Surviving With Woodworking In The Real World

You're probably wondering...

At this point you are probably wondering about progress on the rustic office. Does it seem like it's taking forever? I can tell you that it is, I am literally drying the wood in my shop.

To catch everyone up to speed, I have a rustic office project in my shop. It has been quite a challenge. The clients had the idea of using 10"x10" doug fir beams as the material to build their home office. The beams were left over from the construction of their timber frame home and they are 10 years old. 

Romantic Notions

Beams for constructing office.Everybody has heard the stories of using old lumber or timbers that has air dried for years and it is a very romantic notion. Romantic - yes. Challenging - incredibly. There is a false notion that old timbers are dry, stable, and ready-to-use, and they just need to be milled for use.

These timbers have sat outside unprotected for 10 years absorbing and releasing the environmental moisture. Being that they are 10"x10" instead of 1"- 3" thick, they hold quite a bit of moisture. I had the beams rough milled into quarter sections and I got moisture readings of 15%-18% on the interior with exterior readings at 8%-10%.

This unequal balance of moisture content can cause serious problems with cabinet construction. It is a factor in causing twisted and warped pieces. The way to deter these issues is to take the material down in stages. It has to be continually peeled open, re-sawn close to rough over size dimensions, re-sawn again, then milled to final thickness, and it has to be stickered in between each step to properly air dry and stabilize.

When a client says that they want rustic furniture or cabinets, it really means that they want it to look rustic but that they want doors and drawers to lay flat and operate smoothly. This can present quite a challenge and right now I am neck deep in that alligator.

How Do You Survive?

With the logistical challenges that this situation creates, it can wreck your construction schedule and your income. Progress payments are agreed upon in the contract and made according to benchmarks in the construction. If you can't progress then you don't get paid. That can really cripple your ability to make the house payment.

You have to become good at juggling the schedule. There is always more than one job lined up at a time, but as a small shop, discretion and sound judgement must be used to not get in over your head with too much work at once.

The way that I like to handle it is to have no more than one big job at once with small "filler" jobs that I can plug in here and there as the schedule opens up. It does depend on what opportunities come your way, but after 12 years in the business, I can say that there has always been a good mix of large and small jobs. This is just really the ideal situation to insure cash flow.

The amount of work you have on your plate all at once will vary depending on if you work alone or have any number of employees, but for the most part I am speaking to small shops and individuals. The big job will dominate your time. The small filler jobs may be a quick repair of some type to a full day or two, but the key is that they are flexible and can be held at the ready position until needed.

What I have noticed over the years is that the schedule is very fluid, there are always changes occurring. It is like a river that continually flows the same basic direction but it occasionally changes it's course, sometimes a little and sometimes a lot.

So today's lesson is that flexibility is key to staying busy and to financial survival.

That's all for now!

Remember - You can't live the dream if you don't spend time in the shop.

Your friend in the shop, Todd A. Clippinger

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Laying Out The Curve In A Rustic Office Desk Top

A Basic Desk

Simple 90° Desk

This particular desk was pretty easy to design, there was no call for cabinets or drawers underneath. 

In designing this desk, the first thought is to fill the area with a simple 90° structure. This forces the user to sit at the right or left wing.

Desk With 45° Inside Corner

The next consideration would be to fill the inside corner with a triangle to create an angled seating area. This makes great use of the corner and creates a comfortable work station. The computer monitor is tucked into the corner and a person sits with books, papers, and folders arrayed on the right and left wings. This provides easy access to a large area to the right and left as office work tends to spread out. 

Desk With Inside Curve

The next step in the thought process of designing this desk was to fill the inside corner with a curve instead of a diagonal. Curves are a little easier on the eye, they tend to add a little more visual flow. The inside curve on this desk looks appealing and provides a good place to sit between the right and left wings.



The Layout

The desk material is 2" thick and I knew that I wanted to use a template in creating the curve in the desk. 

Scribing the arc.

I started with a piece of 1/2" plywood that was a little oversized of the arc I wanted to create. I mapped out the location of the desk that would be underneath the template. Now I knew where the structure was located.

I have a simple 4' flat metal straightedge that is quite flexible and would span the two points of the arc. But I needed a way to hold it steady while I marked both ends of the arc. I cut a couple of blocks that were 1 1/2" thick with a miter cut on one end.  


Blocks with miter cut allow access for pencil when scribing.

By using 1 1/2" thick material, that made the blocks tall enough to support the height of the straightedge. The angled cut allows me to get my pencil into the corner to mark as accurately as possible. Now keep in mind that accurate is relative here because I am working on a "rustic" style desk. 

After flexing the straightedge to create the desired arc, I scribe it. Then I like to flip the straightedge end-for-end and see how it reconciles with the first mark. There is almost always a little deviation and I scribe the new line. Before cutting I double check to see how the arc looks overall


Detail of scribed arc.

In my shop, as well as most shops, we are not running CNC equipment to layout or cut our arcs, so they are not going to be machine perfect. But you can increase the accuracy by doing a couple of things.

First, insure even pressure in the middle of the straightedge when when bending it to create the arc. Second, make sure the end points are securely and equally anchored, and the last step is to double check the layout by flipping your straightedge end-for-end and lay it out again.  

No matter what you use to create the arc, whether it be a metal straightedge, wood strip, or plywood strip there will be a slight deviation somewhere in the line. If you flip the straightedge and lay it out again, it will usually deviate at the same point in the straightedge. When you scribe the second line, the deviations will be revealed and you will be able to make adjustments accordingly for the actual cut.

Once you get the arc lined out, it is time to cut. But that is for the next installment...

That is all for now. Be sure to spend some time in the shop practicing what you learn.

Your friend in the shop - Todd A. Clippinger

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Building A Rustic Office

The current project I am working on is to build an office desk, cabinets, and gun cabinets from 10"x10" doug fir beams left over from the construction of a timber frame home. The beams are about 10 years old.

Kania Office SketchUp Drawing

SketchUp Drawing for a rustic office.

I cut the beams to length and took them in to have rough milled.

Cutting Beams To Length

Cutting beams to rough length in the field.

The pith was nearly in the center on everyone of them so it rendered quartersawn material.

Bunk Of Beams Stacked In Shop

Quartersawn beams stacked for drying and acclimating in the shop.

The material has been drying and acclimating since the end of December. The wood has varying moisture content levels. The outer part of the beams are dryer and stock from the center to 2/3 out range from 21-24%. 

Stock Milled to Rough Size

Stock rough milled and stickered to dry.

So far I have glued up the desk top and several panels for the shelving and doors, this creates stock panels to work with. This has been challenging material to work with and the percentage of material loss is higher than normal. It certainly does not behave like kiln dried stock.

Cutting Biscuit Slots

Cutting biscuit slots for panel glue up.

I like using the Stacking Clamps because you can glue up several panels in a single footprint because they store vertically while drying.

Glueing Up Panels

Gluing up cabinet panels.

That's all for now. Be sure to stop back often.

Your friend in the shop - Todd A. Clippinger 

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