The Lumber Guy

Friday, August 03, 2007

Amish Lumber Kiln

I visited Vic in Wheeler, a chair maker/logger/dairy goat farmer and who-knows-what else. Vic had to branch out because he has so many boys. Each has to learn a trade and there wasn’t room in the cabinet shop to keep all of them working.

Unlike most woodworkers, Vic worries about relative humidity and its effect on the lumber he works with. During the humid summer months he keeps a wood stove burning in the shop to lower the relative humidity. It was uncomfortable hot in his shop. We “English” can get the same result from running a dehumidifier.

Vic’s kiln is a large closet containing a wood stove and racks of lumber, stickered between courses, plus piles of chair seats and spindles. I would guess the room was about 120 F. It’s similar to hot room drying which I describe in Drying Lumber without a Kiln (available at You adjust the RH by raising the temperature. Lumber has to be air dried going into the room because you don’t have a steady air flow across the boards. If you did, and started with green lumber, a small amount of stress will develop which has to be relieved using higher temperature (160-180 F) at the end of drying plus the air needs to be saturated with steam.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Garreson Lumber’s Poet Laureate

Text Box:  From Garreson Lumber Company's "Tally Sheet":

I recently heard a National Public Radio spot about a school that elected one of its students as their official Poet Laureate. I was nearly moved to tears by her poetry readings and the interview. Then I realized: If schools can have poet laureates, why not lumber companies? Lumber people are frequently misunderstood by intellectuals, mostly because we communicate among ourselves by grunts and motor-like noises. But deep down in a woodworker’s heart, there is a

fragile little poet struggling to emerge.

At Garreson Lumber’s last board meeting we elected our own Walter Woodward to the position of Poet Laureate Emeritus. Poet Woodward graciously accepted our invitation for an interview about his exciting new position:

Tally: Well, Walter, this is quite an honor for you, isn’t it?

Walter: Not really, it’s more a lateral move. My salary stays the same and now they want me to write a jingle for some radio ads on my own time.

Tally: We didn’t even know you wrote poetry!

Walter: Oh, yes. I studied poetry in high school and received a C+.

Tally: Were you influenced by other poets?

Walter: I think you can hear the profound influence of e.e. cummings, Chinese poet Wong Waye, Robert Frost, and Helen Steiner Rice. The Beat poets influenced me, too. You can almost hear a Latin or Caribbean rhythm in my works, at least subliminally.

Tally: What poem really launched your career?

Walter: I think my third grade teacher, Mrs. Mulcher, first recognized my natural ability when she intercepted a note I’d passed to Ethyl May Petard. She must have liked it—she made me read it to the class and then asked me to show it to the principal. It goes like this:

Roses are red


Slugs are squishy

When you step on them—Eueww!

Tally: How did you know to use em hyphens(—)? Did they even have them back then?

Walter: Oh no, I went back and edited the old poems to make them more relevant to modern readers. I only learned about em hyphens a few years ago. All the really good writers use them now—you’ll see lots of them in my new book—Reading the Tree Leaves.

Tally: Can you give us an example of your more recent work?

Walter: Sure. Here’s one I wrote to celebrate my new position as Garreson Lumber’s Poet Laureate. You will be able to read it yourself on page 32 of my book. It’s titled— Tattered Flags. It’s accompanied by an artsy black and white photo of a dead tree.

(Walter clears his throat)

Leaves brittle green and dry

Pennants in remembrance

Wave feebly

From discarded tops

Left by greasy loggers to moulder

On the Forest floor

As forest temples topple,

Dragged to the landing

Sliced, diced, and Julienne fried

Metamorphed to grace the temple of Man

In his Holy of Holies—altered altar— a living room coffee table.

While in the still silence of the forest still rattle—

Leaves brittle green and dry.

Tally: It makes your eyes water, doesn’t it?

Walter: Yeah (wiping his nose).

Tally: I really didn’t like that poem very much though. It doesn’t have any rhymes in it.

Walter: That’s an example of modern free verse. There isn’t supposed to be any meter or rhymes. I had to work to take them out. I figure that poem took me a total of 120 hours to perfect. I didn’t expect someone like you to understand it. You really need at least a Masters degree in English to “get” it.

Tally: It doesn’t make lumber guys look very good either. You describe them as “greasy”…

Walter: (sigh) That’s what’s called “poetic license”. Grease actually refers to hydraulic fluid. If you'd ever operated a fifty year old skidder, you’d understand. I’d like to invite you and any of your readers to one of our Saturday afternoon poetry readings/workshops at the Garreson Lumber warehouse. We discuss stuff like this, plus Irony, Foreshadowing, Allusions, Existentialism and the meaninglessness of Life.

Tally: Maybe sometime. Any advice for our readers who might like to try writing their own poetry?

