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Cheat Sheet

Woodworking For Dummies

From Woodworking For Dummies by Jeff Strong

Woodworking brings together nature, human, and technology to produce long lasting pieces of function and art. A great piece of woodworking begins with knowing how to choose the right type and piece of wood. Then, following a step-by-step process helps you craft a successful piece every time.

How to Buy Wood for Woodworking

Whether you see woodworking as an art or a craft, your finished piece begins with a great piece of wood. As a woodworker, buying wood can be a challenging experience. You have to think about a lot of details such as the grade and cut of the wood and the way it's sized. The following sections help you make sense of these details.

Take a pencil, measuring tape, scrap paper, small block plane (to check out the color and grain) and a calculator to the lumberyard and write down all the dimensions and total board feet for each board. This way you can double-check the salesperson's calculations and make sure you aren't overcharged.

Wood grades

Wood grades refer to the number and severity of the defects in a board. The following list explains the different wood grades, according to the National Hardwood Lumber Association (or NHLA for short).

  • Firsts: Very few, if any, noticeable defects.

  • Seconds: The occasional knot or other surface defect. Firsts and seconds are often grouped together and referred to as FAS (firsts and seconds). These are the grades you want for furniture building.

  • Selects: A few more defects, but nothing so big or frequent that it can't be cut out. Avoid this grade for fine furniture, though, because it adds more work to the process.

  • Four grades of Common (#1, #2, #3a, #3b): Too many defects to use for furniture.

Types of wood cuts

How wood is cut affects its quality. The following list explains the types of cuts:

  • Plain-sawn: The most common boards at your lumberyard. They have growth rings that run less than 30 degrees against the face of the board. The face grain looks somewhat circular and wavy.

  • Rift-sawn: These boards have growths rings that meet the face between 30 and 60 degrees. Rift-sawn boards have a straight grain pattern as opposed to the circular pattern of the plain-sawn boards. They're also more stable and more expensive than plain-sawn wood.

  • Quarter-sawn: These boards have growth rings not less than 60 degrees from their face and a straight grain pattern with a flake or ribbon-like figure in the wood. Quarter-sawn boards are more stable and expensive than the other types of boards and you can only find them in a few species of wood, such as white oak.

Wood defects

It's okay to buy wood with knots, splits, cracks, and checks. These defects affect only a small area of the board (if they exist over the majority of the board, don't buy it), so you can plan your cuts around them. Avoid boards with warps, twists, or bows. It takes a lot of time to flatten a board that has one of these defects. To test for these defects, place one end of the board on the floor and hold the other end to your eye. The board should be straight and true. If not, leave it there.

Sizing up the wood

Wood is sold two ways: dimensional and by the board foot:

  • Dimensional wood is smooth on all four sides, cut to precise widths and thicknesses, and is sold by the linear foot or the board.

  • Wood sold by the board foot may or may not be smooth on all sides and only one edge may be square. A board foot is a board that is 1 inch thick (called 4/4) by 12 inches wide by 1 foot long. To figure out how many board feet are in a piece of wood, multiply its length (measured in feet), width, and thickness (measured in inches) and divide this number by 12.

Steps in the Woodworking Process

Woodworking is painstaking and rewarding work. Following a plan helps ensure that your woodworking project comes out the way you envisioned. The following list sets out the steps to follow to build a piece of furniture (or any project for that matter):

  1. Read the plans.

    Familiarize yourself with the plans and procedures before you buy or cut any wood. Make sure the project is something you can handle.

  2. Check and double-check the materials list.

    Organize the list so that you can efficiently get the supplies you need before you cut a board.

  3. Plan your cut list.

    Go through all your wood and lay out where each cut is going to go. Choose the most appropriate part of the board for each part of the project. For instance, choose matching tabletop pieces for grain patterns and color consistency. Also, plan your cuts so that you do the minimum of saw adjustments (do all the crosscuts first and then all the rip cuts, for example).

  4. Pre-mill all the boards to get straight and flat pieces.

    This goes hand in hand with the cut list planning procedure in Step 3.

  5. Mill the boards to their final dimensions.

    This involves planing and jointing the boards.

  6. Cut the joints.

  7. Dry fit the assemblies to make sure everything fits properly.

    Make sure that your assemblies and subassemblies fit together properly before you add any glue. You also want to use this step to practice the assembly procedure. Repeat the procedure until you can do it smoothly and efficiently.

  8. Glue the assembly and clamp it.

    Work quickly and pull each joint fully together before moving on. This minimizes the possibility of joint freeze-up. When clamping, be careful not to use too much pressure. Use just enough force to pull the joints together. You don’t want to squeeze all the glue out.

  9. Square the parts.

    Tabletops should be perfectly flat and other assemblies should be perfectly square. Use a straightedge to check for flatness and a tape measure (measuring diagonally across the assembly) to check for square.

  10. Clean up.

    Put the assembly aside where it won’t get bumped and clean up all the glue seepage before it dries.

  11. Take a break.

    You’ve earned it.

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