Nothing is Forever

December 29, 2008

Wood is so wonderful, isn’t it? So varied and changeable. So pregnant with possibility. Take wood movement for instance. Don’t tell me that wood is not alive. Some woods you can watch move as you cut them. Some woods seem to be on a timer for movement. And they’ll do things that make you just wonder, why me? I watched a cabinet door this summer, a not very hot summer, warp in on the cabinet about 1/16″. Just enough to bother me. Just enough to wink at me every time I walk by that thing. That’s wood for you. You think it’s finally stabilized. No such thing. It seems to be in a constant state of recycling itself.

I remember a table top I had made once. It was very thin, very precise. Pretty. I had made it out of hard maple, and since it was a table top, I decided to raise the grain on the top. Just a damp cloth to raise up the fuzzies and then sand them off. Done it a hundred times. What could go wrong?

Well, what went wrong is that the top curled like a french fry, cupping away from the top because of the extra moisture there I had put into it. I did not panic. I did not holler. I stayed calm and wet down the underside of the top, quickly. This did two things. It flattened the top and brought my heart rate down. Both very desirable results in my mind. But what a couple of heart pounding moments.

This is just so like wood too. You have spent countless hours polishing, sanding, and babying it and then wham, it’ll cup on you or develop a crack after your first coat of finish.

This can work to your advantage sometimes. Some years ago I built a quick little end table to sit outside on my porch. Something short I could put my feet up on or perhaps a glass of something malted and frothy. Nothing pretty like your table. My table sits outside all year round on the porch. I made the base out of cedar and the top was rough sawn pallet wood. I screwed each piece of pallet wood down to the base but with just one screw right in the center.

Well seasons come and seasons go and my unfinished top cups like someone has lit it on fire. It must have had a good 1/4″ of cupping across 4″ wide boards and it has cupped up. That is the top of the top is concave. This has to be from sitting out on the porch in the hot weather and baking just one side of the wood. The top dries out and it cups. I could pour my frothy malted beverage into this much cup.

So it snows this year. I mean it snows like crazy. We rarely see snow at our elevation here in the Pacific Northwest but this year a foot and a half came down. It was great. And I saw that the snow had piled up on my little table. Well I had kicked the snow off of my Adirondack chair there on the porch, but I looked at the table and said, hmm. Let’s just leave that snow in place and see if it doesn’t wet the wood down enough to flatten out that nasty cupping.

Well sure enough, a couple of days go by and after another two inches of snow I happen to look at my table. It had flattened out! It worked! Flat as a pancake. Now I’m not recommending that you take your warped boards out and put them in the snow to straighten them out. Too much of this kind of movement will cause new problems for your boards. But there is a moral here. The moral is that nothing is forever. Not flatness nor wood. Not when it comes to moisture. So be careful, treat both sides the same and maybe your wood will stay flat, maybe for awhile.

Gary Rogowski is the Director of The Northwest Woodworking Studio. Visit us at

Published in: on December 29, 2008 at 7:33 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. Gary,
    Your story seems to support a statment Graham Blackburn mentioned in a class I once took with him. “Wood will do what it wants to do” Unfortunatly, we seem to forget this from time to time. Thanks for the reminder!

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