Thursday, April 5, 2012

A hoarder's story

Woodworkers are among the worst hoarders. It's a character flaw, but there it is.  Among my conceits is the idea that one day I'll know enough about joinery and dovetails and turning and planing to make museum quality stuff from the wood I've been hoarding for decades.

 And so I hang on to the walnut coffee table top I made in 8th grade shop class, the heart pine door panels that came out of a Greensboro house William Sidney Porter (O. Henry) played in as a child, the burl, if I can still find it, said to have been cut from a tree where they hanged one of Mosby's Rangers in 1864, the rough-cut walnut from a Wake County tree bought by four college friends in 1977, the cherry that my father-in-law and I rounded up somewhere the other side of Willis back in the 1980s, the mahogany that came as part of a pallet made somewhere in South or Central America and discarded by a dealer after arrival of some gizmo or other. Even the mahogany cutoffs from a Raleigh billiards table maker.  And I always regretted not having bought some of the old maple floor from UNC's Woolen Gym, the same floor where Lennie Rosenbluth and Tommy Kearns won a lot of the 32 games they took in that 1957 run to the national championship.

But the thing that made me feel rich was the 2,500 board feet of clear Southern Yellow Pine that I got from a Chatham County, N.C. mill after a foulup over a botched order of flooring back in 2007. We were building a log home then, and had ordered pre-finished pine flooring, six inches wide with tongue and groove edges. The builder was putting it in the first week of December that year, and I was sitting in a State Board of Community Colleges meeting when the cell phone beeped with the bad news: the tongue sat a couple of hundredths of an inch higher than the groove, which meant that the flooring would not fit together in a smooth way. In fact, it would tend to rock as it dried out. It was a mess.

Long story short, that batch of flooring went back to the factory, which could not deliver a new batch for weeks.  In a sweat, we found locally-produced oak flooring in Hillsville and the contractor went on to install that.  I didn't find out until much later that the oak flooring had a similar problem, and had to be ripped out after half a room was done, to be replaced with proper flooring. When that (third) floor was finally down, it was lovely, exquisite, perfect.  And it stayed perfect for several weeks, until the appliance store tried to roll a refrigerator with a frozen caster across the floor and etched an interesting pattern in the wood. Duck fits ensued. But that's another story.

What I wound up with was some lovely 12-foot and 16-foot lengths of 1x8 Southern Yellow Pine that the mill in Chatham County sent me in exchange for the bad flooring. Mostly straight and mostly smooth, it looked mighty good. I built pantry shelves with some of it, and bookshelves in the great room with more of it. Looked fine right up until lightning struck and made a big pile of ashes and rubble in June 2010.

We've rebuilt, and my winter project this year was replacing the bookshelves. I started on the side away from the stereo system and TV and about two dozen kinds of wires that looked too complicated to even think about for awhile. Once the easy side was done, I started labeling the wires and running speaker cable beneath the floor and figuring out which speaker was going to go where. And instead of shelves that went to the floor, that side had to have a base cabinet large enough to house a receiver, CD player, Blu-Ray player and set-top box, plus a lot of CDs and the subwoofer, and hold the flat-screen TV at the proper height.

For a couple weeks I did nothing more than turn 1x8 boards into 1x18 inch boards, for cabinet sides, shelves and top.  I used every clamp in the shop and quite a bit of Gorilla Glue, and then a good-sized batch of 3x21 belts and six-hole oscillating sandpaper discs trying to get everything flat, or at least reasonably smooth.

It all came together about 10 days ago, and since then has soaked up a couple cans of hand-rubbed satin finish.  For a batch of botched flooring, these shelves and cabinet look pretty good. But you still can't walk on 'em, nosireebob.

Now, if I could just find a couple boxes of missing books....


  1. I think hoarding potentially useful things is a trait that goes beyond woodworkers...or even those who dream of one day becoming one, like myself. Hoarding is my way of saying that while I don't know how to do something or use something yet, I still plan to get around to it. As the years slip by, maybe it is a way of holding on to dreams of immortality, or at least a long and fruitful life.

  2. The shelves are great. I am not a hoarder but have a bunch of stuff. Newlin, you are up early!