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Thread: Do you have a favorite hardwood for joinery?

  1. #1
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    Do you have a favorite hardwood for joinery?

    I am making my first table with haunched tenons at each end of all four aprons, and I am getting clobbered by stacked errors.

    I am fine with this table ending up in a bbq pit, American beech has a pretty mild smoke flavor that goes well with fin fish, esp cod and halibut.

    Is there a North American hardwood you particularly enjoy cutting joints in? I am kind of wondering about hard maple. I have worked a little maple, know I need sharp tools, but it seems like... Maybe maple holds it corners and edges better than beech? Would prefer suggestions at the lighter end of the scale, my eyesight isn’t helping any here either.

    Thanks. I know I need to practice no matter what wood I choose.

  2. #2
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    Poplar is easy to work. It is one of the softer hardwoods.

    Alder seems a bit softer, maybe too soft for a lot of projects.

    Cherry is nice but most of the cherry in my experience has been the wild variety growing around here. It is nice for mallets and tool handles.

    Black walnut looks nice.

    jtk
    "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."
    - Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

  3. #3
    Hard maple is harder than “soft maple” , but in most cases it’s not a concern. Hard maple is whiter and more even grained than soft
    maple. Hard maple costs more. It’s easy to take traditional wood assigned purposes too seriously. When I made my bench I decided it
    had to be beech….all the books say it’s the traditional bench wood. Turns out there was a lot of beech and not a lot of demand ,so it was
    inexpensive, thus “traditional “.

  4. #4
    Favorites? Cherry, walnut and hard maple. For practice- poplar, alder, soft maple- something you can afford to mess up. I imagine lumber brought in from outside is pricey - what can you get locally? White birch might be a good option.

  5. #5
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    Whatever I can get my hands on.

    Good hardwood has always been quite difficult for me to find locally.

  6. #6
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    I think of maple, cherry, and walnut as the "American trinity". Each is beautiful separately, they work well together in any combination. Each is pleasant to work with. Their properties are similar enough that one doesn't need to have much concern about mixing them. Finally they are, at this point, abundant and reasonably sustainable. I seldom feel the need to venture far beyond them.

    I suppose though, that in Alaska, all might be considered exotic. I don't actually know what hardwoods grow there.

  7. #7
    I love cherry mainly because it's beautiful. But also because it's hard enough to hold up to some abuse, yet soft enough to be easy to work.

    Quote Originally Posted by Scott Winners View Post
    Maybe maple holds it corners and edges better than beech? Would prefer suggestions at the lighter end of the scale, my eyesight isn’t helping any here either.
    This part has me a bit curious though. Beech is fairly hard stuff (at least for handtool woodworkers) so it begs the question: what exactly is happening that the corners and edges are getting dinged up?? Because if the corners/edges of beech are getting dinged up, whatever is causing it will probably also ding up hard maple because there's not THAT much of a difference in hardness. So I think that's the key: to figure out what is causing the damage.

  8. #8
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    usually?...Ash....
    A Planer? I'm the Planer, and this is what I use

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by chris carter View Post
    Beech is fairly hard stuff (at least for handtool woodworkers) so it begs the question: what exactly is happening that the corners and edges are getting dinged up?? Because if the corners/edges of beech are getting dinged up, whatever is causing it will probably also ding up hard maple because there's not THAT much of a difference in hardness. So I think that's the key: to figure out what is causing the damage.
    I am making all the mistakes on this one. I am sure I will make others on the future, but these are my first M/T joints this small, I have never haunched tenons before, blah blah. I have been working on this table I think three years now. One of the mistakes I remember was having a beautiful knife line on an apron, got it chisel deepened without screwing up, and then my vintage back saw that I had spent hours restoring was able to screw up that line in one pass with a few poorly set teeth. So table parts back into the house, order up the 3 joinery saws from Lee Valley, wait for those to come in, make a new mistake.... I remember waiting for a mortise chisel to come in from L-N a couple years ago. I am reasonably happy with my fourth layout knife, etc.

    One thing about beech, I can see the knife lines in freshly planed surfaces pretty good, but after a few months of sunlight or oxygen or whatever it is, the wood darkens and I can't see the lines as well.

    The actual table is the "Chairside Table" in one of the Paul Sellers books. I had all the tools listed in chapter one when I started the table, I think it is chapter eleven for the table, but I have been tooling up step by step instead of doing it Paul's minimalist way.

    I am going to look at shop lighting again critically, and maybe try a magnifier hat. I think once this beech one is out the door I will try it in maple in three weeks instead of beech in three years. If I make really stumpy legs for the maple one, maybe an 8x11 inch top, I could invert it onto my dresser and use it as a gentleman's organizer. It would look vaguely like a castle with a short tower at each corner.

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by Scott Winners View Post
    One thing about beech, I can see the knife lines in freshly planed surfaces pretty good, but after a few months of sunlight or oxygen or whatever it is, the wood darkens and I can't see the lines as well.
    You might try accenting the knife lines with chalk.

  11. #11
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    Seconding the Ash recommendation.
    Hobbyist

  12. #12
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    The biggest problem with ash is a lot of it has been cut to stop the ash borer beetle.

    Not sure if there is much available on the market. It hasn't been around here for a while.

    It is one of the reasons MLB's bats are now made of maple.

    jtk
    "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."
    - Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

  13. #13
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    Your problem has nothing to do with the wood.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Hennebury View Post
    Your problem has nothing to do with the wood.
    I do see that, esp thinking about how long this project has gone on. I started with beech knowing I was going to make mistakes and probably need some tools along the way. And I got the beech fairly cheaply.

    But now that I am tooled up, I am going to make the second one out of maple. Hopefully in three days instead of three years. I like maple pretty OK, it has made several appearances as a favorite of others, and now I have the tooling.

  15. #15
    Given the option, I tend to prefer cherry or walnut for hand tool work. Not too hard, not too soft, cut and plane clean, they really are the Goldilocks of woods. Soft maple is nice too, although it can be a little fuzzy to saw; it planes really nice though. Red oak is OK. Poplar (both true and tulip/yellow), aspen, cottonwood, linden, basswood, etc are great for secondary wood.

    Hard maple can be really hard sometimes; it isn't called rock maple for nothing. It cuts nice, but the density can make it not the most enjoyable wood to work by hand. Same with beech and birch, which also have the honor of being even more unstable in use than hard maple. White oak can be similarly hard; the heartwood can sometimes be unbelievably dense, but it has the virtue of being much more stable (usually).

    I used to use a lot of walnut, back when it was fairly cheap and cherry was ridiculously expensive. Now it has reversed, and cherry is much more inexpensive than walnut, at least around here.

    For hand tool joinery practice, I'd go with one of the softer hardwoods, like cherry, poplar, aspen, walnut, soft maple, whatever you can get your hands on that is readily available and not too expensive. No need to learn figure out what you are doing on something that is frustrating to work with even with good skills. There is a reason carvers use basswood and not maple, beech, etc. That is unless they are making woodcut prints and want durability

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