NBSS Week 9 – Milling lumber and building the Shaker nightstand, part 1

We started this week with a lecture on how to lay out our Shaker night stand cut list in preparation for sawing and milling the various components out of our rough lumber. We learned how to achieve the best yield as well as the best grain and color match with smart placement around any unusable sections of the board (such as cracks, knots, and sapwood). This concept of project layout for yield, color, and grain match is a very important part of what will separate our work as skilled furniture makers, as well as having an impact on our ability to control cost and quality as we build.

After layout was completed, we headed to the machine room to begin the milling process. Of note here is the difference between rough milling and finish milling and the importance of following a timeline of sorts to help ensure greater wood stability throughout the construction process. Wood absorbs and loses moisture throughout the year, even after it’s been dried to the level that we as woodworkers purchase it to begin the building process. In fact, even after we build and finish a furniture piece the wood will continue to move, so we must design the piece to allow this seasonal movement. This begins in the milling stage.

Lumber in the rough must be surfaced to make its faces and edges flat, square and parallel to one another. However, we can’t proceed from the rough lumber stage to finished dimension for building stage in one day because of wood’s natural tendency to lose and gain moisture. When we first surface a board in the rough, we are exposing the faces and edges of a different part of the board—we are removing material and most of the time the inner part of the board that we are exposing has more moisture than the outer surface. We must respect this because once the new surfaces are exposed the wood will lose moisture and move as it acclimates to its surroundings. We also must pay attention to remove material uniformly in this initial milling as removing more material from one surface will exaggerate the wood movement in that direction. So, the first milling session involves cutting the components out of the rough board and then surfacing them parallel and square but still quite a bit oversized. We then take these components back to our workbenches where we stack them in layers using stickers (small pieces of wood that allow air to flow around all sides) and leave them at least overnight.

This was how we spent Monday. Our goal was to begin cutting joints in our legs on Wednesday, so Tuesday we performed a second milling on just the leg material to bring it closer to its ultimate dimensions but still oversized to allow another stage of moisture loss and wood movement. (And yes, they did move from Monday to Tuesday and again from Tuesday to Wednesday!)

This is a very important learned process: as you build a piece you generally do not mill all the lumber to final dimensions in one day, you stagger the milling so that you are bringing different parts of the project to final thickness the day you plan to cut joinery and build that section. For instance, we will start by building the base of our table (legs and aprons) and then we will build the drawer, and finally we’ll construct the top. This construction process will occur over the course of three weeks. Wednesday morning began by milling our legs to final dimensions (length, width, and thickness). Then we cut the mortises in the legs in the afternoon and continuing into Thursday.

Our Lance lecture for the week was an interesting one that detailed the construction process for building cockles and scallops, as well as how to laminate pieces to create complicated serpentine convex and concave surfaces like the one on this Bombe Dresser. He then gave us a small intro into the complicated process that one might use to veneer such a surface, a very unique and time intensive process that involves fitting the pieces individually and using sand bags to help glue the veneer to the wavy surfaces.

The week ended with an after school field trip for dinner at Pastoral for pizza and drinks and then a visit to the Institute of Contemporary Art in the Seaport District. The pizza at Pastoral was good (not great) and the drink selection was pretty darn good. The Institute was very interesting as they had an exhibit on the history of Black Mountain College (a North Carolina liberal and fine arts school) as well as many pieces from the students of the school that are part of their permanent collection. Next week, I begin my toolbox, do more Shaker nightstand work, and start some carving practice. Until then…

Comments are closed.