Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Recycled timber - a trip to the mother lode.

The other day I took a drive across the city to the Henderson Waste Recovery Park. (Affectionately known as the Henderson Tip.) The purpose was to gather up a ute load of timber from the awesome woodpile there.
One view of part of the pile. That's all plywood in the foreground.
In the past, "Rubbish Tips" were big holes in the ground into which all waste was dumped and buried. Those days are over now, increasingly replaced by Waste Recovery Centres, which aim to reduce the amount of material going into land fill by a variety of interventions. Much of the waste is sorted, and recycling takes place when there is a market for those materials or there is a use on site. Hence there is a huge pile of timber, in pile of its own in one part of the enormous Henderson Waste Recovery Park. This timber is currently used on site for mostly low value uses, where it is chipped up to create roadbase material across the enormous facility. It is hoped to one day have a higher value way of recycling this timber.  To a guy like me who is committed to recycling timber, who is forever pulling apart old furniture and shipping crates to extract the timber, a visit to this huge pile is like coming across the motherlode. With the Henderson Facility in close proximity to the Port of Fremantle and several  industrial areas, there is a large proportion of packaging material in this timber, from all over the world. Amongst it all is some amazing and wonderful timber, with the  the ISPM-15 marks telling what part of the planet the packaging has come from.  
I scored a nice heap of pine boards from a big pallet which originated from Mexico
Out of interest, the global standard ISPM-15, is currently being enforced in almost every major importing country in the world. After treatment, ISPM-15 requires that the heat treated pallets and timber packaging are marked in a visible location with a legible and permanent mark approved by the International Plant Protection Convention.
Compliance with ISPM-15 for wood packaging materials allows for two treatment options:
Heat Treatment (HT): Wood packaging material is heated in a schedule that achieves a minimum core temperature of 56ÂșC for a minimum of 30 minutes.
Methyl Bromide (MB) Fumigation: The wood packaging material is fumigated with methyl bromide.
ISPM-15 requirements apply to all species of coniferous (softwood) and non-coniferous (hardwood)
packaging materials.

"There's treasure in that there pile!"
I have several woodworking programs coming up specifically involving the use of recycled timber, so I went to the Henderson Tip with a bit of a "shopping list" in my head. I had some wins, a few bonuses, did not get all that I had hoped to find, but came away with a wonderful heap of timber. You have to be lucky. There is daily stream of trucks coming to to dump timber at the pile, and a zealous loader driver who periodically pushes the new deposits up into the huge pile which can be up to 10 metres tall. The menu is different on an almost daily basis, depending on what has come in. I came back with more plywood than I had expected, and less material suitable for kitchen chopping boards than I had hoped. However I was very happy!  
 So what did I come away with? A significant amount of plywood: 18mm, 16mm, 12.5mm, 9.5mm, and 4mm thick. Much of it Australian made, as wide rips off sheets 8 feet long. Much of this will be cut up into smaller pieces for the woodworking activities I do with kids. There was a huge pallet from Mexico, of 8 inch wide boards, which I pulled apart and brought home. This will be cleaned up and re-machined for the projects I have coming up with lots of kids in schools, making cheeseboards. I also obtained a heap of wide pine boards from Holland, Finland, New Zealand, and China. Some of these will be very useful for the programs I have coming up teaching woodworking hand skills to adults. They will saw, plane and shape these into a range of kitchen chopping boards.
However the material I mostly like for chopping boards are hardwoods. Sadly, other than a few nice boards from Indonesia, there was not much I could access on the day. Some I could see under tons of other timber, but was unable to remove them from the pile. Others I could see up on the top of the pile, but it was too unsafe to climb up there! All I could do was to gaze up and salivate.
Surprisingly, I did get some nice chopping aboard material from a pallet of unknown origin - but was clearly made from European Oak. Nice! Incredibly heavy, I was only just able to pull turn it over to be able to attempt to remove the boards.
That's my trusty Disston panel saw. Gives you an idea of the size. All that oak! 
Sadly, I was unable to remove the rusted heavy nails or lever up the boards, even using my big pinch bar, so I had to settle for cutting out a bunch of the boards between the gluts. It smelt like wine barrels as I cut it. A tragedy to leave so much of it behind, which I especially felt the next day after I had stuck one of the pieces through the thicknesser!
The trusty ute very much loaded up with treasure.
It's a lot of work to denail this stuff, much of which I did on site, and the remainder I did in my front yard at home on sawstools that evening. However, I am happy to be spreading the important message about improving our stewardship of timber which is being wasted every day. Along the way, I get to discover and use some amazing timber from all over the planet. I also get to introduce a lot of people to the joy of working with wood. Fabulous.  

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Big Bookcase Comes Together.

Installation day finally came around.

Installation complete. Job done.
I'd been working on the big Art Deco Style Breakfront Bookcase for some weeks. It was a big job, with many steps in the process of constructing it, so I had up to now written a series of five posts to tell the story along the way:
Several steps to create a nice curved edge.
Getting started on a break fronted art deco style bookcase.
Ten steps to making your own vee-jointed lining boards.
Making a plinth which is up to the task.
Developing the crowning glory for the bookcase.

