Wednesday, April 20, 2011

More wonderful Woodworking by Earth Carers.

I recently had the pleasure of running another 4 day woodworking program for graduates of the Earth Carer's Course, funded by the Mindarie Regional Council. The MRC is one of the Waste Management Authorities responsible for waste management across 7 of the local government areas in the Perth Metropolitan area. The Earth Carer's Course produces people who are wised up about recycling and waste, and passionate about reducing our consumption and waste of resources. More info about the course here:

Held at Earthwise in Subiaco again, we offered a range of workshops - basic woodworking for those who had not done any before, and (for the first time) workshops at an "intermediate" level, for those who were hungry to learn more skills. Once again, the focus was on recycling wood which had been previously destined for land fill, and in equipping people to do that recycling by learning basic woodworking hand skills and techniques.

This was the program: 

Thursday evening: 6:00 – 8:30pm. Introductory: Make a kitchen chopping board. Learn the basics of using a hand plane and hand saw while you create a beautiful wooden chopping board from salvaged timber.

Friday evening: 6:00 – 8:30pm. Introductory: Carve a wooden spoon. Learn to work in harmony with a piece of salvaged wood in order to create a wonderful and functional wooden spoon from it. Along the way you will enjoy learning to use a range of traditional hand tools. A great way to learn to “read” a piece of wood and work with the grain rather than against it.

Saturday all day: 8:00am – 4:00pm. Intermediate: Make a handy pair of saw stools. An essential companion to the hand saw, saw stools also make handy household aids for painting, for extra seating at BBQs, portable workbenches, and so much more. While making this traditional and sturdy pair of stools, you will learn the important skills of marking out, cutting and fitting housing joints, using a chisel, using glue and screws, and so much more. A great way to expand your woodworking experience.

Saturday evening: 6:00 – 8:30pm. Intermediate: Make a pair of book ends. Here is a great opportunity to discover that woodworking classic - the dove tail joint. It will be hard to wipe the smile from your face when you have created this traditional joint by hand. It’s all about careful marking out, careful sawing, and good chisel work. Despite the mystique we give this joint these days, it used to be a basic and common jointing method. Discover this joint and add it to your repertoire!

Sunday all day: 8:00am – 4:00pm. Intermediate: Make a small garden bench seat. Using salvaged timber we will use some basic jointing techniques and fasteners to create a simple bench seat for your garden. Another great opportunity to apply your sawing skills, you will also learn those important marking and measuring skills to cut the joints, use a chisel, and use bolts and other fasteners.

As is too often the case, I was so busy teaching that I hardly took any photos of the workshops in action. However, here a few pics some of the workshops in action:

By creating a full scale drawing of the bench seat ends on a set out board, the dimensions and angles can be taken off with a rule and a sliding bevel and transfered onto the pieces of timber for the legs. 

For some it was the first time they had used a drill and used nuts and bolts. Making an end for the bench seats. Nice cross-halving housing joint!

Fixing the legs and braces to a sawstool. Cut and fit the housings, then glue and screw. A whole new experience for some. Photo by Rebecca.

Plenty of marking out and doing the saw cuts for making the cross-halving housing joints.
Chopping the housing joints. A good chance to learn some chisel skills.

Both the sawstool and bench seat projects provided great opportunities to develop sawing skills with a tenon saw.

Applying Orange Oil to a completed.Silky Oak kitchen chopping board. Timber once part of a discarded bookcase.

Special thanks to the legendary John Isherwood for his assistance through the workshops.  Shown here in action.

Some of the participants with the garden bench seats they have made. Also on display one of the pairs of saw stools. The seat tops were pieces of wandoo floorboards. The participants first had to remove the tongues and grooves with a jack plane. 
Certainly it was a very successful program once again. It was great to offer a wide range of new skills to people in the "intermediate" groups. Thanks to the Mindarie Regional Council for having the foresight to offer these workshops to Earth Carers - and the the Earth Carers for their passion and enthusiasm.

We must significantly reduce the amount of wood which ends up in landfill. Recognising the value and potential of this important resource is part of the solution. People learning the practical skills of how to recycle and re-use this wonderful resource is another key part of the solution. I reckon we did well on both fronts...

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Wonderful West Australian Blackbutt.

