Perfecting the compression process

With the Woodland Laboratory and new compression jig set up I set to work tweaking the process again and again until I had worked out the exact formula to make my Lignin board. I needed to find out what wood available in the woodland would work best, if any.  My experiments also needed to work out the best compression and drying process.  There were certain controls in the set up that were not changed; 300g of green (fresh) chainsaw shavings of each wood type, 2.5 litres of cooking liquid and around 1 hour of cooking in a pressure cooker.  In total there were 25 tests done with this set up, with each test something new was learnt or observed and the next test was tweaked accordingly, sometimes this even included the controls.  Through this trail and error method I learnt about my material, its particular behaviours and fine tipping points of its process.

The early tests were fairly fragile and not at all strong.  They stuck to the mould, came out damp, expanded once released, burnt, came out uneven or crumbed completely.  Sometimes I thought I was wasting my time and it just wasn't possible.

I added foil to help release the samples from the mould.  Measuring the shavings and making sure they were spread out evenly under the compression plate also made a huge difference.

I was using the blow torch onto the surface of the mould but with no insulation.  I knew from the beginning that this wasn't at all efficient and was frustrated that all the heat was going out into the atmosphere.  I also dreaded heating the mould with the bottle jack so close to the blowtorch.  The mould was modified so two bars could be slipped through the mould to hold the pressure plate in place and the bottle jack removed so the whole mould can be placed in a kiln for heating.

Unfortunately it didn't work.  It needs to have constant pressure applied throughout the process, especially as the water is forced out.  I was also experiencing most of my samples coming out damp.  I couldn't quite understand why parts of the sample were promising and bonding well and others just flaky shavings.

The tests continued.  I stopped using potash, water seemed to work better.  Oak, being very dense, was near impossible to get to vaguely work so I ditched it.  Ash was the most consistent in postive results, but none were bonded evenly across the whole sample.

Then that ureka moment!  Drilling holes into the top compression plate allowed the water to steam off easier.  All those times when I openned up the mould and the sample expanded or felt damp, it was because the steam could not escape - so obvious!

The first sample with the modified mould was a great success.  It was dry, solid and strong with very little flex.  I was able to cut it with the bandsaw.  Once I had continuously made simular samples, all in Ash, I got their strength tested.

I owe a huge amount of graditude to Paul Burke, Civil Engineer Imperial College and fellow honourary Cumbrian.  Paul is incredibly knowledgable in sustainable energy and policies.  Many a tea break have we discussed the various alternative energies available or being developed.  Thankfully, he completely understood where I was coming from on this quest to find a relevant use for coppiced wood and was never too slow to remind me how worthwhile it is.

Besides bigging up my lagging confidence, he very kindly helped to test the stress point of my samples to see how strong they are, especially in comparison to existing OSB products.

My Just Wood material has the stress point of 9N per mm.  That's 1/3rd of the strength of the same thickness OSB! Not bad for a few handfuls of chainsaw shavings.

With my process and material perfected it was time to take the next step - moulding forms!

Setting up the Woodland Laboratory

A long over due post detailing that final push of my Master degree project, Just Wood.  I left the last post basically describing all the resaerch I had compiled and how I could pull it all together into one perpetual cycle of growth, harvest, waste, process, product and back to growth again.  It was a rabbit hole that I was reluctant to leave and with hindsight (it is a wonderful thing) I was causing lots of conundrums for myself.  That's what happens when you can do anything. So here's how I went from my first successful sample of Lignin Board (glueless wood material made by compressing waste chainsaw shavings - blog post here) to a process that generates strong, formed components for use in furniture, all in my wood somewhere in the depths of North Cumbria.

I knew the basic principles of compressing cooked shavings will work, I had a very exciting sample.  The next job was up scaling that set up so I could perfect the process, see what works and what doesn't and hopefully produce a production line for manufacturing a component of some description.

Off I went to find a Blacksmith.  The wonderful thing about Cumbria is that you're never to far away from someone with a shed, making anything or everything in metal, or wood, or clay or wool etc.  Fortunately, 15 minutes away in Gilcrux lives David Watson.  A blacksmith who specialises in fabrication and Norman forges.  It was through his hard work, unwaived patience and endless cups of tea that I was able to push my leftfield ideas.

