Jul 232012

If you are just joining us, we are building cutting boards in a concept I call social woodworking. First, we planned them and then went shopping for wood. Last time we started cutting. If you would like to buy a cutting board, they are available in the Store

Now we move to the table saw. Unlike the chop saw, the blade is mounted into a fixed position. It is then raised and lowered through a slot in a table (hence the name). The wood is passed through the blade to make the cuts. It can make cross cuts, but it specializes in cutting along the length of the board, with the grain. This kind of cut is called a ‘rip’.The blade is raised to a height where the tooth comes completely about the board. The space between teeth, or the “gullet”, carries the sawdust out of the way below the table.
As you can see in the photo above, the edge of the board is pretty rough. They often come from the sawmill this way, leaving the woodworker options for the project. Our first task is to create a clean, straight cut along the edge to work from.To make rip cuts on a table saw, we use a fence. A fence is a straight edge, mounted to the table parallel with the blade. It provides a stable guide as we push the wood through the blade.

Here, I set the fence so I am cutting a minimal amount of wood from the left side of the board. This helps me make a perfectly straight edge on once side. Sometimes boards twist while drying, so more has to be taken off to get a straight edge.

Once I get a straight edge, I can trim up the other side as well. Now we can start cutting strips for the cutting boards. You may remember in our design discussion, I need several strips of different thicknesses to glue up into the 10 inch slabs. Here, I am cutting a 1 inch strip of maple.
  It only takes a few minutes to cut up the maple to the desired lengths. Don’t worry about the blue paint on the end. The ends of the boards are often painted to slow down the moisture evaporating from the end grain. If the evaporation isn’t uniform across the board as it dries, the board cracks. We’ll plane off the paint in a future step. A plane scrapes the top of the wood, removing the top layer. You’ll see it in a couple days.
It can be pretty dangerous to cut very thin strips of wood on a table saw. We don’t just set the fence to 1/8″ and cut. When a thin strip is caught between the fence and the spinning blade, it can easily catch and be thrown backward at high-speed. Trust me, you don’t want to stand in line of fire.Let me walk you through how to safely cut a 1/8th inch strip. I have a piece of cherry that is exactly 4 inches wide.
   Here is a picture of the board. Exactly 4 inches wide.
Now, I set the fence closer to the blade. I want 1/8th inch of wood left when the cut is complete. The blade will cut away 1/8th inch of wood, so I have to add the two together 1/8 + 1/8 = 1/4. I subtract 1/4 from 4 and set the fence to 3 and 3/4 inch. All the time studying fractions in 4th grade has really paid off!  
   As you can see, now 1/8th inch will be left once we make this cut. As I push the large piece of cherry, it will be safely in control. The tiny strip, which is too small for me to safely touch while going through the blade, will fall safely away to the left after it exists the spinning blade. Safety is very important. Even little pieces of wood, when flying at high speed, can do damage to the human body.One time I got lazy and made an unsafe cut, putting the strip between the blade and the fence. Fortunately, I wasn’t standing directly behind the blade when it launched the wood backwards. It traveled 10 feet and embedded in the wall. That is when I learned to do the math and be safe.
 Here is all the cherry cut up. You can tell I like to use thin strips of cherry for accent. Cherry is softer than maple and knives will scar it more easily. I use the harder woods (maple and hickory) for the bulk of the board and use the softer woods for accent.  
   Here is all the wood cut up and ready for arranging into cutting boards. From left to right: hickory, cherry, maple and walnut.
 Remember when I said we were going to make a lot of sawdust? Well, here is a picture of the bottom of the table saw. I usually don’t get this much sawdust from a single project. With all the small strips, a lot of wood turned into sawdust. Too bad I can’t think of anything to do with it. There is probably $20 of wood turned into dust for these boards.  

Tomorrow we will start arranging the boards. This is where the craft becomes art – arranging them into pretty patterns. See you then!

Have questions? Please leave a comment.

