Hand Tools Archive

Quartered lumber and technique comment
Response To:
Re: Let Go ()

Bill Tindall, E.Tn.
The unavailability of quartered walnut has nothing to do with mills being set up to saw pine. I have read that about 80% of the world's hardwood lumber is harvested from the Appalachian Mountain chain, where I live. We sold hardwood lumber for about 30 years and at one time I was investor in a small hardwood mill. Bottom line, I know a bit about the topic. See WoodCentral Articles section for how hardwood lumber is produced (under my name).

There are three kinds of mills commercially producing lumber in the US- mills to saw lumber for construction (primarily pine in the eastern US), mills to produce hardwood lumber for furniture and architecture trim, and barrel stave mills to produce quarter sawed white oak for wine and whiskey barrels. These mills are single purpose and impossible to saw hardwood on a framing lumber mill or hardwood for furniture on a stave mill.

There is but a tiny market for rift and quartered hardwood lumber. A very few small mills produce it or it can be graded out of lumber produced from normal operations. But there is no large demand so there is no large mill dedicated to sawing it. Hence, it will not be found at the local hardwood lumber store. Nor can one order a 1000 bdft pack of quartered XXX from a commercial wholesaler. (the exception is oak flooring where these is one mill producing it in quantity)
I have done quite a number of large case pieces in the past 20 years. In my experience it is impossible to hold the tolerances of the case and drawers to achieve piston fit or variable "let go". I have not heard it claimed that anyone producing Period Furniture case pieces strives for this kind of fit. (Call backs from a customer with a sticky drawer are a fear that is avoided)

Target one of these goals and the risk is a sticky drawer down the road. Krenov claimed to achieve the controlled bind at the extension of a drawer. I don't doubt given his skill and patience he achieved this result on his tiny case pieces with their tiny drawers. We do not know what the fate of this fit was when the piece found its way to New Orleans, of Tuscon.

My experience leads me to strive for a fit that works smoothly in the most humid location I can find. A 20" case side made from one or two pieces of lumber is going to move over the seasons and become more or less flat. If this side is the guide for a large drawer accommodation is needed to deal with this movement.

On a large drawer I want 1/16 to 1/32" total clearance for the ends of a drawer front, and more clearance, not less, on the interior drawer sides. Height clearance is so dependent on variables I am reluctant to suggest a clearance. Again it will be more clearance interior than on the front.

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