First off, he put together my test frame, designed to hold a 20 tonne bottle jack that will compress my cooked chainsaw shavings.

A little butane blowtorch didn't seem to be the job, and my fears were confirmed when the mould was prized open.  The shavings were still damp.  The pressure did not seem to have been enough however, were the biscuit tin had a seam or corner the shavings were looking more like one material.  Not the best result, but enough to get me thinking there was something in it... I had to go bigger.Welcome to the Woodland Laboratory!  (aka Pip Towers)  My home for the next few months.

I moved in with shavings from 4 hardwoods typical throughout my wood, a few fermentation jugs full of my homemade alkali potash, a stove and a pressure cooker.

I had a new re-useable metal mould made up.  A box with drainage holes, removable bottom and top pressure plate.  Along with a proper butane blowtorch, I was ready to go full kelter and perfect my process.

I have to say, I had never used a 20 tonne bottle jack or blow torch before, and certainly never together, at the same time, in close proximity to each other.  To say I was tense and nervous would be an understatement.  Safety marshal Chris was on hand - somewhere behind a large Ash tree.  After all the varied ways I did this process and all the things I learnt each time, the fear of something bad happening never left.  Don't try this at home is all I can say!


Chainsaw joy

In my last post I finished off by mentioning my increasingly love for my chainsaw.  Yes it's loud and powerful.  Yes I get to cut down trees - hugely satisfying.  But essentually the chainsaw is a brilliant tool.  While I was making my shaving horse I got a little impatient chipping away carving the seat, so I thought "Blow it, where's my chainsaw".  Finding that with gentle encouragement and careful blade direction the chainsaw can make light work of carving, cutting, boring etc.  Could this transfer into furniture making?  Could my chainsaw be a portable mortising machine?

Again, using the Crack Willow was not the ideal timber, but I wanted to quickly test out the ease of boring out a mortise tenon joint.  I was surprised, it wasn't ideal doing it freehand, but perhaps a jig could aid in accurate cuts.

My friend Paul, a greenwood worker and forester, helped me sketch up this 3D model to play with directions, pivots and heights that would be useful as a portable chainsaw CNC.Why was I so intent on using my chainsaw, apart from it being a fast and efficient machine?

At this point I had researched my material and the role it plays in the environment from the minute molecular level, the small scale craft traditions, all the way up to the industrial forestry management of softwoods.  At each point there was always a cycle back to starting point - the woodland eco-system.  No matter how big or small these cycles are, they could produce a number of by-products workable into my process.  Chemicals, fuel, raw material, adhesives.. the list goes on.

By Charcoaling I was experimenting with the pyrolosis process - decomposing wood by heating without oxygen.  This process gives off all sorts of gases, inparticular Carbon Monoxide, Ethanol and Methanol, all extremely flammable.  YouTube is full of fun, crazy people using the gases in systems to power electrical generators, lawn mowers or even running cars around Europe!  The best example I found, and the most fascinating fella doing amazing low tech things in the name of off grid eco living, in Texas - AllEnergies

In the quest for an on-site holistic system for manufacturing, generating my own power from wood felt like a momentus step in the right direction.  I had discovered a simple moulding process for cooked chainsaw shavings, but I just wasn't satisfied - This project has researched into so any aspects of wood, as a varied resource.  My imagination got the better of me, I wanted to run an electric chainsaw on wood!  What a perfect loop that would be.

Cut down a tree.  The trunk is planked, the shavings collected.  The brash and branches are seasoned for firewood to boil the fresh shavings to mould.  The heat could also be used to generate woodgas.  The woodgas can be conbusted in a generator which in turn charges a battery for the chainsaw... etc etc.  Had I more time during this project, I would have loved to see this happen.



