Steve Blenk

is a professional woodturner and contributing editor to A W. He lives in Washington state.

Form the ball. Cut this detail like a large bead, using a beading tool or skew chisel. Work from large diameter to small.

Once completed, the prototyjx? can replace your template or story stick. It's easy to pencil in the detail points as shown in the photo. And you can use the prototype to set your calipers for making parting cuts at detail points. It's not a good idea to use successive legs as patterns, since this can result in "clone disease," with each piece varying a little more from the original. Stick with your prototype for marking out and setting your calipers.

Follow the turning sequence that you used to make your prototype and you'll get a set of legs that will look identical in your finished project. Perfect duplication isn't necessary, since the legs will be separated, and your eye will be more interested in the overall profile than in the dimensions of the specific profile parts. — S.B.

The prototype is the template. To turn a set of four "identical" legs, use your prototy/ie or a single leg as your template.

Open sesame. The polished faces of these maple-burl pulls are like secrets revealed when you open a door.

Working

With

Make the most of wood's natural beauty by Stephen M. Metz

ike many woodworkers of my generation, I was fascinated James Krenov's wonderful books on cabinccmaking in the early 1970s. Krenov's reverence for the grain, color and figure of wood really made sense to me, and it has influenced my work ever since. My interest in the natural variations of wood has led me to specialize in furniture and woodwork made with "wane-edged" lumber—boards cut with ihe natural edges of the tree intact—and other natural-edged forms. Natural-edged wood has an infinite variety of natural shapes and edge textures* offering design possibilities you won't find anywhere else. In this article, I II show you some of the ways 1 use wane-edged wood in my work and the techniques I use to clean up the edges themselves. In ihe sidebar on page 51, I'll tell you how to find natural-edged wood, and how to dry and store it for best results.

Designing with Natural Edges

I he notion of using natural edges is foreign to many woodworkers. Our materials, machines and methods are based on straight lines and square edges.

Working this way is easy and predictable, but it overlooks an important fact- that nature herself is the greatest designer of all. No woodworker could ever dream up or duplicate the variety and complexity of shapes and textures that natural edged wood offers. Yet commercial lumberrnaking processes arc oriented to machining away this unique character.

Learning to design with natural-edged wood requires us to challenge our assumptions. For one thing, you can't assume you'll always have exactly the material you need for a particular project. You're limited by the shapes and sizes of the boards in your collection. That means you'll have to

Bound for glory. Curly, gnarly and bug-eaten tree surfaces like these can lend a distinctive character to furniture and architectural details.

invest some time and effort collecting interesting wood. (See sidebar.)

Then you have to visualize how to use your available boards in functional ways while retaining as much of the natural character of the log as possible: A natural-edged board with just the right shape can fill an awkward space in a room or create an appealing transition between two spaces; a shelf with an interesting natural edge can provide a visual oasis in an otherwise ordinary room; natural-edged handles and other details can completely change the character of rectilinear cases, drawers and doors. The possibilities are endless.

Here are some of the things I think about when designing with wane edges:

Keep it playfxil. Let the shapes and details of your boards suggest unconventional uses. A board with a severe crook in it may be perfect for wrapping around an obstacle; bent sticks often make great drawer handles.

Exploit differences in width within a board. Boards that vary in width can be used to emphasize the flow of a space. For example, a tapering board used as a shelf can visually widen or narrow a corridor.

Use sequential boards. Boards sawn from the same tree work well when used in series, as in stair stringers and treads (see photo, right), shelves, and cabinet sides. Repetitive shapes can add unity to a project.

Leave as much of the natural edge as possible. Remember, you want the boards to speak for themselves. Avoid excessive edge-sculpting or cutting to fit.

Play off the surroundings. Natural-edged boards can complement or contrast with other materials such as stonework (see bottom photo, right) and painted or polished surfaces.

Learn to love the defects. Bark incursions, pitch pockets— even the occasional punky spot—arc part of nature's signature and can add character to a piece.

STEVE METZ builds custom architectural interiors in Pennsylvania.

Continued on next page ►

Rough companions.

The bold shape and bug-eaten edge of this walnut post blend well with the rough texture of stone.

Tree Bark Balusters

Railings and balusters. Different types of natural wood edges blend nicely in this balcony railing com/X)sition.

Tree Bark Balusters

A matched set.

These graduated maple pulls were bandsawn from a single piece of firewood.

Tree Bark Balusters

Going down.

Sapwood edges reinforce the rhythm ot these cherry stair treads cut in sequence from the same tree.

Working

Natural Edges

Working with wane-edged boards is no more difficult than working with square-edged stock. You still have to surface the sawn faces of your material and, depending on the design, you may have to figure out how to join the pieces together. But the main difference is in the techniques you use to clean up and prepare the edges. (See photos, this page.)

