Woodworking projects bring a sense of satisfaction, knowing that you can take a piece of wood and turn it into something truly amazing. It can bring on a real sense of pride that you completed a woodworking project, turning nothing into something. For some this type of project can come second nature, while for others there is a real thought process that needs to be gone through. What wood to choose? What grain? These can be questions that can stump you if looking to take on a woodworking project of your own.
No two species of wood are created equal. That is why when beginning a woodworking project it is important to go over a few tips to guarantee that no matter the project, you are going to finish with a desired result that provides a sense of accomplishment and not frustration.
#1: Determine What You are Building
Before you begin any project, you want to go into it completely prepared. The same can be said for what you want to build. It may sound a bit crazy or even silly, but going into a woodworking project with even the smallest of details unaccounted for you may end with a project that is less than a work of art.
Determine what exactly you are going to build. That means every detail should be accounted for, the number of shelves, levels, cuts –everything. Draw out a detailed plan that allows you to not miss a single step or idea.
#2: What Type of Wood Is Best
There are many different species of wood, each with their own characteristics. Once you decide what you want to build, its best to next determine what you want to build that out of. Once you know what you are building will help determine what kind of wood is best suited for that particular project. There are two different categories that wood species are divided into –hardwood and softwood.
Trees that lose their leaves every fall are called deciduous trees. These trees are classified as hardwood. When looking to complete a job that requires the wood to be very durable and stable, this is the area to look into. They do not chip, dent or scratch easily which makes them ideal for projects like tables or molding and other types of furniture.
Specifically there are about 200 species within the hardwood categories. Which can be found in any lumber yard or specialty store, but can also be special ordered when looking for something incredibly specific. Hardwoods grow at slower rates, making them not as readily available as softwoods, thus making it a bit more expensive. As rich in color and texture as they are, slowly species of hardwoods are slowly becoming harder and harder to survive. Many cut down without thought of eventual extinction. Thus making prices skyrocket and pieces that much more special. Oak is one of the most popular of the hardwoods, because it rates very high in firmness and overall quality. It is very easy to find and is inexpensive compared to other hardwoods. Mahogany and Ash are among the hardwoods that are beautiful on their own, but slowly diminishing in volume.
These types of wood come from trees that keep their needles year round –called coniferous trees. These types of wood are soft; grain is not well defined and is not well suited for projects that need durability. These types of wood are commonly used in construction and home building, but can be used in some outdoor furniture pieces.
Softwoods are fast growing trees that can be found on tree farms around the world. Because of this you can easily find this type of wood for any woodworking project. Cedar is the most popular of the softwood and is perfect for any outdoor project. It offers a straight grain and great smell and does not rot easily. Fir is a popular softwood for its inexpensive yet firm qualities. This particular choice does not take to stain very well, so this type of wood is best used with a painted finish.
A knot in a piece of weather wood showing grain and color
#3: Know The Grain
Just with the fact there are different types of wood, there is also a difference in grain. Even if you are working with the same species, it can bring a varying grain depending on the cut. Everything about where a piece of lumber comes from is shown in the grain of the wood. The rings of life within the tree can be shown with or without great distinction, and the grain is exactly that. Each wood has a specific grain and different techniques within woodworking can play up those features or diminish them.
There are 3 basic characteristics of wood grain. Straight grain, which runs parallel to the axis of the tree. Then you have Spiral grain which runs around the axis of the tree and finally, interlocked grain, which spirals around the axis of the tree but will spontaneously reroute its direction and wrap around itself the other direction, changing periodically. Growth patterns can be darker or lighter depending on the wood and where it was grown, taking into account weather and environment.
#4: Moisture Content
Wood is a hygroscopic material, so naturally it takes on and releases moisture all the time. It is constantly giving off and taking in moisture to balance itself out with its environment and the changing seasons and weather. Moisture Content is the measurement of how much water in a piece of wood is relative to the wood itself. As wood dries it can warp, chip and shrink, making it very important to invest in a moisture meter to constantly check the moisture within the wood you are working with to prevent imperfections and drying problems.
When wood is drying and releasing the moisture trapped inside, it will be considered dry and manageable to work with at 19% when checked with the valuable tool that is a moisture meter. Within the moisture percentage of wood, there can also be a point when enough is enough and fungi and decay can start taking over. That is called fiber saturation, with averages about 28%. Having a moisture meter can help you determine the right time to perform a woodworking job and allows you to see the way a piece of wood is taking in and releasing moisture in an area in which you will be working –and help you avoid any moisture issues that can keep you from working.
#5: Count Your Pennies
With everything else in life there are different costs and prices on products. With hardwoods, those are usually always more expensive than softwoods due to their quality grain and durability. It is always important to determine a budget when producing a product so that you can allow yourself to stay within your limit and not be surprised when an added expense comes into play.
Woodworking is a great skill to have and it can produce beautiful pieces that are sure to please and bring joy to all that they come in contact with. Just be sure to start with a detailed plan. This allows you to go into each project with a specific plan in mind, type of wood and amount you would like to stay within. With these 5 things to consider, your next woodworking project will be a complete success