Harold White Lumber Company

Earlier this year my territory changed for my job and I acquired the Lowe’s in Morehead, KY as one of my accounts. Whenever I would drive down to that Lowe’s, I would always drive by the Harold White Lumber Co. I was always impressed by the amount of logs the mill had on its lot, but I saw no showroom or retail office, so I always kept driving. That was until a few weeks ago, when I decided to pull in and see what the place was all about. I figured the worse thing that could happen is they would tell me they only sell to wholesale accounts and kick me out.

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I stopped at the mill work office and asked if they sold to retail customers. They said they did, but I would have to drive over to the lumber office so, I got back into my car and headed down the driveway to another office. There I met the office manager who asked what type of wood I was looking for. I said “nothing at the moment, just wondered if you sell to retail customers”. She gave me their price list and asked the plant manager to show me around the mill. He took me where they keep the short stacks of lumber with loads of cherry, oak, wormy maple and poplar. He told me that the 4/4 poplar was only $.80 board foot. I usually pay $2.20 for 4/4 poplar at my current lumber yard in Cincinnati. I would have bought some that day, but I didn’t bring any cash with me plus, I was just looking for info at the time and had no intention of buying anything anyway.

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The mill is huge with thousands of logs on their land. I looked at their price list and they carry all the major domestic species, but they also have basswood, sycamore, sassafras, hemlock, and coffee tree. I was told by the office manager that they don’t always have the rare species in stock, but if you call ahead, they may be able to mill some up. You can even buy a whole log if you want to mill the wood yourself.

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So today, I went back and I told the same office manager I was interested in the four-foot shorts. She had an employee follow me back to the area they keep them so they could load it in my car. The last time I was here, this whole area was stacked with bundles of lumber. The guy told me that the shorts don’t last long. They even have a big dumpster where people can dumpster dive for one to two foot long boards.

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I came home with 20 board feet of 4/4 FAS White Oak for $30.00 for a whiskey barrel coffee table my cousin wants me to make for her. The wood should be enough to make the base and top of the table as I already bought a halved whiskey barrel last weekend. The next time I go back, I’m going to stock up on poplar, maple, cherry, and walnut. It’s nice to have place where I can buy hardwood lumber dirt cheap.

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English Layout Square

I was watching The Woodwright’s Shop the other week and saw the episode where Chris Schwarz made an English layout square and thought to myself that it would be a fun project to build.

You can watch the episode here:  http://www.pbs.org/woodwrightsshop/video/3100/3106.html

So I grabbed some quarter sawn cherry I had lying around, ripped it on the band saw and then planed it to 1/4″ thick. Chris made his square 24″ long. Mine is only about 12″ long x 1 1/2″ wide since that was the size of my scrap.

During the show Chris showed how to clean up the half lap joint using a router. Once you set the blade to half the thickness of the wood making the two sides fit together is a breeze. After the joint is cut, simply glue the two pieces together.

I used the front cover of “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” to sketch a roman ogee design onto a piece of scrap. Then I used it as a template for all the little details on the square. I used a dovetail saw, chisels and a round bastard file to cut the shape into the pieces of the square.

Lining up the center of the cross-bar with the center of the square I marked the edges where the cross-bar meets the sides of the square. I used a pencil but in hindsight I probably should have used a knife to get a crisper line.

After cutting the half lap joint on the cross-bar, I laid it back on the square and marked where the cross-bar laid on the sides and cut the half lap joints on the sides.

By far the hardest part making the square is to properly line up the cross-bar and cut the half lap joints so that they fit perfectly together on both sides. There are a lot of surface areas that need to meet tightly and an error in one end may telescope to the other end of the cross-bar.

 

As you can see I didn’t quite make a perfect fit on one side. I could have fudged the cross-bar so that there would be a small gap on both sides but I opted to make a larger gap on one side then fill it in with a thin piece of scrap.

Cross bar being glued with thin scrap glued in place. Just don’t tell anybody I screwed up.

For the roman ogee details at the ends I simply used a circle template and scribed a couple of pleasing arches into the wood and cut them at the scroll saw. I really had no rhyme or reason, I just made it look pleasing to my eye.

After the square was glued, I needed to true it up. I laid the square on a board with a perfectly flat edge and ran my pencil down the side. Then I flipped the square over and ran my pencil down the other side. If there were two lines, it’s out of square.

I gauged the distance between the two lines (1/8″) and trimmed half of the amount (1/16″) off the bottom corner of the square. I kept trimming off a little bit at a time off the bottom until there was only one line when I flipped the square over checking its accuracy. When there is only one line, it’s square.

