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: http://www.bcclimatechange.ca/how-wood-products-help/wood-products.aspx


Dear HGTV…

By , 18 August, 2010, No Comment

We love you out here in TVLand. We like the shows, the personalities and the ideas and inspiration that seems to flow non-stop from your creative little brains. You have singlehandedly given rise to an entire movement of do-it-yourselfers and, as a contractor, I’m okay with that. I like to see people tackling some of the projects around the house on their own.

On top of that, you give people great design ideas that they can pursue with local contractors to build their own dream home. I’m sure that there are countless stories from all across the nation about a home renovation or construction project that was inspired by HGTV.

The point of my letter is to thank you for the recent offer to appear on one of your prominent weekend shows and the chance to put my work in front of millions. When I got the call I have to admit that my heart was beating pretty quick! I was really excited to know that you would consider my work to be up to the high standards of HGTV.

But then you told me that it would only cost me several thousand dollars to give you my work free of charge and as a thank-you I would get a line of the end-credits all to myself. In small type. And scrolling fast. Oh, and bragging rights. I have to admit, I was a little disappointed and felt like I was being hustled by a snake-oil salesman.

Could you please create a show that gives people a realistic idea of what a project will cost? Homeowners need to understand that they really can’t remodel an entire house for only a couple thousand dollars and have it all done in a week. Projects like these take time, planning and money.

Rest assured, I will continue to watch your programming. But from now on, I’m paying alot more attention to the end-credits.

Sincerely,
Jason Frantz
WoodShop Artisans


Contractor Tango

By , 13 August, 2010, No Comment

I don’t dance much.  I’m a white boy from the Missouri backwoods and dancing was just not something I did much growing up.  I could buck hay bales all afternoon, build fence and drive the tractor, and I managed to keep up with my chores reasonably well, but dance?  Not interested.

But I find myself dancing on a fair number of shop projects, oddly enough.  Not the kind of dancing you’re thinking, I’m sure, but dancing nonetheless.  It usually starts like this:

“So we’ve talked about what kind of project you have in mind, how you want it built, what you plan to use it for and when you need it.  Do you have a budget in mind?”

Somewhere, music begins to play…

“Well, not really sure… Do you have any idea what it will cost?”

I might as well be wearing a tuxedo with a rose in my mouth as we take turns chasing each other around the room…

“The cost for any project is really in the details.  The more detail there is, the more labor is involved and that drives the cost up.”

Here, have a rose.

“We understand that, but we’re just trying to get a ballpark number for planning purposes.”

Is that castanets I hear?

And so it goes.

The funny thing is, I completely understand where the client’s coming from.  In their mind, if they tell a contractor how much they can spend then suddenly the project comes to that exact amount or higher.  If you lowball the budget, the contractor gets offended, but if you go too high, you risk paying more than you should have.  I know because I’ve done the same thing with contractors in my home.  Nobody wants to get ripped off.  Instead, we dance.

What it really boils down to is trust.  The best advice I can give to someone looking for a contractor is to find someone you can trust.  Talk to friends and neighbors, past clients, or just go with your gut feeling.  Believe it or not, finding someone you can trust is the easy part.  The hard part is actually trusting them.

Sit down and lay out your budget.  If you’re honest with your contractor, he’s much more likely to be honest with you.  When I know what a client’s spending limits are, I can usually tailor the project to meet those constraints.  That requires a bit more work on my part, but is usually worth it for a satisfied client.  And I would expect a client for a large project to interview and get estimates from several contractors.  Find the one you are most comfortable with and can trust.

Keep in mind that trust goes both ways and a contractor should be willing to trust you as well.  I’m always willing to share with clients the breakdown of an estimate.  I’ll lay out labor, materials and overhead so you know where I’m getting the numbers.  Not all contractors will do that, but it’s worth asking about.

Of course, you’re always welcome to dance.  Just don’t come crying to me if you get your toes stepped on.


A mattress against the wall…

By , 9 August, 2010, 5 Comments

I’ve helped with a few house additions in my life.  I’ve dug the ditches for the foundation, helped pour the concrete and frame the walls.  I’ve pulled electrical wire, laid shingles, hung drywall, installed flooring, and all the hundreds of other tasks that go with adding a room onto your house.  It’s not an easy undertaking, nor a cheap one.

Take a simple house in the Midwest, for instance.  Most builders would agree a basic room addition could be completed for $75 per square foot.  Let’s assume that you wanted another bedroom on your house, a minimum of 12′ x 12′, or 144 square feet.  That room will cost you around $10,800.

That doesn’t take into account the time involved in such a project.  A good builder could probably complete the task in 3-4 weeks, depending upon the weather, his schedule and the size of his crew.  That’s a month of your life being in a shambles.  No vacation days away from home.  Not many quiet days on the couch.

Now think about the house you live in, as it stands today.  What if you could effectively add a room to your home without all that nasty stuff listed above?  A wall bed gives you that option.  A queen wall bed folded up takes less than 8 square feet of floor.  By comparison, a normal queen size bed consumes nearly 35 square feet of space.  If it’s in a guest bedroom, that’s 35 square feet that’s unused for anything else.  Wouldn’t it be better to stand the bed against the wall and actually use the house that you pay for?

And once the bed is out of the way, think of what you can do with all that space: an office, a den, a library, a workout room, a sewing room, or a kids playroom.  I’ve added all of those rooms to people’s homes with a simple wall bed.  The possibilities are endless.

On top of all that, the cost of the average wall bed is about $1,900 and can be installed in less than a day.  Even less if you build it yourself from a kit.  Compare that to $10,800 and a month of dust and noise.  Nearly a $9,000 savings.

Still not convinced?  Tell you what, go to your guest bedroom and stand the mattress up against the wall and see what the room looks like.  Leave it there for a week and see what happens.  You’ll start finding uses for that room that you didn’t know were possible.  And when you get tired of looking at the bottom of the mattress against the wall, call me.


Welcome to our new Blog!

By , 1 August, 2010, No Comment

I was thinking about all the tools in my shop the other day and realized something interesting.  There are some tools that I use that I can tell you exactly how many I have and what kind they are.  One air compressor and three nail guns, for instance.  I have three HVLP spray guns.  Five hammers.  But here’s the interesting part:  I have absolutely no idea how many cutting tools I have.  Even if I took the time to count them all, I would miss some and the final tally would be high.  Mostly, I suppose, because the majority of my work is done by cutting and shaping wood.  Which brings me to a point that I have reminded myself of time and time again: There is no such thing as a dull cutting tool, because when it is no longer sharp, it is no longer a tool.

So, you ask, why have a blog for a woodworking shop?  Simple: our website was feeling kinda dull.  It needed to be honed a little bit, sharpened up for the job that it does.  I’m sure there are a number of correlations I could make between cutting edge technology and wood cutting tools, but I’ll skip that for now.  Suffice it to say that this should be a really good place to answer some of the questions that always seem to come our way, to connect with some of our past (and hopefully future) clients and to share some good information and ideas that you may find useful.