Chris Schwarz's Blog

Late-night Rendezvous at the Woodpile

Some men seek solace in a bottle. Others in the arms of a woman. For me, when the world starts swirling around the proverbial bidet, I look to construction lumber.

Late last night as I was headed to the grocery store for milk and yogurt, my mind was churning with what I should do about my four punky legs that were supposed to be the legs of my latest workbench. Before I could get to the grocery store, the tempting lights of our home center pulled me into its nearly empty parking lot. There were maybe three customers milling about, and a squadron of idle employees.

I wandered into the lumber racks. Two employees tailed me.

I stopped at a rack of 6 x 6 x 8′ timbers in the pressure-treated lumber section. Inset into this wall of light-green wood was a single bunk of stuff that was totally white.

“Is this pressure-treated?” I asked one of my stalkers. “It looks really white, like plain white pine.”

The employee brought me a step ladder and showed me the timbers at the back of the pile. They were rotting and covered in bugs. The stuff at the front , which was the same color , was drier and quite sound , just some minor end-checking.

“I don’t think these are treated, so I wouldn’t use them,” the employee said. “I don’t even think we can sell these.”

I told them I might take a couple and the guy knocked $3 off the price of each. Instead of $15.97 each, I paid $12.97. They cut them up to fit in my car and I headed off to the grocery.

Normally, I’m not a big fan of mixing wood species on the visible surfaces of a project. So I wondered if a cherry benchtop and a pine base would be ugly. Could I bleach the cherry? Or perhaps color the pine with a reddish toner?

When I arrived home, my wife, Lucy, was sitting at our dining room table. It’s a Shaker thing I built for Woodworking Magazine with a pine trestle base, a long cherry top made with only two boards and lots of exposed joinery. Just like this workbench would have.

Maybe mixing species will work out. Or maybe I’ll sell this bench.

– Christopher Schwarz

12 thoughts on “Late-night Rendezvous at the Woodpile

  1. Ron Westlake

    I live in a rural part of Nebraska that has little in the way of available lumber.

    A few years ago I wanted to build a work ben like the one the Dominy’s had. I wanted the bench to be made from oak but I couldn’t find any in the size I wanted. One day when I was in the back lot of a farm implement store I spotted a large pile of scrap wood. While investigating the pile I discovered several beautiful large 6”- 8” oak beams. They use the chbeams for cribbing when they ship large tractor parts and the owner of the place said I could have them for free. I was able to build most of my bench with them and I had enough left over to make a pole lathe.

    So if you’re looking for a free green alternative for wood I’d check these establishments out.

    Ron Westlake

  2. Swanz

    You’ve already built the awesome SYP Roubo. And the Gluebo. It’s time to go for a 100% hardwood monster.
    I say pay the extra bucks and go for broke this time.

    Swanz

  3. James Watriss

    If you really, really want to get funky… I’m sure there are landscapers and arborists around who could point you towards some tree trunks that had been taken down over the winter. (Not much sap in winter-wood.) The stock might have to be hewn out with techniques taken from Adam’s playbook, but just think of the fun you can have in the meantime… and if you found the right wood for it, it would be much cooler than fir. Maybe Mr L-N could point you towards some hornbeam, perhaps? I know it’s not widely harvested, but I bet he could find a few short tree trunks for you somewhere, that you could pick up for almost nothing. You could then enjoy the rigidity of having seasoned stretcher tenons joined into mortises that were still a bit green, and would shrink, and seize up even more. Not exactly a knock-down bench, but with a 5" top, who wants to move that monster anyway?

    It’s hard to get past those old impulses… but sometimes the results are worth it.

  4. Al

    Put the cherry legs on the working side of the bench and the pine at the rear, under the tool tray.

    Problem solved. You could prbably even hit the rear legs with some cherry colored stain to make them less noticeable.

    RE: the bandsaw – at leaast it’s sort of similar to a pit saw, with the vertical sawing and all. You probably should’ve put a ratty old blade on it first though, so that you’re cuts would have that pitsawn look that you could then remove with a plane to retain your athentic approach….

  5. Doug F.

    I’m a little disappointed. I don’t consider myself a hand tool purist. I’m also frugal, bordering on cheap, so I appreciate a deal as well as the next person. I’m not knocking your solution to your bench leg problem, I think it will work fine and look good, also. Nor do I particularly knock home centers.

    But why not track down a local sawmill, the modern equivalent of the pit sawyer? Maybe it will be more expensive, maybe not. The available lumber might be a bit on the green side, or maybe not. You could also request true 6 by material. It seems, to me anyway, an avenue that Roubo would have tried when looking to build a bench.

    Regardless, I look forward to seeing the end result.

  6. John Lytle

    Did your wife also comment about how you were 1 hour late getting back from a simple grocery store run? Or, has she accepted your obsession?

    🙂

    John

  7. John Cashman

    It looks exactly like what we have at home centers in the northeast, marked SPF, for spruce, pine, fir. It’s whatever white wood they happen to have. We never get good stuff like SYP.

  8. Jonas Jensen

    My workbench (classic Scandinavian type) has a beech top and a pine base, so I wouldn’t worry about it. Keep the spirits up.

  9. Frank Vucolo

    Excellent!

    Most of my shop cabinetry, side and back benches and the base of my main bench are made from construction lumber I got from lumber yards and home centers.

    Mostly it’s kiln dried douglas fir. After a little milling work, its amazing how good the usable stuff can be.

    Frank

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