One of my favourite timbers to work with would have to be Blackbutt. Western Australian Blackbutt, to be precise - Eucalyptus patens. A very hard, dense and light coloured timber, the tree grows naturally in the wetter areas of the jarrah forest in the south west of Western Australia. Around the edges of swamps and watercourses, and in low lying areas. A tiny proportion of the original forest now remains. With most of these remnant trees now locked up in National Parks and stream reserves, it is not as readily available as it used to be. Fortunately, my mate Terry at Heritage Sawmillers can still get hold of a few logs every now and then. That is where I obtain most of my Blackbutt timber.

For those who like the technical stuff, Blackbutt is a hard wood. The Air Dried Density (at 12% moisture content) for WA Blackbutt is 930kg/m3, compared with 530kg/m3 for Douglas Fir, and 700kg/m3 for European Oak. (Source:  Wood in Australia, Keith Bootle, 1983, published by McGraw Hill.)
Yep, it's hard and dense!

A blackbutt kitchen.
I don't make kitchen cabinets any more as a rule, but I did build one recently over a period of months for Tim and Bec. You know, it's family. Long ago, I did a lot of kitchens for customers, but my construction methods have always been different to the modern cabinetmaking industry norm. While the insides (shelves, backs and dividers) might be the normal white melamine faced MDF board, my kitchen cabinets are different in that I
A shot of the cabinets under construction, showing the internal framing.
always use solid timber framing.

It is a method I learned from Harry Kornoff when I worked for him back in the early 1980's. Thanks, Harry! These are kitchens built to last, with not just timber framing but solid timber doors and panelling too. While I have done plenty of solid timber benchtops on these kitchens, Tim and Bec were having one of those black granite-look tops.   

A few pics of Tim and Bec's kitchen:
The black granite tops and the Blackbutt doors and panelling go together very nicely.

The jarrah floors also look good with the Blackbutt cabinets.

That's an appliance cupboard in the corner on the benchtop.

Nice looking kitchen, eh?
One of the things I love about WA Blackbutt is the variation in the colours in what is normally a pretty pale yellowish brown timber - but the timber itself has other interesting properties which I appreciate. The extractives in it (the naturallly occurring chemical compounds which give any timber's heartwood it's colours and other characteristics) mean that it has a natural waxy-ness about it. I know from experience that Blackbutt shavings on a concrete floor make for a dangerously slippery surface. Stacks of freshly machined Blackbutt pieces are prone to sliding off each other. However this natural waxy-ness combines with the high density of the timber to make WA Blackbutt absolutely wonderful to carve. It is one of my favourite timbers to use for carving wooden spoons. That waxy-ness also makes for great drawer sides and drawer slides. I have also used it for making extension table mechanisms. While some people claim the natural waxy-ness prevents good glue adhesion in joints, this has not been my experience over many years of playing with this wonderful wood.

A few more pics featuring WA Blackbutt:

WA Blackbutt spoons I made some years ago for a customer. Sorry about the grainy picture. 

WA Blackbutt Table, titled "Four Foot Long". (Circa 1990).

WA Blackbutt panel (with carved detail shown) in the front of a Font I made for the Leeuwin Barracks Chapel, 2009. The Altar and Lecturn are also made from Jarrah with the feature Blackbutt front panel.

WA Blackbutt drawer sides in this Hall Table (2007) contrast nicely with the jarrah, highlighting the dovetails.

... By the way, did I mention how much I love working with WA Blackbutt?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Recycling packaging timber into kitchen utensils.

Timber is being used to freight goods all over the world every day. As packing cases, crates, dunnage, and other forms of packaging. Viewed as low value timber, some if it is just that - but some of it is absolutely beautiful stuff just waiting to be utilsed and given a higher value life. When I am teaching woodworking hand skills, one of the first projects we do is to make kitchen chopping boards, often from this material. I do a lot of work with recycled and salvaged timber. Part of what I also hope to do is to help people understand our incredible wastage as we dump so much timber into landfill. Nice wide pieces of packing crates offer wonderful opportunities to use sawing and planingskill to create beautiful and functional items. Why not?

Check out the pic of this treasure trove of timber at a Waste Management Facility. A wood dump, predoninantly comprising of packaging and dunnage. For a person who is keen on recycling timber, this pile contains exciting possibilities and great potential. I pulled some aweom wood out of this pile which I recycled, wood which had come from all over the planet. Some of it was known to me, and much of it is of species unknown to me.Someone once asked how we know that the packaging timber has not been treated with nasty chemicals, as we are using it for food purposes in it's new life. It is a perfectly valid question. So for your interest I thought I would explain how I usually tackle this matter in relation to the safe recycling of packing materials. There are international agreements pertaining to the prevention of the spread of nasty stuff around the planet. So I usually look for the appropriate symbol which is often found somewhere on the exterior of the packaging. 
This symbol is the ISPM 15 mark. Some of this information below I obtained from the Australian Government's Quarantine and Inspection Service.