The square turned out fairly nice and was a fun little project to build. I’m sure it’ll be a favorite tool in my shop.

The importance of making a prototype

So I was hired to make a case for this thing. It’s a custom-made electric guitar amplifier. The guy who made it has no woodworking ability and was looking for someone to make a case for him. He really didn’t care how it was made, just so that the inner components could be taken out and put back in if need be.

I’ve never made an amplifier case before and wasn’t sure how to design one with a removable back so I knew that making a prototype would be a must. Scrounging around in my shop I looked for old pieces of scrap plywood and off cuts of hardwood. I gathered up some wood and made a simple box put together with pneumatic staples and drywall screws.

The idea for a removable back was simple. Screw on the top and route grooves down the side so that the back could slide up and out-of-the-way. The prototype worked and was easy to make which is what I was after because I wasn’t making a killing on the box anyway. More of a favor for my stepson’s friend.

Now it was time for the real deal which was easy because I already knew how to make it and already made my mistakes on the prototype. Anytime I make something, it’s usually the first time I make it. As I measure and cut and drill, I inevitably make a mistake or two. I often find out that the second time I make something, that I learned from my mistakes on the first one and make the second one so much better. It’s one of the reasons I cringe when people ask me to do commission work. I’d much rather have a product line of pieces that I already know how to build and build quickly.

I made the amplifier out of hardwood cherry and maple plywood for the front and back. It came out flawless! The only real differences I made between this and the prototype is I rounded over the edges to give it a better look, added a piece of wood to the sides so that I could move the screws that hold down the top away from the edges so they wouldn’t interfere with the round overs and eliminated the vent holes on the back panel.

The good thing was making the prototype only took about an hour but it saved me so much time and material working out some of the bugs in the design process. Plus I screwed up on the cheap throw away wood instead of ruining the nice expensive stuff.

Since when do woodworkers buy furniture from other woodworkers?

I have to admit, I’d never thought that a woodworker would buy a piece of handmade furniture from another woodworker. After all we’re woodworkers, we could just easily make it ourselves. But what has happened over the past few months has changed my opinion.

It started a couple of years ago when I made four Shaker side tables out of cherry. I had plans of listing them on Etsy and turning a handsome profit. At first it seemed easy with a sale within the first week. The problem was that the person who had “bought” the table was a scammer trying to pull some over payment cashiers check trick and then have me send him the difference back. Luckily Etsy saw the scam and cancelled the transaction.

I had the tables out on Etsy for a few months with no other bites so I decided to delist them. I was them stumped as to what to do with them so I had the idea of donating one to my local PBS station’s Action Auction. The auction went well and I had my table on TV for several minutes as well as MVFlaim Furnituremaker listed on the PBS station’s website. So, the next year I decided to do it again. Even though I didn’t get any money for them, I felt good about the exposure and helping out my local PBS station with the donation.

Then last summer I got a call from one of the people who had won the auction for one of the tables. They wanted another one! So I gave them a price and went over to their house to deliver it. I met with the woman’s husband and he started talking about woodworking and took me out to his shop. I looked around in his shop in confusion. The man obviously had a nice set up. Nice enough to be able to build the table himself. Why was he buying mine? I asked him why and he told me that while he dabbles in woodworking, he doesn’t possess the skills that I have to build the table as nice as I did. I was extremely flattered by that.

Three tables down one to go. My wife decided to stick the last one in our spare bedroom and use it for a few months. It looked nice but didn’t quite match the French country decor she was going after so she listed it on Craigslist. A couple of days ago a guy called and asked if he could have it for a certain price. My wife and I agreed to the offer and told him to come pick it up. The man came to the house, introduced himself and started asking about what type of joinery I used to build the table. I couldn’t believe it. Another woodworker! Here’s another guy who would rather buy a nice handmade table than make himself. What is going on? He told me that he spends all his time at work and really doesn’t have time to build things he wants but appreciates nice furniture when he sees it. He even told me that he went down to Tennessee to Lonnie Bird’s school to take his Dovetailing class a few years ago so he definitely had a passion for woodworking.

All I know is that I learned something new today. Even though people possess the skill to build something themselves, they’ll still pay a fair price for the work of others. I didn’t get rich from the sale of the tables. In fact, I barely got my money back from the cost of the wood, but it still felt good helping out my local PBS station the past couple of years and meeting new friends.