Reclaiming wood

Do we do enough to recycle wood from old houses, or is it easier to just dump it in a landfill? I see a lot of houses in my neighbourhood that are renovated, and the true 2″×4″ pieces of lumber are thrown into a dumpster. Kudos to those companies that reclaim the wood from larger buildings, but we ultimately need to do a better job reclaiming the wood from smaller buildings, and municipalities need to do a better job requiring construction waste to be sorted properly.

Did splines pre-date tongue-and-groove in flooring?

A cautionary tale

My wife bought  me this trivet a couple of Christmas’s ago (from Stinson Studios), made from a section of tree (which I believe is Red Cedar?). It has sat in a sideboard in the dining room where the climate is fairly much the same all year round. Yet yesterday when I pulled it out of the sideboard, I noticed a large crack – coming from one of weak points along the trunk.

This is a cautionary tale in the realization that wood is an organic object. It moves, even in its life after life as a tree. The reality is round cuts made this way nearly always split. Boards made of quarter-sawn lumber don’t usually have these problems, but wood cut in this cross-cut fashion cracks because of the increased shrinkage in the rings, something called tangential shrinkage (wood shrinkage in a direction tangent to the growth rings), versus radial shrinkage (wood shrinkage across the growth rings). Of course, as in this case, when shrinkage does occur it takes the path of least resistance – and manifests from a weak point on the outside of the tree.

There’s no real way to avoid this happening… except maybe avoid these types of trivets. Oiling it won’t help. In the end, one just has to live with it. It could be also repaired using a bowtie inlay.

P.S. There is a good guide to wood shrinkage and expansion here.


Making extension cords

A couple of years ago I bought an expensive 12 gauge extension cord to power my tools in the backyard (my large “workshop”. It worked for a while, but now it suffers from the usual issue – an inability to being wound up  in a proper fashion. I have never liked the cord… which got be to thinking if there is a better way? What about making extension cords? So, having bought some 14/3 waterproof wire for an LED lamp rewire, which turned out to be too big (go figure), I decided to turn this into a small extension cord.

The wire I’m using is made by Southwire (made in USA), and I bought it at HomeDepot by the metre ( 14/3 is C$2.49 a metre). It’s a rubber coated and water-resistant. It is somewhat overkill, as it is also flame and ozone resistant, but its core characteristics are high flexibility, and abrasion resistance. Plugs for the ends, C$9.98 and C$6.98.

Putting it together is super-easy, and a good task for someone who wants to try some simple electrical work (there are like a million tutorials online). It takes about 10 minutes to make. Just make sure you follow one of copious tables on the net to choose the right gauge wire for the length of extension cord you want to make.

End result? a water resistant, kink-free extension cord. I obviously wouldn’t leave it outside in the rain because the plugs are not waterproof… but then I wouldn’t leave anything electrical out in the rain (or snow). Next, I’m going to make a 25 foot, 12 gauge cord to replace the super-annoying one.

Vacations walking in forests

I wonder how much non-wwodworkers think about trees? Woodworkers likely spend too much time thinking about trees. When I took botany at university I thought it was boring, largely because it was all about Latin names and stuff like that. I mean some of them sound really cool… like nothofagus moorei, the Antarctic Beech, a magnificent tree. Who but a woodworker would think a holiday spent walking through forests was cool? And therapeutic. Walking through a forest helps via a practice the Japanese term Shinrin-Yoku, or forest bathing. Apparently walking around breathing in essential oils of wood is good for you.

So what forests are on my list?

  • The forests of Haida Gwaii
  • Hackfall Wood, North Yorkshire
  • The forests of the Ardennes, near Bouillon
  • Waipoua Forest, New Zealand
  • Giant Forest, Sequoia National Park.

What about you?

Block plane depth-adjustment mechanisms (iv) – weird mechanisms

There were some interesting mechanisms devised for depth adjustment. Those that stand out were designed by Leonard Bailey.


The first of these, Patent No. 189,415 is for a very sleek looking mechanism with a milled thumbwheel which attaches to a vertical substructure of the plane body via a plate. Underneath the wheel there is a pinion (G), which turns with the thumbwheel and gears into another wheel (H), which has a cam-slot (J). Within the cam slot there is a pin (K) attached to a mechanism (L) which moves longitudinally, and is engaged with a blade using a stud (M), which meshes with holes in the blade (N). As the thumbwheel is turned the mechanism moves the pin within the cam slot, and adjusts the blade up or down accordingly. This was an improvement on a previous patent (No.185,280), for use on a bench plane.

This seems like a really cool mechanism. A further improvement on this mechanism was patented shortly afterwards (also in 1877), Patent No. 196,450, although it was filed before No.189,415. It used the same basic principle, however it used a grooved scroll cut into the upper side of the thumb-wheel. which activated a “follower” which was in turn linked to the blade via grooves in the blade.

These mechanisms appeared in L. Bailey’s patent adjustable “Victor” planes. Beyond that, these mechanisms likely never made it mass production because of the complexity of the mechanism – it was likely too costly to make (like the ornate handles), and may have suffered from mechanical issues such as dirt clogging up the gears/grooved scroll. Here is an example of a No.189415 patent mechanism on a  Bailey Victor No.1½.

Bailey Victor 1-1/2 (



Identifying old wood (iii) a case study on chestnut

Pulling apart the mantle in the living room to replace it with one made of cherry, I thought, hey, why not check to see if it is chestnut. The first sign that the wood seemed different was that it felt light weight. So chestnut is most similar to oak. One of the biggest differences is weight – chestnut is about 60% the weight of white oak. So I thought I would take an initial check and calculate the weight of a piece of it. The weights were in the table I made in the previous post. By first measuring the volume, and weight of the piece of the wood: 9.9in³ and 0.1742 lbs, it is then possible to calculate the relative weight in lbs/ft³. This turned out to be 30.39 lbs/ft³, which equates well with the weight of chestnut.


Now to confirm this involves looking at some of the macro features of the piece of wood. The first thing to notice is that there are no visible rays, which implies that it is not of the oak family. Here’s a photo showing the growth rings in the block of wood. There is an abrupt change from earlywood to latewood, and the pores become extremely small.

A close-up view confirms the lack of rays, or rather the rays are not visible (usually one cell wide). The pores are also oval in shape, and has visible tyloses, which is consistent with what should exist in a piece of chestnut.

What to do with the chestnut once I have salvaged it? Likely I will use the wood in a small chest of some sort.