ISPM 15 is the 'International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures Publication No. 15 (2009): Regulation of Wood Packaging Material in International Trade'.

ISPM 15 was developed to address the global spread of timber pests by regulating the movement of timber packaging and dunnage in international trade. ISPM 15 describes phytosanitary measures to reduce the risk of introduction and/or spread of quarantine pests associated with solid timber packaging material (includes dunnage).

The United Nations Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO) addresses plant quarantine through the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC). The IPPC is an international treaty administered by the FAO and implemented through the cooperation of member governments. Australia is a member or 'contracting party' to the treaty.

Timber packaging and dunnage bearing the ISPM 15 mark is certified as having been subjected to an ISPM 15 approved treatment.

An ISPM 15 compliant mark looks like this:

What the IPPC certification symbol means:
  • XX: represents the two letter ISO country code (e.g. AU for Australia, US for United States, NZ for New Zealand, GB for United Kingdom).
  • 000: represents the unique certification number issued by AQIS to the treatment provider or wood packaging manufacturer. Inclusion of this certification number ensures that the wood packaging material can be traced back to the treatment provider and/or manufacturer.
  • YY: is the treatment abbreviation where:
    • - HT is the code for heat treatment to a minimum of 56o C for a minimum of 30 minutes
    • - MB is the code for methyl bromide fumigation.
The letters 'DB' represent debarking. DB may be added to the abbreviation of the ISPM 15 approved treatment. For example, 'HT DB' represents heat treatment and debarking and 'MB DB' represents methyl bromide fumigation and debarking.

More of this info can be obtained from the following website:

Methyl Bromide is worrying stuff. Methyl bromide is a broad spectrum fumigant toxic to fungi and other micro-organisms. I am told that all garlic imported into Australia is required by the Australian Department of Agriculture to be fumigated with Methyl Bromide! Meanwhile, effective 18th March 2010, the European Union have banned the use of Methyl Bromide as a container fumigant. So Australian Quarantine (AQIS) will apparently no longer recognise certificates of fumigation from the EU where Methyl Bromide treatment has been used.
Methyl bromide is the most potent ozone depleting substance still in use today. In 1991 it was identified internationally as a chemical which contributes to the depletion of the ozone layer. Accordingly, the Australian manufacture and importation of methyl bromide was to have been phased out completely by 1 January 2005. However, the uses of methyl bromide in quarantine pre-shipment (QPS) and as a chemical feedstock are currently exempt from the phase-out. Hence it continues to be used in many places around the world as a fumigation method for timber packaging and dunnage, and is an approved treatement under ISPM 15. (except in the EU now?)

If the timber from packaging has been heat treated, then I generally reckon it is OK for recycling as kitchen chopping boards, cooking spatulas, chop sticks, bowls, and wooden spoons.. If it has been treated with methyl bromide, then I will not use it for food purposes. However I will use it for furniture and other wooden items. Incidentally, man-made wood derived materials, like plywoods, particle boards, MDF etc (which were bonded together using heat, pressure and glues) are not required to bear an ISPM 15 mark. The manufacturing process kills off any fungicides, insects or other nasties which may have been harboured in the raw materials prior to manufacture.

So next time you are pulling apart a pallet or crate to utilise that wonderful resource of timber or sheet material, keep an eye out for the ISPM mark. Now you will know what it means, and know a bit more of it's story. I hope that this info has been helpful to those who wonder about recycled wood.

Most of the chopping boards made by this group were made from packaging.

Sometimes a real gem turns up in the packaging pile. I am no expert on North American timbers, but I believe the stick in the picture below is American White Oak. The ISBM 15 Compliance Mark stamped on it tells me me it's from the USA and it was Heat Treated. Delicious.

What a score! A piece of American White Oak, 8"x1" x 6' long. (200 x 38 x 1850mm)
So next time you see a pallet or crate in the skip bin or on the rubbish tip, have a close look at it. There is a chance you may need to liberate it into it's next life as a kitchen utensil... If it is an exotic piece of timber, look for the ISPM 15 Compliance Mark. If you can find one, it offers both useful information and intrigue!