In Spring, a Man’s Fancy Turns to Lumber

I took my sister-in-law to the airport at 4:20 a.m.

The sun was just coming out and the birds were going crazy. The temperature had fallen to 2 degrees Celsius over night, so there was an “almost frost” on my vehicle’s windshields.

It was a glorious morning. Yes, I love the sight and sound of the surf crashing on a South Pacific beach, but I also love real seasons.


The greenhouse is getting closer to finished. I needed to make vents, so I drew up some plans. Primarily I’m concerned with the vicious winds we can experience (and which completely wrecked the first version of my greenhouse). When the vents are closed, they have to stay closed. So, I needed to make them sturdy.

Sturdy equals straight in terms of wood. Although most people don’t realize it, straight and wood aren’t a natural combination. I also decided to make mine out of spruce – the common wood for 2 x 4s and other construction material in this part of the world.

Spruce, at least the kind you buy at most lumber yards, isn’t easily tamed to something resembling straight. It’s a soft wood that is prone to movement. It’s typically harvested and milled with a high moisture content and as it dries it will change shape.

The reason your house has reasonably straight walls and floors is because carpenters use lots of nails and screws to force spruce into shape. You may also not realize how out of “true” your walls can be, although you will discover that if you ever hang wall paper.

So, yesterday, I milled some short (2 foot) pieces of spruce. I cut these pieces to width on the bandsaw – ten in total. To achieve four straight and square sides, there’s a standard procedure. First, you create one flat side with the jointer (a big machine which makes lots of noise). Also using the jointer, you use the flat side to create another flat side at right angles to the first. Once that is done, you put the wood through a planer (smaller machine which makes lots of noise) and create parallel sides to the two you’ve put through the jointer.

Last night I had 10 boards with no twists, cups or bows and with square faces. This morning I checked these boards and six of the ten had moved: these six have twists, cups and bows.

Wood, even though it’s now lumber, is almost a living material. Trees don’t grow in nice parallel lines. When you cut any piece of wood, you release pressures that may cause it to move.

Today I’ll repeat the whole process again – I”ll even have to use the planer on the good boards so they are all of uniform size.


It’s frustrating but wonderful. I love the feel, sight and smell of wood. Maybe I have to appease some tree spirit to fit a natural product into a mechanical world.


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