Gateway (XVI)

Post 16 in a series describing the design and construction of a kabukimon for the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.


Back to the place where the wood is getting dried – Lashway USA – located in Williamsburg MA. The Port Orford cedar for this project has been sitting in the dehumidification room for a couple of months since the the last time I accessed material, about 4 months altogether now I guess. It turns out that the previous time I stopped by, where I was led to believe that much of the material was dry was a false alarm caused by a mechanical problem in the pins of the moisture meter. The wood I took away last time had to be returned for more time in the dehumidifier. Good training for my back I guess.

As the weeks click on by I get to thinking about the wood sitting there in 90˚F, day in and day out and start to fear the worst. When I got the call that some of the material was down in the desired 12%M.C. zone I become both excited and apprehensive. What if all the wood has cracked and looks like shit? You can make all the best possible decisions, but in the end there are unknowns with drying wood and sometimes things do go south. Solid wood is not a predictable material and that is, strangely enough, one of the things I love about it.

Shortly after starting this series a reader from California contacted me to say he had been involved with a gate-building project with “a carpenter of note” and that the Port Orford Cedar was so badly cracked from the drying process that they chose to epoxy up the cracks. I guess the wood didn’t look to good. He advised me to be careful about drying and would not share who the ‘notable’ carpenter was.

While I think I am taking every precaution in this process, there always remains a certain apprehension that things could go south at any moment with the wood drying. Lashway dries million dollar loads of ebony of Martin guitars, and I said to Larry Lashway that for me, this pile of Port Orford Cedar is like a million dollar load of wood.

Fingers crossed, I arrived at the site today to check things out and was greatly relieved to find the wood in excellent condition:

Drying by any method is often a bit of an uneven process. Even with wax on the ends, wood tends to dry more quickly at the ends than in the middle, and with larger pieces the degree of dryness is an estimate anyhow as the moisture meter pins can only penetrate 1.25″ into the material. I was able to take away a bunch of material that was dry however, as evinced by the above photograph.

The remainder of the material seems to be showing minimal degrade and is getting into the 15% zone, so it won’t be long now, at least for most of the material. The larger beams will probably be in the dehumidifier for another couple-to-three months at least. I’m guessing that the 6″ ~7″ thick stock can come out in another 3 weeks or so. We’ll see – they check the M.C. every couple of days and we’re on the homeward track here it would appear.

In the picture below, you can see most of the pieces, the 1″ thick stuff belonging to someone else:

The stress relief kerfs in the bigger timbers have been doing their job, and that is without the use of additional wedging to forge the cracks wider apart. The large timbers are not completely devoid of checking, but what has arisen is fairly minimal. Certainly the wood in the old gate, brought over from Japan, was worse in this department.

Getting the load strapped down to drag it back to my shop, which is not too far down the road:

Stacked and stickered:

The wide panels seen at the right, pulled from the kiln about 6 weeks ago, have already been jointed and dimensioned. They are to become the door and flanking section panels. The original used 4 panels per section, while I’m going to do each section with just two wide boards. The other stock you see (just stacked and stickered) is for the doors and flanking section components.

Another view:

Whew! That’s what I say. And damn! I like it when things are going well! Out of this pile, I have only 2 sticks so far I have had to reject due to excessive movement, so I’m most pleased about that. A pile of butter awaits my handplane down the road a piece.

All for now – thanks for dropping by and taking a look. Comments always highly appreciated. Up next, a few months down the line is Post 17

7 Replies to “Gateway (XVI)”

  1. Chris

    The photos of the cedar look really enticing, but l wish l had smell-o-vision. Odor is so much a part of working wood, along with its tendency to fight back, if you mistreat it.

    May your shavings be thin !


  2. I'm enjoying your detailed blogs a lot Chris. A quick question, how do they regularly measure the MC of the wood, without getting pin holes all over the place? And what are suitable locations to measure on a big piece of lumber like that?

    I also like your truck. Hard to see what it is exactly, some kind of Toyota Landcruiser? I have an old Volvo Duett, a stainoncar, so I like these older designs a lot.

  3. Kees,

    thanks for the comment and your questions. They measure using a pin meter primarily, and there will be pin holes left as a result. I anticipate I will be able to patch or otherwise conceal them later on. Generally, taking a reading somewhere in the middle of the stick is going to be the most representative reading of the overall moisture content. The ends and the outer surfaces always dry more quickly of course.

    The truck is a 1982 Toyota Landcruiser with 6 cyl. diesel engine – an HJ47. Think of it as a fire pit where you throw bundles of money. Aww, she's a good truck, but parts are getting hard to come by and rust is creeping steadily forward.


  4. Thanks for the answers. For furniture wood it is not always desirable to have pinholes in the show faces and in rough sawn wood it isn't always easy to see what is going to be a show surface. Sometimes I register the weight of one piece of a stack of wood and monitor that, until it more or less becomes constant.

    I like these Toyota's, just the right mix of flair and utility. My Volvo has been a huge money pit too, but it has been very reliable since I did a ground up restoration. But rust is creeping back in some spots. That's not going to be cheap.

  5. It's one of these things where weighing the minor marking that might occur from the moisture meter pins against having some certainty as to moisture content leads to to choose on the side of certainty.

    Taking one stick and moisture metering it alone can lead to erroneous conclusions. I watched the guy at Lashway take moisture readings in many places, and there was considerable variation. One 6×6 would be at 11%, while one next to it would be at 16%. Part of the issue is that wood of varying sizes is being dried together and this makes it harder to get even drying across the pile. Pieces which are lower or higher in the pile, or have more/less exposure to the air will dry at at different rates, and in some cases the initial moisture content also varied by a fair amount. There are two 8×8's in the pile which were sandwiched between the two large posts and they were still at 20% just due to their location. They are being moved for the next round.

    The truck is a dilemma for me. Put yet more money into it or sell it for cheap. A hard decision. I spent 2 years fixing it up, down to bare metal, completely apart, but the rust is coming back.


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