Here's a fairly late update from Jan's wood.  Since my last post, March in Cumbria has been a whirlwind of all sorts of weather.  There was, of course the mad snow storm which blocked our main road, and then while most of England was bogged down by heavy, relentless rain, we had 2 weeks of gorgeous bluebird days, extremely cold and windy, but wonderfully sunny.  I managed to warm up the camera long enough to give a little idea of where I've been working.As soon as I got back to the woods from a good trip to London, I needed to get back to the wood and play, learning from books written by those who specialise in this organic material.  By learning to use and manipulate the greenwood's properties like so many talented craftsmen before, I hoped to find way of developing a system that will allow me to create furniture.  I'm a sucker for symmetry and I like to design the outcome, it's the control freak within, however, greenwood does not conventionally work this way.  Perhaps there could be a compromise?  Cleaving is a fascinating process of knocking a blade down the centre of the wood.  It will naturally split along the grain.  If the split travels in the wrong direction the tool, called a froe, can be levered one way or the other to encourage the split along a clean line down the length of wood.  Hence, to and froe!  This has given me some beautifully symmetric material, albeit still organic and irregular.

Another brilliant use of greenwoods properties that I have always wanted to explore is shrink joints.  When felled, timber has the moisture content of 30% upward to as high as 60%.  As it dries the cells shrink.  Greenwood workers turn dowelled furniture components, pre-dry them and use them in green mortise holes.  These mortise holes dry and shrink around the pre-dried tenons - glueless joints.  I love this method, using only the natural behaviour of the material to construct solid furniture.

So I mocked up a silly chair sketch.  Crack Willow was really not the most sensible wood to use, I'll admit.  I have to add, during this point I was aware that this traditional process involves a long time.  Greenwood workers are calm. patient souls, allowing their material to slowly dry or season.  Unfortunately time is not my luxury, and in the scheme of trying to find an industrial process for greenwood, these exercises were not proving the right direction.While I was in London, and with access to the metal workshop at Uni I thought I'd have some fun making my own tool.  I love the concept of cleaving, but I wondered if that moment of splitting could be capitalised to form extruded shapes.  Would I be closer to making my uniform components from supple greenwood?

Nope.  The middle 'punch' of my tool did a good job of dowelling my log, until it got wedged in the grain.  As for the splitting froe wings, the split ran away in front  of the tool as soon as it got it's teeth into the end grain, so all control was lost.  As this tool was a complex and lengthy process to make, I abandoned this idea.  However it certain helped me understand the nature of the grain and inner structure of my wood.  It did a great job of creating perfect tenons for my shaving horse legs!

While playing in the wood, making a shaving horse and fiddling with these ideas, I have become increasingly appreciative of my chainsaw.  It makes light work of rough shaping and cutting to length, but it creates a great amount of mess.  There are shavings everywhere!  More about chainsawing next time...

Lignin board

I had some willow shavings soaking happily in my potash alkali for a few weeks.  Time had come to do something with it.  Going back to the advice from Bio-composite Centre I re-boiled the solution with a bit of whisk/friction.  After a 2 hour cook the shavings were scooped into my make-do metal mould.  It was G-clamped up as tightly as possible and left to dry.

The shavings were checked after 3 days.  Were the wood had dried and had been compressed the most, there was definetely bonding.  Exciting stuff!

The sample was placed back in the mould and the whole thing was placed over a stove to apply some heat.  It was left there to sizzle away until I was sure all the water had evaporated away.

Once everything had cooled, the clamps were removed.  The shavings had successfully bonded together.  The surface that was on the metal mould side and over the heat had a very smooth and shiney finish.  I had created my own glueless particle board, a course masonite board.

I can only presume the cooked cellulose and lignin had acted as a bonding agent when heat and pressure is applied.  Unforuntately the the material isn't water resistant, but there is still some potential with this aplication within my woodland.

Branch boiling

Getting preoccupied by the nitty-gritty of wood and what-not can really become distracting.  I decided to go back to the wood, how it is now and when I freshly harvest it.  What if I prepare the branches for bends or joints before I boil them?  How long will bigger samples need in my pot? I had a while, nearly 48 hours, to wait while my branches softened, so I made up a simple bending frame that will hopefully allow me to be flexible with my angles later (excuse the pun!)

