May 4, 2011


Verical Grain Douglas Fir

Every wood has its' pros and cons.
Vertical Grain Douglas Fir, also know as VG fir, is an endemic northwest wood. It is emblematic of our forests and widely used in  homes for construction, trim work, mill-work  and cabinetry. It is very regular in appearance, with some subtle variations in color and grain patter. The only figure I have ever encountered in the VG cut is a significant wavey patter. There can be some very interesting patterns when the wood is plan or flat sawn. Then one is able to find beautiful flame or cathedral patterns.

Many commercial companies shy away from VG fir for the simple reason that it is difficult to work where precision joinery is required. The VG cut exposes  the hard winter wood particularly on edges. I can't tell you how many times I accidentally picked up a small sliver that ran significantly into the work or my finger. Immediate repair (or band aid) is the only solution. There are other flaws inherent in the wood such as stress fractures from the felling of the tree or sap lines that easily separate.

Douglas fir is a soft wood that has great strength in bending. This is why it is used in construction. But when use in furniture and cabinetry, one needs to be cautious. Hard woods such as eastern maple can withstand alot of abuse and do not dent or scatch easily. Fir does, though I often tell my clients that when do we beat up our cabinetry. Save for an unruly dog or child, most cabinetry made from douglas fir is well suited to home use.

                                                                 Rough out tenon cheeks.

                                                                   Refrigerator case.
                                                        Shop view with work in progress.                     
                                                          Door parts with stub tenons cut.

My current project, a small kitchen for a Whidbey Island beach cabin, has all the above issues. Joinery has been the greatest challenge. The craftsman needs to be meticulous in set-up and fit. Cutters have to be clean and sharp. Normally the dado for housing the panels is a one or two step process.With fir , there is an additional step. No matter how careful I am there is always tear out on the edges of the dadoes. I cut them a little deeper then return to the jointer for another pass. Another place that I have to be extremely meticulous is in cutting the stub tenons. Typically, I take a hardwood directly from the thicknesser to the shaper. With fir, I first cross cut the shoulder of the tenon on the table saw. Then I rough the tenon cheeks on the band saw. Only then am I able to run the stub tenons in the shaper. This is the only way to have clean precise joinery parts.

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