Jul 202012

If you are just joining us, we are building cutting boards in a concept I call social woodworking. First, we planned them and then went shopping for wood. If you would like to buy a cutting board, they are available in the Store

Today we are going to start making sawdust. Lots and lots of sawdust. First up, we get the chop saw out and cut the boards into shorter pieces. Why shorter? Easier to work with and the shorter length will fit my clamps better. Since each cutting board will be about 11 to 12 inches long, cutting the lumber to about 4 feet in length will yield 4 cutting boards per section.

Since the boards we bought are between 8 and 10 feet in length. The first step is to cut them in half. The hickory is 10 feet long. Using the measuring tape, I make a mark at 5 feet.
Next, I grab my square. It is a straight ruler mounted with a black plastic piece at exactly 90 degrees – hence the name ‘square’. When the plastic piece is placed along a straight edge, it makes it easy to draw a line perpendicular to the edge.
This line is used to line up the cut on the chop saw. As you can see, a chop saw has the blade mounted in an arm that swivels up and down above the base. It is best for making cross cuts – cuts across the wood grain. The arm can be set at an angle to the base, making mitered cuts, like corners of picture frames. More on those another time.
Anyway, back to our cross-cut. Here, I am lining up the blade to cut right to the edge of the line. Notice I put the edge of the blade on the line. When a blade makes a cut, it actually is scraping a 1/8″ wide trench in the board. It just does it really, really fast. The wood scraped out is sawdust. This project does not need precision at this point. I am just cutting the board roughly in two equal pieces. However, habit forces me to cut with one side of the blade on the line, leaving exactly 5 feet to the left side of the blade.
Viola! Two pieces of hickory.
Next up, walnut. It is cut the same way as the hickory. Let’s talk a minute about safety in the shop.When I use tools in the shop, I always wear hearing and eye protection. It isn’t the most comfortable, but it is critical. These tools are loud and little pieces of wood fly everywhere. I have had splinters bounce off the glasses occasionally. Better the glasses than my eyes.Notice I am not wearing gloves. They are too dangerous, as they could easily get caught in a machine and drag my hands into harm’s way. I always end up with slivers in my soft, computer-conditioned hands, but I resist the temptation to put on gloves.
When I bought the wood, I had thought I inspected all the boards quite thoroughly. Still, I missed this defect in the cherry. One end had a crack in the middle and an irregularity in the face of the board. Fortunately, the depression in the wood is not that deep or long. I can work around it.
Here they are, all cut down. Notice the differences in the length between the hickory and the walnut. This is going to be a bit of a problem. The cutting board can only be as long as the shortest piece. I figure my way around this is to use the hickory in the middle of the boards and center everything so it sticks out on both ends of the boards. This will allow me to use the long hickory for handles on the cheese boards. At least that is the plan…

That’s all for today. Tomorrow, we will start cutting the boards into strips. By the way, if you click on any picture, you will get a larger, more detailed picture. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments. I look forward to hearing from you.

Jun 252012

MacBeath Hardwood’s lumber stacks – I think I’m in love.

After getting an initial design and plan created for the cutting boards, I next had to find a place to get wood. After making a few inquiries from neighboring woodworkers, I set out for MacBeath Hardwood in Salt Lake City. It was a long drive, but well worth it. It was everything I had hoped for in a lumberyard and a little more. I walked in and felt immediately like a kid in a candy shop.

MacBeath’s stocks the largest supply of wood I have seen. In fact, as I wandered up and down the rows, I saw wood I have never heard of before from all parts of the world. Each species was neatly stacked in bunks, floor to ceiling in a large warehouse. The picture at left is just one row. There is another one behind me, too. Note there is a second level up above. There is another building full of plywood and a couple other buildings I didn’t get to explore. I spent the first fifteen minutes just walking up and down the row, looking at each and imagining the possibilities.

Once I got over the delight of the variety, I set about choosing the wood for this project. Let me take you on a bit of a tour and explain a few things I look for when shopping for wood.

  • #1 Common Walnut

    Price. Overall, MacBeath’s prices were much better than I was expecting.Having a larger population to sell to must make a difference. I’m happy to drive an extra 30 minutes for good prices and great selection. One thing I discovered is they have different grades of the more common woods.

    Furniture grade walnut $7.11.