Baking wood liquor

With the remaining wood liquor from my cooking, I wanted to test evaporating it off, the times it'll take and the residue left behind.The liquid is reluctant to let much water evaporate away.  The wood liquor with crushed charcoal left a very interesting goo.  This test was done a month ago and the goo is still drying / hardening.  I'll definitely keep an eye on it, as well as make a bigger sample to cook further.  

A Welsh recipe for Hemi-Cellulose

During my search for the sacred Lignin I was put in touch with the Bio Composites Centre, associated with Bangor University, North Wales.  The lovely folks there were very kind to sit with me and discuss, in detail, my projects ambitions and set restrictions.  I have limited my material palette to everything that surrounds me within Jan's Wood, with the addition of fuel for a chainsaw.  Could organic chemistry provide all the key ingredients to make a mouldable material?  I had been soaking and cooking wood in homemade Potash, created from wood ash - is this an adequate alkali to aid in the break down of my wood? Unfortunately they had to let me down gently.  Lignin is a tough tough substance, separating it from the cellulose without strong chemicals like Sodium Hydroxide would be a tall order, or perhaps a miracle.  OK - if I haven't been extracting Lignin during my cooking tests, what have I been left with?

Lignin is a complex and un-uniformed molecule structure with strong bonds.  Within Lignin sits long but weaker glucose chains of Hemi-cellulose.  When soaked and heated these sugars are the first bonds to be broken and released.

Bio Composite, Bangor gave me a recipe to test out an extraction of my own Hemi-cellulose, which I could use as a glaze, or perhaps a wood treatment....

As soon as the Potash (Potassium Carbonate K2CO3) was poured into the Willow shavings the colour change indictated that some reaction had happened, I much quicker reaction compared to soaking wood in water.  The solution was boiled for 2 hours and the colour had become a wonderful deep red with an interesting fragrance.  It was this liquor that I needed.

As the Potash, a fairly strong alkali, needed to be nuetralised, a standard acid was added until pH 7 was reached.

I was advised that an alcohol will react and condense together the sugars of the Hemi-cellulose, so Meths was trickled in until cloudy clumps formed.  

Chemistry was never my strong subject, enjoyable, but baffling.  Besides this being a complicated process, I was stabbing in the dark.  Not being able to decipher exactly what I had created meant I had to abandon this clever chemistry and move on.  Furthermore, this process involved large external ingredients with next to no yield of ... er... an opaque reddy/brown liquid that never seems to dry.  Joy.

Charcoaling for Wood Vinegar

I'm on a quest to find a future for England's 649,000 hectares of unmanaged woodlands. Every year around 4 million tonnes of unharvested English timber is ignored, that equates to 800,000 tonnes of carbon store.  To bring these forgotten plots of land back into management we could not only provide British industry with a vital raw material and fuel, but enhance and re-establish our declining wildlife, and ecology, something that can have a positive trickle effect on our agriculture.

My landlady's woodland, "Jan's wood", is my case study.  What economical manufacturing process can I create within this 45 acre woodland, neglected but bursting with potential?  So far I have been learning the intricate chemistry that lies within trees, and how this chemistry makes wood behave the way it does.

In particular, I have been referring to England's historical woodland based craft to understand how generations benefited from this material long before the Industrial Revolution.

Charcoal is created by heating any organic material (animal or plant) to temperatures up to 300 C in the absense of air.  It is essentially carbon, the atomic building block within everything on this planet.

However, it was not charcoal that I was in hoping to collect.  The heat creates a chemical decomposition of the wood, releasing a whole pick'n'mix of chemical goodies in the smoke - Pyroligneous Acid.  Traditionally the most sought-after ingredient amongst the condensed fumes in acetic acid, used as a fixative in dyeing cloth.  Today, wood vinegar is promoted across the Far East as an organic and cheap pesticide and fertiliser.

I wanted to see if I could add to the chemical by-product menu I was developing to aid in my physical break down of wood.  All in the exploration of the wonders of wood.

