Friday, November 28, 2008

Uncle Traveling Matt: Episode II -- In the Workshop

Although he was not sending postcards to Fraggle Rock, there were a lot of picture messages sent to me from the cave-like workshop where Matt is working on our free entertainment center. He has had to slightly modify the materials in order to ensure the unit will be structurally sound and will not warp as the temperature and humidity levels here in New England rise and fall, however in keeping with the original basis of a completely free piece of furniture, he is utilizing “scrap” wood from friends and family in addition to his neatly cut pallet planks.

Here is Part II of Matt’s entertainment center construction journey.

March of the Pallets: Part 2 (Reality Strikes!)

Having obtained a large sum of free pallet lumber, I was faced with the challenge of turning the raw materials into something useable. If any of you have ever seen pallet lumber, it's a little...well....ugly. There are splits, nail holes, and the surface of the wood is usually filthy. Just below the surface, however, lies some of the most attractive wood you will ever see. And it's all available for free!

My first step in renewing the wood was to cut the end 2-3" off of each piece. This removes most of the splits, and 4 out of the 6 nail holes. I then squared up each side of the wood on a table saw, cutting off about 1/4" on each side. At this point, I started to get a preview of the color and graining of the wood. The filth and wear that pallet wood exhibits barely sinks below the surface, so once you cut just a small amount off, you can see the true beauty of the wood. Then comes the real show! I ran each piece through a planer/joiner removing about 1/4" from both faces of the lumber, and that revealed the full glory of new-old wood. Each side was now showing as if it was fresh, new lumber....except for two small nail holes in each piece.

After the work to square up and clean up the lumber, I took some time to cut it to length to build the frame of the entertainment center according to my ever changing plan. Enter my friend, B. B has been doing woodworking for as long as I can remember. He has a better equipped wood shop than most professionals, and probably as much experience in fine woodworking as anyone I know....except for maybe my Father-in-law....who IS a professional woodworker. B had a few comments that made me take a step back from the project and re-evaluate how I was going about it. Sometimes reality sucks, but it's better than the alternative.

Pallet lumber is a solid hardwood. Solid hardwoods expand and contract rather substantially with changes in humidity, temperature, and other environmental factors. If I had continued to build the entire entertainment center out of just the pallet lumber alone, B pointed out that our 100+lb TV would have most likely ended up on the floor the first day with relatively low humidity. As the wood contracts in dry weather, all of my fancy wood joints would have either cracked or pulled apart, and our TV would have landed in our downstairs neighbor's apartment. His suggestion was to use the pallet lumber as a non-structural coating to dress up a plywood case.

B also pointed out that re-using pallet lumber may only be a mild savings to the environment, as the amount of energy used to re-cut and re-plane each piece of wood is probably more than a lumber mill uses to cut it originally. Additionally, the wear and tear on blades to rework the lumber may be a factor, as the creation of the metal used to manufacture a replacement blade would have an adverse environmental impact. The upside, however, is that less trees need to suffer for our need for a practical storage solution.

In the spirit of creating this entertainment center with little to no additional "virgin" lumber, B had some scrap plywood from prior projects that he offered to the cause. It was a little smaller than I had designed the entertainment center around, but with a slight rework, I was able to utilize the scrap plywood with virtually no waste.

Keep tuned to The Green Leaf Reviewer to see the progress of the pallet/scrap wood entertainment center.

For those still keeping track:

Time Spent to Date: 24 Hours
$ Spent to Date: $4 (all transportation related)


kim* said...

I am interested in seeing more

High Desert Diva said...

I'm impressed with how much better the wood already looks.