A Trip Down Lumber’s Memory Lane

I was perusing my shop’s lumber inventory the other day when I started to recollect how long some of those boards had been collecting dust on the racks. You know what I’m talking about, right? You plow through massive piles of wood at the local lumberyard until you find a board that just shouts, “Hey, it took 200 years for me to develop my gorgeous color and unbelievable figure, so take me home with you!” Koa Stack

So you plunk down some serious cash and take that lignin beauty home, only to slide it into a rack where it must sit patiently, waiting for just the right project to come along. Trouble is, the longer you hang on to those glorious planks, the less likely it is that ANY project will ever be good enough to justify using them!

Flipping through those piles of neglected boards unexpectedly took me on a mental journey through my woodworking past. First I spied an amazing 8/4 chunk of curly maple, with a figure so visually deep, it looked like you could drive right into the side of that board. Directly under it was a breathtaking piece of Mexican rosewood, with a grain pattern that looked more like an impressionistic painting done in shades of vermilion, black and ochre than a sawn piece of timber. I acquired both of those boards at a private sale held long ago by the proprietor of a local hardwood lumberyard when he shut his business down and moved to Mexico to become a surf bum (yeah, that kind of thing happens out here).

On another rack, I found a small flitch of koa boards — three consecutive cuts from the same log. These were the only boards left from a few hundred board feet of figured koa I once scored at a yard in Berkeley. I built some pretty fancy furniture with most of that stock, but these last three boards are the cream of the crop. Considering the price and rarity of koa these days, I think I’ll resaw the trio and build some plenty sweet ukuleles. Walnut Gunstock

But the best part of my sawdusty little head trip was yet to come. At the bottom of one lumber stack was a piece of black cherry I hadn’t seen in ages. I recognized the board immediately, and when I flipped it over, my knees shook. Drawn in white chalk were the outlines of parts for a gunstock that my dad and I had planned to build together when I was a teenager! When I showed my 90-year-old dad the board, he went a little misty for a moment, but then said, “Well, I suppose now is as good a time as any to make that gunstock.” A good reminder that the river of time keeps flowing along whether you’re in the stream or just standing on the banks. After he and I finish that gunstock, I think I’ll conjure up some projects to suit some of those other beautiful boards. I don’t think they should have to wait another decade or two for me to get around to jumping in the stream and making some sawdust.

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