Here are some tips you may find helpful when preparing natural-edged wood for prime time.

Surfacc with the bark on. It's good to leave the bark on until you've planed and sanded the faces of a board. Intact bark helps prevent tearout when planing and it helps keep your sanding equipment from rounding over the edges.

Experiment with joinery. Most of the time, I try to use splines and loose tenons for joining parts, but creative use of fasteners—screws, magic wires (see AW #57) and so on— often comes into play. Be willing to concoct unconventional joinery methods.

Choose appropriate edges. Natural edges may be smooth, curly, knobby, prickly, bug-eaten or rotted. My rule of thumb is to preserve the natural edge texture wherever possible. Shelves, cabinet parts and pulls can usually keep their crisp edges without hurting anyone. But a tabletop or a bench shouldn't have sharp or prickly edges, bccausc people will be constantly in contact with them. Here, use a board with a smooth edge texture, and spokeshave or sand the sharp edges where the natural edge meets the faccs of the board. ▲

Level the high spots. A spokeshave smooths unwanted nibs and punky spots.

Open wide.

Dental tools are great for removing bark from tight spots.

Brush it off. Remove loose debris with a brass brush to avoid harming the surface.

SO AMERICAN WOODWORKER ▲ JU Nt 1997

Hop the bark. Fry the bark off natural edges with a dull old bench chisel.

SO AMERICAN WOODWORKER ▲ JU Nt 1997

Stocking Up On

Natural-Edged Wood

You can find natural-edged wood wherever there are trees, hut you won't find it at your local lumberyard or home center; traditional lumber suppliers can't be bothered with the stuff. The good news is that you can zero in on a supply of wane-edged lumber with a few well-placed phone calls to local sawmills and cabinet shops. And your next natural-edged door handle or jewelry box lid may be as close as your firewood pile.

Firewood can be a gold mine for small, interesting pieces of wood. Not only is firewood inexpensive and available, but it's usually split radially— "on the quarter"—so quartersawn stock is just a couple bandsaw cuts away. Quartersawn wood often displays the finest "fleck" (medullary ray patterns) and curl, plus the natural edge is usually at right angles to the face of the board.

Where To Find It

You're most likely to find wane-edged lumber at a local bandsaw mill. (See photo, near right.) Band mills can easily cut wood "through-and-through," even unusually curved or crooked logs.

Your sawyer may not carry a stock of wane-edged boards, but he will usually be willing to custom-mill logs for you. Cultivate a good relationship with him and he'll keep your needs in mind when he comes across unusual timber.

There arc thousands of bandsaw mills scattered across the country, so you're likely to find one nearby. Look in the Yellow PagcsrM under "Sawmills" or "Lumber—Wholesale."

Drying and Storing Your Wood

There are two options for drying your wood: kiln drying, which is faster but more expensive, and air drying, which takes longer and requires more work.

Kiln drying is fine if you need to use your wood in a hurry, but it sometimes makes the bark difficult to remove. And it keeps bugs from eating away at the cambium, so the natural edges will be clean and sound. Some sawyers have dchumidification kilns on premises, or they can steer you to someone who does.

Stack it right. A

well-constructed lumber pile keeps water out and allows unrestricted airflow around the boards.

Through and through. Bandsaw mills are your best bet for custom sawing of irregularly sha/wd logs.

Bug work. When wood is air dried, insect larvae munch tiny tunnels through the cambium layer, creating unpredictable patterns and textures.

Air drying is my usual choice. It's less expensive than kiln drying, and it encourages insect activity under the bark. I like the unexpected textures these bugs create.

It's important to keep boards flat and to keep water from getting on them as they dry. Build your drying pile on a level foundation, and sticker the wood with dry, uniform sticks lined up vertically about 2 ft. apart. (See top photo.) 1 drape my pile with polyethylene fabric (available from Shade-Dri, 800-541-3511) that allows air to circulate but keeps rain from getting in. Top your drying pile with roofing material weighted down with rocks or logs.

Air drying takes about a year per inch of thickness. The final equilibrium moisture content (EMC) will vary depending on where you live. If you'll use the lumber for exacting furniture construction, sticker it in a warm, dry place—an attic works fine—until the moisture content stabilizes. A moisture meter will save a lot of guesswork. On a given project, I try to use wood of the same moisture content to avoid wood movement problems.

Once your wood has dried to its EMC, it's safe to restack it in a tight pile in a dry place until you're ready to use it. Stack it neatly, so the boards aren't subject to uneven loads that could cause them to warp or twist in storage. A

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