Walter: Absolutely. You can make money writing poetry. First, write what comes naturally to you. If your poems are sad, submit them to greeting card companies who print sympathy cards. If your poems are happy, send them to companies who sell birthday, anniversary, baby, and graduation cards. As you can see by the numbers, there’s a much bigger market for happy poems than sad poems. Since most people naturally write sad poems, you may have to develop a new market. Try creating a Poet Laureate Program where you work.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Dear LumberGuy,

Help! It’s nearly Mother’s Day and I need a gift for my
Mother-in-law. She has eleven kids and they all buy her
flowers. The Problem is that she hates gardening. I
want to do something really special. Got any

Dear Stumped:

All mother-in-laws love cats. Make her a mission style kitty litter box, or maybe one in the queen anne style with cabriole legs. If she doesn’t have a cat, make the box with a lid and drill air holes in it (near the top). Now you have a combination kitty litter/cat carrier. Give it to her with a cat inside. She’ll be the envy of the vet’s waiting room and you’re sure to get orders for more from other mother-in-laws. At worst, if she doesn’t like it, she’ll give you the silent treatment for six months.

I made one for my neighbor, Thorgerta Helgersen, hoping she’d get the hint about her cats using the wood shavings on my garage floor. I found it later at a church rummage sale next to the macramé plant hangers. They called it a pet casket and charged me $5.00 to buy it. I think I might just use it that way, if I could only catch one of Thorgerta's cats.


Labels: , , ,

Monday, March 26, 2007

Never sell lumber to:

1. Family members

2. People from your church

3. People from whom you buy lumber

A fellow called and wondered if he could trade some walnut for some cherry. He had sawn several logs and had run short of cherry for a floor. I said it was generally a bad idea to do that. I’d tried this early in my lumber career. The problem is that I have to buy at wholesale and sell at retail to make a living, so people usually get less lumber than they give me and feel cheated. This was a perfect example. He would bring me air dry wood of lesser value and receive kiln dried wood of higher value.

“I understand that,” he assured me. “You tell me what it’s worth and if it breaks even, fine and if not I’ll pay the difference.”

We had lots of cherry and no walnut at the time so I reluctantly agreed he could bring the lumber over. He brought a pickup load of walnut. A few days later I went through it—all low grade, and no end coating so there were end checks. The sawyer sawed it just a little thin.

I told his answering machine his 300 BF of walnut would buy 100 of cherry. He needed 250 to finish his floor so he’d have to pay for 150 BF of cherry. That’s a pretty good deal, unless you are trying to get a cherry floor for almost nothing. He decided he’d take his walnut back.

I learned this valuable lesson: people (like me) who don’t learn from experience are doomed to repeat their mistakes.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Businesses-Welcome to New York!

We got a letter yesterday from the New York State Department of Labor. Translated into normal English, it says:

“To help serve New York Businesses better, we’ve been updating our databases. During this process, we discovered that for one week in 2003, Garreson Lumber Company did not have a required insurance policy. Normally, we’d fine you $500 unless you had proof you weren’t required to have insurance. However, since we’re only getting to this now, we’ll let you off for $250. You have 30 days to appeal or pay, or we squash you like a bug.”

This reads like a scam, since larger budget businesses would probably rather pay $250 than spend hours digging through old records and trying to figure out what kind of proof the government wants. There was no week when Garreson Lumber didn’t have the required insurance, but with the business climate in New York, you never know when you’ll get stung by one of thousands of laws that you might not know of. This is the 3rd or 4th threatening letter we’ve gotten in 20 years from the State that has arrived out of nowhere. In each case you either pay a small fine or spend hours of letter writing and phone calls with rude state employees resolving the issue.

New York State considers all its businesses to be potential felons and treats us accordingly.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Advice from the lumberguy

>Hi Peter,

>I bought some poplar from you for hives a few weeks ago. I'm

>presently busy milling the lumber- I don't know why I don't pay you

>to do it... The job always ends up taking me about 20 minutes a

>board foot, what with cleaning and rearranging the shop, resetting

>the breakers, taking out splinters, refilling the kerosene heater,

>putting out the fires, etc.

> I have a few more questions re: beekeeping, e.g. how does one convince one's wife

>they are not certifiably insane for wanting to keep insects prone to

>sting nearby when one's annual honey consumption is about a pound

>and a half, and said spouse doesn't eat any?



> Dick,

I end up doing a lot of planing for people with planers. As nice a job as little planers do, they take a long time when you have to surface a lot of lumber. Small planers also need as much maintainance as big planers. A lot of people ask us to “hit and miss” plane their lumber. They can then store it, thicknessing as needed.

I’m afraid your honey bee question is bee-yond me. I’ve sent it to the beeguy who was busily stinging himself when I called. He’s experienced that spouse/relationship issue and apparently solved it satisfactorily.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Friendly Competitor

“Dan” drops in periodically to try to sell me lumber. The problem is his prices are about the same as mine so I can’t really afford to buy from him. However he likes to talk and I hear the local gossip from cabinetmaking shops in the region. He recently offered me the company calendar. “I’ve got the flat one and the one that’s rolled up in a tube. You have a preference?”

“What’s the difference?”

“The flat one has Norman Rockwell pictures. The rolled up one they’ve never given me to hand out before. It’s….err…got girls in the pictures.”

“I better take the flat one, thanks.”

“They didn’t tell me this at the office but apparently they’ve been handing these out for years. So the other day I was up in the Amish/Mennonite area handing calendars out to woodworkers. I’d made three stops. Then the fourth—one of his three boys opened it up while I was still there. His jaw just about hit the floor, and so did mine. That was pretty sticky. I had to back track and apologize to everybody. One already ended up in the wood stove. He told me it was a good thing I came back. I almost lost a customer or three.”

“I’m sure I could have filled in for you.” I offered helpfully.