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Thread: Wood selection

  1. #1
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    Wood selection

    Hello all,

    I'm preparing to start work on an office furniture set. I have decided on the design that I like and have found a set of plans to use as a guideline. http://www.woodstore.net/sesedesy.html

    I am ready to start on the project, but I'm at the point where I need to choose a wood. I'm new to this whole thing, so I'm looking for a good entry-level hardwood to use for this project. Without having a lot of experience in working with different types of wood, I just don't have enough background knowledge to know what the appropriate material would be. I had been planning to use Oak, but I just found that the lumberyard where I'm going to buy my materials has a special for the month of November on 4/4 Birch for $1.75 bd/ft. Oak will be about $2.30 a bd/ft. I obviously know what Oak looks like in it's finished state because it's so common, but I'm not sure if I have any idea how Birch looks when it's finished. Is this an appropriate wood to use for furniture, and how does it look when it's finished? If birch is good for a piece of furniture like this, how should I go about finishing it? I don't need an extremely durable finish because the actual table surfaces of this piece are made of two layers of MDF covered in laminate.

    Thanks for the help guys.

  2. #2
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    Hi Eric,

    I can't speak to the appropriateness of birch having never worked with it. However, I would encourage you to stay away from the oak for exactly the reason you mention - it is so common. If you want a piece of furniture that say's, "custom" and, "I made this" you don't want to make it look like something you picked up at the local Oak Warehouse. Look at other woods that speak more to the custome made piece like hickory, maple, cherry, etc.

    I'm sure someone else here can address the birch issue.
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  3. #3
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    The advantage of birch is that it will put you to sleep just looking at it.
    Oak is used for a lot of fine furniture. There is disagreement on this but it's finished beauty speaks for itself.
    But, for office furniture, personally, I would opt for the elegance and luxury of walnut. Figured if you can get it. If the customer is paying, price is not really a consideration.
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  4. #4
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    No doubt, I'd go with Walnut if I could. I'm the customer on this one though, I'm just a beginner looking to build my skills by making furniture that I need at home before I find some paying victi . . . I mean customers. Cost of the wood is definitely a concern for me at this point.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eric Eckman View Post
    Hello all,

    I'm preparing to start work on an office furniture set. I have decided on the design that I like and have found a set of plans to use as a guideline. http://www.woodstore.net/sesedesy.html

    I am ready to start on the project, but I'm at the point where I need to choose a wood. I'm new to this whole thing, so I'm looking for a good entry-level hardwood to use for this project. Without having a lot of experience in working with different types of wood, I just don't have enough background knowledge to know what the appropriate material would be. I had been planning to use Oak, but I just found that the lumberyard where I'm going to buy my materials has a special for the month of November on 4/4 Birch for $1.75 bd/ft. Oak will be about $2.30 a bd/ft. I obviously know what Oak looks like in it's finished state because it's so common, but I'm not sure if I have any idea how Birch looks when it's finished. Is this an appropriate wood to use for furniture, and how does it look when it's finished? If birch is good for a piece of furniture like this, how should I go about finishing it? I don't need an extremely durable finish because the actual table surfaces of this piece are made of two layers of MDF covered in laminate.

    Thanks for the help guys.
    Eric, birch will look a LOT like maple when it's finished, except that very often it'll have more (dark) heartwood and it'll often have a long, rippling curl to it. Slab doors are commonly made with birch veneer - not the pine panel doors, and not the coarse lauan hollow-core "slab" doors, but the fine-surfaced slab doors.

    It's not commonly used for office furniture, but once in a while you see some used that way. It kinda' stands out as unusual; oak is the de facto standard for office stuff. There's... a "smooth" look to it in an office, a kinda' "modern" look.

    Birch, if you decide to go that way, takes polyurethane very well - wiped or brushed or sprayed. If you decide you like the look of raw birch, use water-based poly. If you want it a little darker, use an oil-based poly; that'll yellow the color somewhat. Poly's hard to beat unless you go for the full wet look of lacquer... you even have the option of going with a matte finish if you buy "flat" polyurethane.

    If you want it darker than oil-based poly will get it, you could hit it first with one shade or another of the tinted Watco. Birch isn't super-easy to stain, but the tinted Watco works pretty well on it. If you go that route, though, WAIT until the Watco is FULLY CURED (the smell is gone) before you cover it with poly. If you don't, the poly won't ever set up right.

    In general... an entry-level hardwood would be pretty much anything domestic. I'd hesitate to suggest kingwood or muninga or pink ivory for any first-time-with-hardwood projects, but most domestic hardwoods work pretty similarly except for their quirks: Maple & cherry are both prone to caramelizing if you don't keep a cutter moving along, and ash is WICKEDLY hard after it's fully dry, and butternut will make anybody nuts 'cause softer than a lot of softwoods. Cherry & oak (especially red oak) develop dark marks if you leave iron in contact with 'em in the presence of any moisture. Cherry is prone to gumming up your blades & bits. Poplar CAN (with extra work) be brought to a nice surface (and is really really cheap). Oak makes your shop smell REALLY STRONGLY of... oak... which is a kinda' vinegary smell. Walnut does the same, but smells strongly of... walnut.

    Birch ain't bad. It's just not "normal" for office furniture.
    -- Tim --

  6. #6
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    for you to get an idea of what birch looks like with a little poly on it, this is a birch top I made for a small table. Its not totally finished in the picture, but I put a bit of one of the minwax maple stains on it, and then rub on poly.Click image for larger version. 

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    Ash is a cheap wood, cheaper than oak, and you can finish it to look exactly like oak, stain it any color you want, and it takes finish nice.Click image for larger version. 

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    this is another top I made of ash, golden oak minwax stain.

    just giving you an idea of these light woods with light stain. I hope this is a tiny bit helpful.
    Last edited by allen levine; 10-31-2009 at 12:31 AM.

  7. #7
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    Thanks for the info guys, I think I'm gonna go with Ash, I appreciate the help.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Eric Eckman View Post
    Thanks for the info guys, I think I'm gonna go with Ash, I appreciate the help.
    I guess I'll chime in. Ash has all the bothers of oak (fibrous and tearout-prone) and the bothers in finishing of maple and cherry (very blotch prone). Ash finishes 'clear' quite nicely

    Click image for larger version. 

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    but I had a real fight to get an even-looking coloring on these.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    It is inexpensive and that is what drew me to it. It machines well with very sharp cutters. It burns easily or suffers blowout with not-so-sharp cutters or not-so-aligned machines or a casual approach.

    I still work with it and enjoy the look but I am loath to do another larger scale project with it. All that being said, I have only been doing this a few years and am far from a finishing expert .

    My favored materials right now are walnut and mahogany but the ash, maple, cherry and such all work their way into the mix.
    Last edited by glenn bradley; 10-31-2009 at 03:22 PM.
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  9. #9
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    I used prestain treatment on the ash, and applied the stain as directed shortly after, and I believe it helped alot, gave it more uniformity.

  10. #10
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    It's very subjective but birch is on the boring side IMHO. Oak is nice, but can be found in just about every dwelling in North America, so it's not very unique. Ash is a nice alternative to oak, and it's even on the cheap side.
    Got Wood?

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