Thursday, September 26, 2019

The Aspen Tree

Recently on vacation in the high country of Colorado, we were treated to many large stands of aspen trees (populus tremuloides).
A stand of aspen showing off the white bark
I'm guessing the species name "tremuloides" has to do with the way the leaves quiver or quake in the wind.  In fact, some common names for aspen are "quaking aspen" or "trembling aspen".
Closer pic of the bark.  Note the lack of lower branches
Aspen trees often shed their lower branches as they grow taller.  Stands of aspen are typically fairly dense and there is competition for light.  The lower branches don't help much in that regard.
A few aspen trees at the edge of a stand.  The one on the right has branches
all the way down it's trunk, but only on the side away from the other trees.
When branches are shed, it leaves a black scar on the trunk.  These are sometimes called "eyes" because of the occasional resemblance.
A thick group of aspens.  Note the black scars.
Close-up of the tree on the left in the previous picture, showing the eyes
These trees live in a pretty tough climate, which can have interesting consequences on their shape.  Look at this small tree.
Very gnarly trunk.  Some full grown trees also had gnarled trunks.
Even with the tough climate, most of the trees were fairly straight.  The largest one I came across was about 18" in diameter.  And, of course, I had to wonder about its use as a furniture wood.  I'd never heard of aspen being used in furniture, so I thought I'd do a little research.  I'll get to that later.

The leaves of an aspen are fairly small, just a couple of inches long and wide.
Top side of an aspen leaf.  Note the interesting vein structure.
Bottom of same leaf, lighter color and very interesting pattern
Close-up of lower portion of above photo
I just love seeing these intricate patterns in nature.  Very cool.  Organized randomness.

Aspens have the ability to sprout from the roots of an existing tree.  In fact, a group of aspen trees may all be related - growing from the roots of the "parent" tree.  After a forest fire, aspens can start up again because the root system below ground is still intact.  It has been said that all the aspens in a grove can be part of the same organism.  That is, their roots are all inter-connected.  I read that there is a grove in Utah that is considered one of the largest living things on Earth.

OK, on to woodworking stuff.  Though I've never seen it in person (pictures of the long grain and end grain are here), aspen wood seems very similar to what we call poplar in texture and hardness (it's very soft for a "hardwood").  Here's the tough part - what we know of as poplar (or tulip poplar, or yellow poplar - the one with the greenish heartwood) is actually not a true poplar.  The true poplars are from the genus populus, which includes the aspen, white poplar and cottonwoods.  What we know in America as "poplar" (liriodendron tulipifera), the one that contains the greenish heartwood, is actually in the magnolia family and is not a true poplar.

From what I've found online, aspen is often used as a pulp wood for paper manufacture and its chips are one of the most used in OSB.  However it can be used for furniture, but because of its softness it will bruise easily.

Sources for the information presented above include:

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Making A Three-Tiered Auger Bit Box - Part 2

After having made the trays that would cradle the bits, I started on the box.  The plan was to make a single box that I would cut into three levels after glue-up.  It started with some careful layout.  On the box ends, I laid out two 1/8" grooves that would house the shelves and two 1/8" cut lines that would guide my cutting the box apart.
Box end layout on its inside face
The two grooves cut - I should have made stopped grooves, as I later had to
fill holes where the grooves were exposed on the outside of the box
The front and back of the box had no grooves, but I laid out the same cut lines for later tier separation.  Then I got to the dovetailing.
The tails on front and back boards were placed carefully not to interfere with the cut lines
The dovetails came out nice
Before glue-up I made and fitted the two shelves.  The shelves are not glued in.
There is no groove in the longer tail boards - only the pin boards.
After glue-up. I plugged the four holes from the shelf grooves - can you see where it was?
Then cut the box apart ...
... and leveled the sawn edges close to the layout lines, ensuring no twist
Planed up a flat lid from cherry
I had gotten some horrible hardware store hinges and decided to install them in shallow mortises.  Unfortunately, the size of the hinges and the thickness of the box side made it so I had to mortise the entire thickness of the box backs - I couldn't leave a lip for the hinge to butt up against.  This led to problems.
Lower and middle tier hinges installed, but the box tiers don't line up well at all!
So I patched those mortises ...
... and leveled the patches with the existing surfaces ...
... and surface-mounted the hinges, without mortising them
Tier 1: #4 through #11
Tier 2: #12 through #16 (#12 missing - I bought a #16 at a tool show recently)
Tier 3: Expansive bit and some other miscellaneous boring bits
And thar she blows!
I bought some really crappy (equal in crappiness to the hinges) clasps for the front to keep the box from opening when I pick it up.  Note to self - don't ever buy hardware store hinges and clasps again; you'll just be disappointed - again.

This was a very nice project, challenging in come ways, and one I'd wanted to tackle for a long time.  Now these bits have a nice home.  I finished the box with a single coat of shellac, sanding after it had cured, and I left it at that.