My son Ben kindly gave me a hand for the day. Way too big for me to manage on my own! The bookcase cabinet was made in 3 sections. In addition to those there was the plinth, the crown mould in 3 sections, and 16 shelves. The day before, I had pre-delivered the shelves, plinth, and crown mould sections - as well as all the hand tools we would need for the installation. That just left the three big cabinet sections to deliver to start the installation.
Ben untying the load. The big lift about to take place.
Not that easy, as they were heavy - especially the middle section! Fortunately a week and a half of rain gave way to a nice sunny day. Phew, that made it a bit less challenging. We loaded up the ute, with a lot of grunting, and drove to my client's home. It wasn't any easier to lug the three sections into the house, but with aching muscles I breathed a sigh of relief. It was all now in the room where it was to be assembled.

1. Fitting the plinth and fixing it in position.
It took some time to get the plinth fixed in place. At nearly 3.3m long (10 ' 10"), we were bound to find variations in the wooden floor - both in the length and in the depth of the plinth. With the narrow cabinets nice feet tall, making sure the plinth on which it sits is level to the planet (regardless of the floor) is critical. Fortunately the wall behind was quite flat and plumb, so that would make life easier.
Protective covers over jarrah floor pulled back. Time to start levelling.
We carefully packed the plinth up on packers in critical support points until the straightedges and spirit levels showed that the plinth was beautifully level in all directions. Working from the point where the gap between the suspended plinth and the floor was the smallest, I used my marking knife on a sliding block of the correct height to scribe a line all the way around the face of the plinth parallel to the floor. Placing the plinth upside down on a pair of sawstools, Ben and I used block planes and a jack plane to shape the plinth down to the scribe line. 
Trusty No5 1/2 helped take down waste to the scribe line, to fit plinth to the floor contour.
The horns were cut from the back of the plinth, and with a bit of fine tuning on the sawstools a couple of times, we eventually had the plinth sitting nicely on the undulating floor with the top of it level to the planet in all directions. Nice. The plinth was screwed to the floor via the fixing points I'd built into the insides of it, and we were ready to stand up the three cabinets on it. All that took quite a while, but the plinth is like the foundations. It's gotta be right or errors multiply all the way up.  The methodology we used is the good old fashioned way of doing it, which my father had taught me many years ago. Thanks Dad. 

2. Putting the three cabinet sections together.
With the plinth now fixed in position and beautifully leveled, we lifted the big centre section into place, after first cutting the hole in the lining board to pull the power point through. The power point facsia would be screwed to the lining board, ready for the stereo to plug in. 
Centre section lifted into place on the plinth.
The other two sections were then lifted into their places on the plinth either side of the centre section, and cramped together, ensuring that the face of the centre section protruded exactly 100mm (4 inches) proud of the cabinets on either side of it. This proces was aided by the centre crown mould being cramped temporarily in position.  The three cabinet sections were then screwed together. To be consistent with the Era, all visible screws were slotted head countersunk steel screws. (1 1/2 Inch 12 Gauge) The best way to drive these is with a brace with screwdriver bit. So much easier on the wrist, and with heaps of power. 
The ratcheted brace. What a wonderful invention.
Fortunately the wall behind was pretty plumb, so no additional trim beads were required to cover unsightly gaps where the two cabinet ends met the wall. With the three sections fixed together, next we checked that the overhang of the  cabinet over the plinth was consistent and correct all round. After some very minor tweaking of the whole cabinet's position on the plinth (I confess I am a bit of a perfectionist), the cabinet was screwed to the plinth below it. For safety reasons, each of the 3 cabinet sections was then fixed to the wall at the very top via 2 small metal angle brackets per section. These were fixed into the brick wall and to the top of the cabinets. The bookcase was now fitted and fixed in position! Time to install the crown moulding.

Fixing the cabinet tops back to the wall.

3. Fitting the crown moulding.
The two far ends, the returns of the crown moulding, had been made "overlong" in order to be able to cut them to the correct size on installation. With the cabinets now fixed in position, we were ready to measure the returns and cut the crown mould ends to length. The crown mould had been made such that the three pieces housed into each other, and this came together well. Cramped in position, the crown moulding was then screwed into place it.

Fitting the crown mould to the top of the cabinets.
The cramps off, it was time to give the whole structure a birthday - a final treatment with a nice beeswax/orange oil finish, applied with 0000 steel wool and buffed up with a rag. Wow. She was lookin' good now!

4. Installing the shelving.
One third of the way up, each of the 3 sections had a fixed shelf, for structural integrity. A further 16 adjustable shelves were now to be fitted.

In goes the shelving.
Like the rest of the bookcase, these too were made from timber salvaged from the renovation of this house. Such nice colours in the jarrah! Holes at 3 inch centres had been previously drilled up the cabinet insides when they were constructed. Brass adjusters were inserted in position, and the shelves were placed in position. I took a punt for now on the spacing of the shelves, knowing that Norelle will change them to suit her requirements when she moves into the bookcase.
All smiles ... the job is almost completed.
With the shelves installed, it was time to pack up the tools. The job was done.

I really enjoy this kind of commission. It is always a pleasure to recycle structural timbers from a house, convert them into beautiful furniture, and put these back into the house  from which they had originated. There is something very poetic about that. The wood itself tells many stories which are there for the reading. No filler was used in the construction of this piece. All nail holes, bolt holes, flooring cramp marks, and other features sing of their past life as structural timbers. It is fun to try and "read" each stick in the lining board backing, as you can often tell what part of the building the stick came from, by the nail hole configuration pattern.

Re-using timber like this is also very environmentally sensible, and I reckon it honours the trees which were felled over 80 years ago when the original house was constructed. A good example of sustainable timber usage and responsible stewardship of a limited and valuable resource. Good move, Norelle. Thanks for the privilege of building your beautiful art-deco style breakfront bookcase.