Frank, my little workshop helper, was back to help with the first burn.  (If you spy any safety concerns, please ignore) ;)

A donated Transit van exhaust pipe was the perfect cooling chimney.  It got incredibly hot, another source of energy perhaps?!

Only a small sample of the wood vinegar and wood tar collected.  The yield was impressive considering the small amount of wood in the burner.

What a let down, it turned out to be a bit of a fail.  My eager need to shut the burner down led to a drum full of chared wood.  At least it was dry.

We decided to have a BBQ, regardless.Everything was looking very hopeful, until the burgers went on.  Sod's law it would die!

Project#2: Refined

What is refinement?  Investigate the refinement of a base material towards the creation of a refined product. My starting material had to be wood.  However, coppiced wood has been a draw to me for awhile due to its totally sustainable and low-impact cycle.

Coppicing is a tradition of woodland management; working to a cycle of growth of trees which have been sensitively selected and felled for regrowth.  Trees have dormant buds lying in wait under their bark in defense to damage, like getting munched by Mammoths or stamped on by any other significant mammal.  As the network of roots remain, replacement growth happens considerably faster than for a new tree to grow from seed. For centuries humans have manipulated this natural trait to provide an abundant supply of raw material.  After every harvest, a tree stool will provide, on average, 3 times the number of new shoots.  Historically, coppiced areas are left for 5-7 years to regenerate and produce quick grown, straight poles, prime for the greenwood craft industry.

Essentially, coppice is a sustainable and truely renewable source of carbon-neutral material.  Whats-more, its potential is everywhere.  There are around half a million acres of unmanaged woodlands in the UK.  To see a new wave of industry utilising this resource for our markets and manufacturing would be a huge step forward for the conservation of our countryside.

The draw back in working with such a material is that it's inherent beauty and purity, it's organic-ness makes it difficult to take coppiced / green wood forward as a realistic contender for batch production.  To work with it is labour-some and time consuming, if not for stunning results.  Now, how can I make afford products with this environmentally affordable material?

Of all the green wood craft, I am most intrigued by Swill Baskets.  The principle is taking green Oak, granted as straight as possible, and boiling it for at least 24 hours allowing it to be split to fine strips.  Essentially the wood is being made into a generic form of itself, to be flexed and weaved into a basket.  As it dries the wood hardens and the basket becomes incredibly strong.

It is the reaction of the wood to the boiling that has intrigued me.  What happens to the make-up of the wood to make it go pliable when wet, and retain shape and rigidity when it dries?

To understand wood a little better, on a microscopic scale I got in touch with a research scientist from Innovia Films.  They produce cellophane by the tonne.  Cellophane is pure cellulose extracted from wood pulp.  The process of extraction is fairly similar to paper making.  Huge quantities of wood pulp are re-boiled in a water and Sodium Hydroxide solution; a soup that speeds up the separation of cellulose from the 2 other essential ingredients in wood (The Kraft process).

Now here's the bio-chemistry bit.  Wood is made up of cellulose, hemi-cellulose and lignin.

Cellulose is the structure of the wood.  The molecular fibres which act together to create rigidity.

Hemi-cellulose is the 'string' that holds the cellulose fibres together.

This knot of cellulose is set in lignin.  The 'resin' which glues the structural molecules together.

When the cellophane and paper makers, as well as swill basket makers, boil their wood they are diluting the lignin.  In the example of boiling and steaming wood in the wood craft industry, the dilution of the lignin allows the wood to be bent and formed into new directions.  As the water evaporates and the lignin condenses, the wood stiffens and retains its new shape.

From this finding I have been developing an interest in Lignin and what it's properties could be used for.  Although a waste product from these different techniques, it has a great calorific value, it has more carbon content than wood itself.  The Kraft process burns the recovered lignin to recycle its energy back into the system.

Understanding these two comparably different scales of wood manipulation, I started to wonder if the use of Sodium Hydroxide (Caustic soda) in the industrialisation of cellophane was completely necessary.  Reading into the science of woods molecular bonds I believe a high pressure and high temperature hydrolysis method would be enough.

First step: Try to cook and separate wood at home with a Pressure Cooker.

