flat face, they were run through the planer to a rough thickness of 7/8". Sprinkled throughout were numerous trips to empty the dust collector under the shop.

There are two benefits to having your dust collector under the shop: the reduced noise and you have gravity on your side in transporting the chips. The bad thing is not being able to readily know when the collector is full. I'd like to say I remembered to empty it at all the perfect times and didn't let it back up and clog the intake pipes - not so...:(

Thursday, the 19th, was mostly spent jointing the edges and ripping out the necessary parts for Mr. D's built-in. Many of the walnut logs obviously grew crooked, so there was an understandable amount of reaction wood in this batch of boards. Even with ripping all the parts 1/8" oversize, some of the pieces crooked beyond the point of being straightened and were crosscut to shorter lengths.

With all the parts 1/8" oversize for width and thickness, I get an additional opportunity to deal with any resulting warpage from the machining process. I find this extra opportunity absolutely essential for getting each part as straight as possible and the added effort pays for itself further on in the project.

The last goal for Thursday was jointing a few boards for glueup into the large panel needed for over the fireplace. At about 30" wide, this panel needed some special attention to prevent excessive movement after framing. This meant culling quarter-sawn boards from the pile. Quarter-sawn boards expand and contract roughly half as much as plain-sawn boards.

For this assembly, the panel is butt-glued in two parts for later jointing and planing. The double-pipe clamps greatly speed assembly - pushing down on the top pipe aligns the boards pretty well. The wax paper, seen under the top pipe, prevents the glue from interacting with the iron in the pipes and leaving black stains on the wood. Galvanized or aluminum pipes don't have this problem.

Onward to the next Installment

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