Figured Lumber & the Gentle Art of Furniture Making - Popular Woodworking Magazine

Figured Lumber & the Gentle Art of Furniture Making

 In Shop Blog, Woodworking Blogs

figured cherry lumber in use after twenty yearsGetting started on a project is to me the most exciting time. I get to play with the design, dig through piles of lumber looking for just the right stock and contemplate all the little choices that need to made along the way.

For my current project (which will appear in the April issue of the magazine) I got to dig deep into the lumber pile. I always tried to use the best material I could find for clients, but sometimes you just find wood that’s so special it calls out to you; that’s the kind of material I wanted for my first non-customer build.

Figured cherry lumberGoing through my stacks of lumber looking for that perfect set of boards brought to mind the different philosophies woodworkers use when it comes to lumber. I know lots of woodworkers who stock no material whatsoever. When a project comes along, they trek off to their favorite lumber honey-hole and buy exactly what they need. While this system incurs less cash outlay and use of valuable space, it has drawbacks – the primary one being it limits your choices to what is in stock at the lumberyard at the time you need to purchase materials.

The opposite philosophy also has its strong points and drawbacks as well. Buying everything you come across may mean you will always have materials to use but it also means you may run out of space and money at some point.

For me, just like in woodworking itself, I prefer a hybrid approach. Whenever I start snooping around a sawmill or lumberyard, I look not only for the material for my current project but for outstanding boards and log sets that might make spectacular future projects. Most of the time this means coming home with only the material for the current project but sometimes, every once in a while, I came across something so special that the wood speaks to me (no, not literally.)

curly cherry lumber with denatured alcohol shows the figureUsing this approach means I still keep most of my cash in hand for things I really need, plus my entire shop space isn’t filled with lumber making it impossible to work (OK, so that’s not the case at the moment…). It also means when I have the perfect project that just calls out for some screaming figure, I might just have it. Don’t be afraid to buy something special even though you don’t need it right now. The log set I’m using for the April issue project has been squirreled away for 20 years or more.

So, what am I building out of this special cherry that I’ve been holding onto for so long? You won’t have to wait decades to find out; the April issue will be out soon enough.

— Chuck Bender


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Showing 7 comments
  • Bill Lattanzio

    Okay, now I can’t wait until April, but that could also be because it’s been snowing for 4 days…

  • creatingsawdust

    Promise me it’s not a workbench or a tool box….

    • Chuck Bender
      Chuck Bender

      How did you guess? But it isn’t one or the other…

    • Megan Fitzpatrick
      Megan Fitzpatrick

      I suppose you could put tools in it…but that would be a bit over the top, and not terribly efficient.

      • Chuck Bender
        Chuck Bender

        The problem is not where to put the tools but where to mount the vises…

  • Jim McCoy

    Boy can I relate. I have slabs of alligator juniper, redwood, walnut, birch, and maple that I bought back before I retired that I wasn’t sure what they would become but I just couldn’t pass them by. Now, slowly, they are telling me what they want to be for their next lives.


  • woodworkjay

    Please be sure to provide commentary (and maybe blog videos here) along the way in the finishing of those gorgeous Cherry boards and in the article as well, as the finishing of some woods is as critical to making the project as the design’s execution.
    I’m looking forward to following along on the Cherry finishing.

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