The smaller the carrots the quicker the cooking, right!?  I reused the brown water from the previous cook.  I figured I'd intensify the concerntation.

Although the sight of a pressure cooker steaming away on the stove was a regular occurance during my childhood, I have no idea how to use one, especially when cooking wood for 6 hours.  The water levels were calculated wrong and that was the end of this test.

These tests were an interesting starting point.  I've been left with some interesting brown liquour.  Somewhere, floating in this milk bottle is weaker bonded lignin.  The wood has barely changed, so the cooking process definitely needs taken up a knotch or two.

To the laboratory...



Project #1: Wooden Vase

Design Products MA: Platform 15 Project #1: Make a vase (a container that can be used to hold cut flowers)

My first project within our platform was a quick 2 week introduction to myself and my approach to briefs.  We had a very interesting crit yesterday, it always amazes me the contrast and extreme differences of peoples response to projects at the Royal College of Art.  Really fascinating!

Make a vase, a container of cut flowers.  I considered on answering this brief with questions of why and how we, as a curious race, chose to capture moments of natural beauty out of context to its real existence.  There is the view that it can be seen as the start of desire and not need, which brings us to consumerism and social impact our desires have on the world in all its facets.  The can-of-worms wiggles out in all directions and bigger picture get even bigger..

The thing is, this opinion / observation is integral to who I am, and what I believe.  The path I have made for myself is an expression of debate, mainly because I'm rubbish at verbal debate, I can only demonstrate.  My reasoning for pursuing wood and hand craft is in response to these heavy issues.  My ethos and morals are born from these realities.  To some I might appear to be restricting myself to success and money, but that is not what I desire.  I work to explore responsibility.  Desire is a natural human trait, it is here to stay.  However, it has grown to a point of distraction and destruction.  Can we provide for our desire with a sense of responsibility?

So, it was a bit of a cop-out to chose to create my vase with wood, however, I knew my reasoning and debate was there in so much more depth than I think I could have presented in 5 minutes.

Essentially, a vase is a vessel to contain water.  Besides tools and clothing, utilitarian forms to contain and transport was a change of man dictating his environment for his own convenience.  The bucket or barrel, to me, is an incredibly important object.   The idea to use the swelling properties of wood to create a watertight vessel represents the most intuitive use of material and it's properties.  Wood is a living material.  It comes from one of the most important living organisms on this planet.  Nowadays the movement of a piece of wood is seen as a hindrance, an inconvenience.  It's is engineered to stay flat and straight and square.  Tamed for our desire.  The wooden bucket is the product of skilled workmanship that only comes from an inherent understanding and respect for the material.  It is very sad that this skill is becoming extinct.  These days barrel making techniques are replicated by fast moving machines.  When the last Cooper Master has gone, will the true understanding of cooperage and its unique understanding of wood be lost with him?

I wanted to explore the coopered vessel.  Not reinvent it, just play with it.  Stereotypically the bucket is defined by the structural steel rings that hold the swelling slats of wood in.  Without them the bucket wouldn't work.  However, I am making a vase, an object of desire and not utilitarian need.   I wanted to create the vase without the 'bucket rings'.  Ironically, my solution meant I had to CNC a precise bottom section that would replace the bottom ring.  All the past coopers simultaneous turned in their graves!

I have been reluctant to embrace the CNC machine, but now that I finally have I will have to admit I'm ever-so-slightly converted.

For the tapered shape of the vase and for the success of a watertight product I needed to create precise side slats.  There is very little room for mistakes.  The angles are so important, half a degree out will not do!  I made a jig with my hand plane and spindle moulded each slat as close to the finished width as possible.Replacing the top ring is where I got experimental.  Flower arranging is great, but sometimes the flowers don't really stand up as well as you'd like.  I figured a tension wire system on the inside could replace the top ring and provide a grid for the flower display.  This is when doubt was expressed by a few members of the workshop.  Wagers have been made, the stakes are high!

Bango machines and violin pegs were used for the pivot points.  Two patterns of wiring was tried.  The one with 2 machines worked best.

Here we go...