    For example, the first stack of walnut I came to was $7.11 per board foot (12 inches x 12 inches x 1 inch). I dug through the stack and found it to be beautiful wood, straight, clear of defects like knots, twists or holes. Then I wandered down the row and discovered a stack of #1 common walnut at the other end. It was $4.18 per board foot. The edges were rougher, contained a few knots and some deviation to the grain. For a large piece of furniture, this could make a big difference, but for this project, #1 common works just fine at 60% of the cost.

  • Surprise!

    Surprises lurk in dark places. When choosing wood, you have to look at the entire board before you decide if you want it or not. Trees are not uniform and strange things show up. While looking through the walnut for a board as small as I wanted (3.5 inches wide), I found one that looked terrific. I measured it to be 4 inches. Close enough. I pulled the board out of the stack to put it in my pile. Surprise! Halfway down, the width changed to less than 2 inches. That board wasn’t going to work for me at all. I had to keep searching until I found one that maintained the width the entire length.

  • Beautiful, but not for us.

    Grain matters. The grain refers to the uniformity of the rings in the tree. When cut, we see them side on and we call it grain. Depending on how the tree grew, everything can be straight and uniform or it can swirl and move all over the place. When building furniture, I love to use some interesting grain on table tops and other places were it can be seen. However, for this project, it will be cut up into thin strips. Not only will no one see the grain, the non uniform wood can be weak and easily break or fall apart. So, while the board I found on the left has beautiful grain, I had to pass it by for something more boring, but stable.

  • Splitsville!

    Defects. Trees and not perfect and therefore the lumber is not perfect either. Wood is, after all, a bunch of tiny straws, laid next to each other to draw the water and nutrients from the roots all the way up to the leaves. When a tree is cut into lumber, occasionally the straws will dry out at different rates and create stress within the board. It manifests itself as twists, bends and checks. Each board is different, depending on the internal stresses. Here is a board that looked good on one end, but had a significant crack up the middle on the other end. Not for us! I also paid attention to knot holes. If it isn’t loose or cracking, then it is generally okay. However, I have to think ahead of how I am going to use this piece. If it is building furniture, I will sometimes include a knot or two for character. I leave the board as whole as possible to leave the knot undisturbed. However, I am going to be slicing these boards up.  A knot in the middle of a strip weakens the wood and will even cause it to fall apart and render it copletely unusable.

  • It just keeps getting longer.

    Length. Most of the boards in the stacks are ten feet long. I only wanted eight. Too bad. They won’t cut anything off the end. Now I have a little extra length to either make into more or use for experiments. When I started looking at the ash, I found they only had pieces about six feet long. I thought I would try beech. I pulled a potential board out of the stack. And pulled. And pulled. These boards ended up being over 14 feet long! Clearly this board was too long. I was beginning to feel like Goldilocks. I went to the hickory, a particularly hard wood and well suited for cutting boards and found a piece that was just right.


After about an hour of digging through the stacks (and re-stacking them neatly again, thank you), I found the four boards we need for our cutting boards: cherry, maple, walnut and hickory. The friendly, helpful employees took out their measuring tape and totaled it up. I had calculated back at the spreadsheet I would need about $73 worth of wood. That was before I found out I would be buying ten foot long boards instead of eight. I knew that would increase my costs. However, by looking around, I was able to find some cheaper grades of wood, cutting the cost. I held my breath and added in a bottle of wood glue. Drum roll, please….

The wood was $76.72. Glue added $8.12 for a total of $84.84. Definitely in line with what I expected to spend. I am actually quite pleased, because with the extra two feet of length, I may be able to squeeze a couple more cutting board in, decreasing the cost per cutting board and creating perhaps two or three more to the sales. Load ‘er up!

Not the best “truck” around…

I promised a picture of the wood loaded into the Miata and here it is. Any more and I don’t think it would have worked very well. As it was, the first corner I want around sent it sliding all over and my shoulder took the brunt. Clearly, this is not the right way to haul wood. Once I got onto the freeway, it stayed put and made it easily back to the warmth of the shop to acclimatize to my low humidity. Next up: Cutting!