Wood: Keep looking

400 Words - Posted on 26th August 2018

Machine room timber image triptych left

Furniture making keeps you humble, no two ways about it. Pieces made from this wonderful substance we call wood simply can’t be thrown together. Do that and you’ll end up with junk. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Literally every piece of wood we use in a piece of furniture needs to be studied, watched and monitored throughout the making process. 

When we buy a board for a piece of furniture, we want to be sure it’s good enough for the piece of furniture we plan to make. This initial study, includes checking:

  1. The amount of sap
  2. Grain patterns, straight, crown, both.
  3. Moisture content, 8-12% is probably OK.
  4. Knots, number, size, location, attractiveness, depth, secured-ness.
  5. Shakes, splits and cracks.
  6. Warping, twist and bows.
  7. Other characteristics, ripple, quilted, other figuring, burr, birds eye, Medullary rays.
  8. Oh, and is it big enough!

Having satisfied this initial assessment, and handed over our hard earned money, we have just begun the journey. 

The next job is analysing which part of the board each component should come from. For example,

  1. Legs benefit from straight grain wood where possible, and it is nice to match all four of a chair if possible
  2. Large components take priority over small. Mark these up first. Clean and clear wood a must
  3. Avoid knots, shakes and splits
  4. Use interesting characteristics where they will be best seen
  5. Minimise waste
  6. Don’t be afraid to use sappy wood where it won’t be seen.

Fourteen steps and we’ve not even cut the wood yet!

And so it goes on

You never, ever stop this constant monitoring of the surfaces to understand how the wood will behave and look, not only during the making process, but also after.

Every piece of wood is unique and so has its own characteristics that are only discovered through constant vigilance. So, if a chair takes, say, a week to make there’s a fair chance you’ll spend half that time in careful, patient, diligent observation. Maybe this is why, or rather when a maker gets lost in the making. And for sure it is one of the main reasons for capturing the imagination of craftspeople for generations. 

What better way to spend your life than in the quiet contemplation of the beauty of wood as it is gradually elevated from rough board to something you made. 

Until next time,


Lakshmi Bhaskaran
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Categories: Making furniture

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