OK, it leaked!  But I had suspicions this vase would, the bottom joints between slats weren't tight enough.  I figured they would swell enough to compensate.  However, the top part around the tension wire was fine, completely leak free.  Does that mean I won the wager?!  The test continues...

BacktoSchool: Design for the Real World & Enhanced Bodies

I'm back at school! After a wee sabbatical to gain some skills and develop a network of talented people I find myself lost amongst new faces in familiar spaces.  London feels a far cry from Cumbria. Feeling a little disjointed I took myself to the current exhibition, SustainRCA and the Helen Hamlyn Centre of Design from within my University.  The whole show was incredibly inspirational and clearly showcases the hard work done by all participants.  Helen Hamlyn Centre's focus is on enhancing human health and well-being through social research and development.  The Sustain RCA exhibited student projects addressing the resource and environmental impacts of human behaviour.

Particular projects that stood out for me were

  • Hal Watts' ESource.  Combating the extreme health and environmental problems arising from E-waste sent to districts in Africa and India, where young boys burn plastic coated wires to extract the precious metal inside, Hal has developed a low-tech sorter.  Brilliant!
  • Addressing our future outlook for nutrious food for a ever growing global population, Ento introduces the advantages of insects!

Finally, being back at Uni means the fun first project of the year.  A course-wide brief which gives a good introduction of yourself at the start of the course, as well as flexing our experimental design muscles after a long summer.

Here's my presentational video, a tongue-in-cheek solution to one of my biggest fears.

Enhanced Bodies: How can you make your body do the impossible?



How thick?

Things seem to be testing me recently.  I've been trying to see the funny side of it, but when things add up it gets tough.  Take my computer for example, it's in the Apple hospital at the moment, having all of its insides replaced.  Not a cheap proceeder.  Turns out I've been on borrowed time for 2 years until it finally conked out.  It's really thrown a spanner in the works, hence why I've been so distant recently.  Ironically, it died just as I had finished and installed my stupidly organised computer cabinet at home.  I guess the timing was perfect for my back ups, but now I have all my computer nogans hooked up neatly in lovely cabinet with nothing to do.  Fingers crossed those Apple Genius' can make it new and happy again. Besides pleasing my obsessive organisational needs, I wanted to create a piece that tested the thickness, or thinness I should say, of solid wood furniture.  Everyone knows wood moves and cups, and the thinner it is, as the theory says, the more likely it is to distort as it dries out.  When furniture was being made from engineered materials like chipboard it meant clever veneerers could make thin lightweight pieces look solid without this risk.  Unfortunately, I like these lightweight designs but love solid wood.  Against all the advice in the workshop I went ahead and machined up 15mm Beech.

As it was only for me I designed the simplest set up, quite Utility Furniture-esque.  My very generous Landlady, Jan, gave me a wonderful set of bead drawers, perfectly and naturally distressed, they'll be good for my filing and stationary.  The depth of the whole cabinet had to accommodate these drawers and a 4 socket power extension, as well as my printer.  The back was left open for easy access and wires.

Finally, I have been wanted to collaborate with Kim Butler for ages.  Kim is the resident wood carver and can often been found chipping away on Danny's old bench, or scorching beautiful carvings outside.  When I asked if she would add her finishing touches to my cabinet I was thrilled when she came up with these cute buttons.  Her colour matching was spot on and really pulls my tatty old drawers into the whole scheme.  Thank you Kim!

And so, the verdict.  Well, it wasn't the biggest item ever, but it's not the smallest either, yet it has turned out fine.  The top and bottom surfaces were extended past the sides by 2mm so that, if it were to open up, the join would remain neat.  Considering there is some spalted Beech laminated together and jointed with not very large housing, the movement is minimal.  There was some splitting at the end of the laminated top and bottom, that was super glued and clamped, however most of that was planed away during the finishing touches.

I conclude that 15mm solid wood is not a disaster waiting to happen, as long as it is done with lots of care and attention.  This cabinet had a spacing of 400mm between upstands and carries very little weight.  Something larger with lots of heavy keepsakes would definitely need something thicker.

...I also conclude that I am a neat freak.