Archive for September, 2010

Plywood is plywood, right?

By , 25 September, 2010, 1 Comment

Wood furniture and cabinetry is built of, you guessed it, wood.  And while all wood comes from the same basic source (trees), that is where the similarity ends.  Logs are milled into hardwood lumber boards, sliced into veneer, chewed up and pressed into engineered panels, and even cooked down into paper.  I don’t build furniture from paper, so we can drop that category right there.  Engineered panels offer some advantages, but I don’t use them much either, and that is an entirely different post.  Most of the projects that I design and build utilize hardwood lumber boards, or blanks, and hardwood plywood veneer panels.

Everyone understands what hardwood lumber boards are.  Hardwood plywood veneer panels, however, need a bit of explanation.  These panels consist of several inner layers of wood glued together at right angles and then faced front and back with a nice thin slice of the chosen species.  For example, a sheet of Walnut plywood has the same core as a sheet of Cherry plywood, which has the same core as Maple plywood, etc…  The only real difference is that the outer layer, the one that we see, is the preferred species.  Still with me?  The core plies in any hardwood plywood are the same basic material.  But there are some critical differences in plywood.

First of all, the glue used to bind these plies.  I specify Columbia Forest Products PureBond plywood for most of my projects.  Why?  Easy.  It’s made in the US and uses a formaldehyde-free glue.  So, no off-gassing of urea formaldehyde in the final product.  Better for me in the shop, better for you in your house.

The second major difference is tied closely to the first; quality.  Plywood that is manufactured in the US is held to a higher quality standard than those made overseas.  The wages for the employees are higher, the workplace is safer.  I like these things.  And I support those things in what little sphere of influence I  have.

Several years ago I was asked by a client to build a project for as cheaply as possible.  Their budget simply did not allow for a higher quality material and I was hungry for the work, so I agreed.  We used an imported plywood that was to be painted.  Several of the sheets deformed once they were cut.  Usually this happens because the lay-up from the factory is not balanced in layer thickness or moisture content, or both.  Since these deformed into roughly the shape of a rainbow, I would guess both.  When this happens it is always a quality issue.  But what really turned me off imported plywood was the one sheet that I cut into only to find that two of the inner plies had no glue between them at all and the panel immediately delaminated.  But even that was not the worst of it.  The worst part was that inside that delamination was what looked like blood and hair.  I swore off imported plywood that day and have not used it since.

I realize this may be more than you ever wanted to know about plywood, but if you’re considering having some cabinet or furniture work done, it may be of interest.  Different manufacturers will have different reasons for using the products they do and some of those reasons may be valid.  But make sure you know what you’re buying before you toss down a stack of cash.  A bit of time spent now in education could save you alot of heartache later when you find that what you paid for and what you have are not the same thing at all.

Bloodwood Butterfly

By , 11 September, 2010, 1 Comment

I recently went out to New Horizons Hardwoods in Springfield to tour their showroom and familiarize myself with their product line.  New Horizons imports exotic  hardwoods that are sustainably harvested in Ecuador.  What’s that mean?  It means that a government agency picks what trees they can take out based on acreage (one tree per acre) and age or condition of the tree.  The harvested trees are milled and shipped to the US for flooring or furniture.  While there, I picked up some lumber for a pair of barstools I’m designing and we began talking about their need for a conference table in their showroom.  Long story short, I went away with enough Cherry Sappele for my project and enough Bloodwood to build a conference table.

Bloodwood blanks

Bloodwood is an interesting species.  Member of the Mahogany family, so named for it’s deep red color, and very hard.  The odd thing about this particular Bloodwood is that it is not nearly as red as normal and has some unique figuring.  The folks at New Horizons spec all of the material they import with the USDA so that they know exactly what they are selling.  On this log, the USDA confirmed it as Bloodwood, but had never seen the coloring that was evident in this tree.  Needless to say, I was a bit nervous about cutting up a load of lumber that is very rare and so unique.

I got over that reservation pretty quick.  One of the boards had a dark pattern through the heartwood that resembled half of a butterfly, so by splitting it and bookmatching the pattern, I was able to inlay a Butterfly shape set within a deep red border.  The other material selected for the top has a figuring that makes it appear to be waterspotted.  I don’t know enough about Bloodwood to know if that’s normal or not, but the organic nature of that figuring tied in nicely with the Butterfly.  The last detail on the top is a fingernail profile cut into the outer edge.

Completed top

Stay tuned!  I start on the base structure next week and should have the table completed shortly thereafter.  Further updates as events warrant!

Greenhouse gasses, oh my!

By , 8 September, 2010, 3 Comments

Okay, time to get scientific.  There’s a lot of talk about greenhouse gas emissions right now, and people are looking at ways to reduce their “carbon footprint”.

Wanna know the easiest way?  Build with wood.  The production of any building material causes greenhouse gas emissions, mostly CO2, or Carbon Dioxide, which is a result of burning fossil fuels.  We have to burn fossil fuels to harvest trees for lumber, dig up iron ore for steel and mine limestone and stone aggregate for concrete.  Then it has to be processed into a product, another fossil-fuel burning process.  Not done yet… it still has to be transported to market on, you guessed it, fossil-fuel burning vehicles.  All of these processes result in CO2 emissions.

But here’s the really cool thing about wood:  you can actually REDUCE CO2 emissions by simply choosing to build with wood.  Blasphemy, you say?  Stick with me here.  Trees are known as “carbon sinks”, that is, they consume CO2 while they grow, storing the carbon and releasing the oxygen back into the atmosphere.  A good thing, right?  When a tree is harvested, that carbon is trapped in the final product INDEFINITELY.  So, over the life of a tree, it actually takes more CO2 out of the atmosphere than is created in the process of harvesting, milling and delivering to market.  The net result of building with wood is the removal of about 3/4 of a ton of CO2 emissions on average per cubic meter of product.  Concrete, on the other hand, adds about half a ton of CO2 emissions per cubic meter of product.  And steel?  Steel adds about four tons of CO2 emissions per cubic meter of product.

So, bottom line is, using wood is better for the environment than concrete or steel.  But, to be fair, not everything can be made with wood.  The real key is balance.  Without steel, I wouldn’t be in business.  Without concrete, my shop would be sitting in the dirt.  If you’re planning a building project, learn everything you can about your options.  Educate yourself.  And then choose the one that best fits your needs.  And if it’s also the best choice for the environment, all the better!

For more information, or to just be overwhelmed with the science, go here: