Penny wise, pound foolish?

In my last entry I ruminated a bit about whether I’d made a mistake in deciding to glue up sandwiches of 4/4 mahogany in order to get 2″ stock, rather than just buy 2″ stock to start with. It turns out to be nearly identically priced per board foot (a board foot is a unit of volume 12″ x 1″ x 1″). In the end gluing up seemed to work out OK in some cases, but not in others.

Here is what I did: I took two 8″ wide by 14-foot long boards, cut them into 28″ lengths, and glued together pairs of them in sandwiches. I just stacked them one atop the other and clamped them in parallel. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and I thought I was using plenty of glue. (I can’t link directly to my photos from here – you’ll have to go to the photo album to see them).

The first clue was after I’d clamped them up, there were places where I didn’t see any glue “squeeze-out.” This usually means I hadn’t applied sufficient glue and was starving the joint. Sure enough, as I started cutting the stock into the final dimensions for table pieces, that is what I saw.

If you go to my photo library you’ll see a close-up of the failed glue joints. No good. Those joints are weak, and also indicate some stresses in the wood that might tend to open up the gap wider. Mind you, not all of my pieces had this, only a few. But it does mean I have to re-cut some. And while I’m at it, I might want to reconsider the whole idea of using a lamination. That means another trip to the lumber yard this weekend to pick up some 8/4 stock.

Surprisingly, I’m using less wood than I thought I would. I need to go back over my calculations when I first bought the wood. I think I was planning on gluing up a 4-ply lamination (to get to nearly 4″) before I had the bright idea of actually buying some 8/4 stock and just gluing a 2-ply with that. Again, what I don’t use now will go into the chairs.

Meanwhile, I do have a photo of most of the pedastle and some of the sliding rail pieces cut out. Notice the feet sitting on top of the stool? πŸ™‚ Also notice the ghostly smudges in the photo? This is air-borne sawdust getting caught in the flash. It was invisible to my naked eye, which is why I religiously wear a decent respirator whenever I’m cutting up wood. I’m not allergic to mahogany, but I did discover I’m allergic to lacewood (as is much of the population), and that once made my arms itch for an entire week. Glad not to have it in my lungs, too.

Ecological Concerns

I had a disturbing thought last night. I’d heard of “certified” lumber in passing – this is lumber that is certified as coming from well-managed, ecologically sound timber harvests. In particular, it is not wood that is slashed out of dwindling rain forests, etc. I started looking around the web for certification agencies, and it turns out there are several (some run by the timber industry, some more inclusive in their membership). One, for example, is the Forest Stewardship Council.
As I was poking around at what counted as “ecologically sound” wood to use, I kept seeing that basically anything out of South America or Africa was likely to be a no-no. Great. Guess where my Mahogany comes from? Never mind some of the fun exotics I use in my pen turning (although I feel slightly better knowing these are generally waste scraps that would otherwise go into the trash or a fireplace).

I believe in leaving a light footprint on the planet. I bought a Toyota Prius when it was time for a new car not for the mileage, but for the incredibly low emissions. The Prius, incidentally is optimized for low-emissions over fuel economy. It will actually run the engine at times (burning fuel) to keep the catalytic converter hot (trimming emissions). Believe it or not, burning a little extra fuel goes a long way to reducing overall emissions. But I digress…

I also don’t eat Chilean Sea Bass due to over-fishing and actual piracy over this fish. I support good environmental causes; heck, until the last election (in order to vote in the Democratic Primary) I was a registered member of the Green Party of California. (Note to self: re-register!!!). I buy organic produce and meat whenever possible.

I now realize I need to pay more attention to the wood I consume, too. As much as ebony, bloodwood, padauk, etc., are absolutely gorgeous when finished, they are all relatively rare and in most cases probably unsustainably harvested. 😦 I’m really bummed. For my furniture projects this isn’t terribly relevant – I like the domestic hardwoods of Maple, Walnut, and Cherry anyway. It’s the pen-turning and small gift making that’s going to take a hit, but I need to do the right thing. I’m preparing some items for a work-related craft faire in December, and would like to be able to claim I only use sustainably harvested wood.

If I’d realized this two months ago I would have gone with Cherry for my dining set. But now I have a load of Mahogany on my hands, and frankly it’d be a huge pain to try to take it back. I’m going to live with the choice, do this dining set, and from this day forward endeavor to never create a demand for non-certified exotic hardwoods. (I reserve the right to rummage through cut-off bins for scraps, though! As long as I’m not creating an economic demand for it).

Well, that’s it for tonight. Later this week I’ll take a second look at the pieces I’ve just cut up, decided which I need to re-do, and whether others will just look too ugly as laminations. Some of those pieces are going to be interior parts to the sliders, so you’ll never really see them. Some, though, will be quite visible, and I’ve got to make sure that either the laminations aren’t terribly visible, or that after being sanded and stained dark the contrast is more pleasant. We’ll see.

Live and learn!


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