Sunday, January 6, 2013

Choosing wood for your projects (part 1)

     I'll start off by giving you a quick update on building the passenger cars for my steam locomotive.  It's been pretty cold so I usually stay away from much finish work in this type weather, but I was getting pretty anxious to see how the passenger cars would look with some final finish on them.

     I finished building the wheels and trucks for the passenger cars so all the building is complete now.  I did take a couple space heaters out to the shop and warmed things up the other day so I could do some spraying. I've had the passenger cars here in the house since I finished building and brought the lacquer and spray gun in the house also.  I have an insulated cabinet I keep my finishes in, but they still get pretty cold so I like to fool the finishes and warm them up for a day or two in the house before using them.

     Once I got the shop up to temp. I shut the heaters off so I could spray.  Exhaust fan in the window and ready to spray.  I love using pre-catalyzed lacquer because of the fast flash over time.  I can spray two or three coats of finish on in a very short period of time (before the shop drops much in temp.).

     Since the shop is warm, the product is warm from being in the house and the projects are warm because they also have been in the house, the lacquer thinks the spraying conditions are perfect and sprays and flows out perfectly.  Before the shop cools down too much, everything is dry enough to move back to the house.    Tracy is getting used to the smell of freshly sprayed lacquer in the house when I bring a project back to the house to finish curing.   The smell is usually gone in a few hours (or at least we get used to it). 

     The passenger cars look pretty good, but I will actually rub them down with #0000 steel wool here in the next day or two to really get the look and feel I'm going for. 

     No pictures today, but will post some later.  Now this brings me to the title of this post; Choosing wood for your projects. I usually don't pick a certain wood for a project simply because it's inexpensive or it's easy to work with or it's easy to finish. I like my wood to make a statement for my project, even building something like this train.

   The next car I want to build for my steam engine is a coal hopper.  I've been building the entire train so far out of walnut and using a little maple and cherry now and then for some accent pieces, but now I want to work with something all together different for an all together look for this car.

     Here is one reason I'm considering using a different wood this time for the coal hopper.  When I originally started this train over 10 years ago, I had a bunch of walnut left over from a number of different projects so decided that would be a good wood to build the steam engine from.  I loved the look!  I had planed the walnut to different thickness for building the steam engine, so when I finished building the steam engine and coal tender (and bridge), I kept the remaining wood in a box.  It's hard to believe, but after all those years and moving my shop a couple times, when I decided to build the passenger cars, I knew exactly where my left over walnut was and I knew I had enough to build the passenger cars.

     What really surprised me, when I finished the passenger cars and put them with the steam engine and coal tender I realized there was a huge difference in the darkness of the walnut from the steam engine and coal tender to the passenger cars even though they were built from the same lumber, just 10 years later.   At first this really bothered me, but then had to convince myself that a real train is not all the same color so there was no need to get my skives in a bunch.

     So all that being said, I decided since the passenger cars looked different then the engine and coal tender, then why not make the coal hopper another color also.

     If you've ever been around a train yard or you've seen a train that is hauling coal, all the coal hoppers look the same.  They're Black!  So I want to make my coal hopper black but I don't want to paint it, so since I have a bunch of scrape Wenge left over from a project I did a couple years ago, I believe I'll use that to build this next car.   If you're not familiar with Wenge, It's a wood native to Africa that's very dense and very, very dark, almost black when finished.  It almost looks like Oak with an Ebony dye applied.

     Like I said, Wenge is a very dense wood and can be quite difficult to work with because it likes to splinter and blow out when trying to mill it.  That's all part of the challenge though.   I love the look of the wood and think it will be the perfect choice for this project. 

     So for this particular project, even though the wood is very dense and difficult to work with, I think it will make a nice contrast for the rest of the train.   Just wait until I get to the caboose!  I already have a couple ideas of what wood I would like to use for that.  What color are most cabooses?  Can everyone say "RED" ? 

     I believe I'm going to make this a 2 part entry for choosing wood for your projects, because the actual idea for writing this entry had nothing to do with my train and is based on other factors all together, so check out my next blog entry and follow along and see if any of this will relate to you and your woodworking.




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