Branching Out Wood

Modern Functional Home Decor by David Wertheimer

Other Handy Calculators & Resources

David WertheimerComment

In the last two posts, I delved into two important considerations for good wood design, sag and moisture; though the math is aided by a lot of handy online calculators, those topics have a lot of theory and equations, and can - at times - be messy and an inconvenience to think about.

In this post, I’ll share a few resources, and yes, some calculators, that help with much simpler topics that are still great to keep by your side as a woodworker. Hopefully, by putting all these in a single post (well, three, if you include those earlier posts), it’ll be super useful to all the burgeoning woodworkers out there.

Am I missing any key resources or calculators? Let me know - always love to learn more!

Weight

How much does wood - or other building materials - weigh? That’s not typically relevant for the lamps or vases or coasters. But for a large coffee table I’ve designed, or to provide some specs to a client about a table before I build it, that does come in handy. I’ve also used some of these resources to figure out how much gravel - or how many blocks - to order for some gardening and remodeling projects I’ve undertaken as well.

There’s no single source for the weight of everything; every page has its own unique focus:

Hardwood: How much do different hardwoods weigh? The data is provided in pounds per cubic foot; there are twelve boardfeet in a cubic foot.

Plywood (and other engineered sheet goods): How much weight is going on the roof of my vehicle when I transport 11 sheets of 3/4” plywood to a job site? (Short answer: too much!) This has plywood of different thicknesses, as well as MDF, OSB, etc.

Dimensional Lumber: How much do 2x4s weigh? How ‘bout if they’re “green” or pressure treated?

Glass: Does that coffee table or dining room table have a glass top? How much weight does that add - or does the structure need to support?

Angle Iron: While there’s lots of different steel (or other metals) you could incorporate into a project, this is the most common I’ve used to add structural rigidity; this site (host of the angle iron sheet) has a lot of other great data sheets on all the sizes / types of metal shapes & materials they sell.

Masonry / Gardening: OK this isn’t really for woodworking, but figured I’d throw it in the list as much so I could find it easily in the future! How much will that 15 cu ft of gravel weigh? How ‘bout the block wall?

a Rendering.png

Though I often refer to one or two of these in larger projects, the most complicated project I’ve worked on so far, a 3’ by 4’ coffee table, had me referring to four of these to come up with the finished project weight of 355 pounds (!!!):

  • 49# of solid walnut for the sides of the coffee table

  • 114# of walnut-veneered plywood for the top, bottom, and internal structure

  • 25# of steel for structural rigidity

  • 11# of solid wood for the foot / table supports

  • 62# of glass for the top

  • 94# of brass for the 88 USPS mailbox doors

Cut List

Do you have a large cabinet project that you’ll be fabricating out of sheet goods (i.e.: plywood) and want to figure how many sheets to use? Or do you have a lot of random strips and partial sheets left over from previous projects and want to make best use of those? Then check out the CutList Optimizer.

I’ll confess I haven’t used it much as many of my larger projects have actually been fairly easy to optimize due to the fact that there’s only one or two standard widths of the boards I’ll be cutting. But for a few more-complex projects - again, with that coffee table, and expensive walnut plywood as the material that I didn’t want to overbuy - this came in handy.

And the tool is pretty darn comprehensive, compensating for blade kerf, and also grain orientation if its not being painted. And it’s smart enough to only produce cuts that can in fact be done with a table saw, panel saw, or track saw. That is, no crazy puzzle piece cuts where you’d have to stop mid-way through a cut - it’s not just “simply” a geometric bin-packing algorithm (which already is a research dense area that has supported many a graduate student).

CutListOptimizer.png

Books

Any list of resources would be sorely lacking if it didn’t include some great books on woodworking as well! There are, of course, literally thousands of books out there, covering everything from furniture restoration to project ideas to basic techniques. But a few excellent references I’ve come across:

Understanding Wood: A Craftsman’s Guide to Wood Technology: Bruce Hoadley’s 1980s book, with content and images updated in 2000, is an excellent reference material covering a topic sorely lacking in almost all the other woodworking books you find out there: wood as a material. That is, it doesn’t touch on all the amazing things you can build with wood, but - as the title says - how to understand the properties of wood. And sure, there are good books on trees as plants, but those leave the connections to what woodworkers care about similarly untouched.

This covers how trees grow (and the implications of that on knots, strength, water retention, etc.); strength properties of lumber and boards and how those relate to humidity and wood orientation; how tools work on the material, etc. Though it gets slightly academic at points, it’s excellent for those who want to understand the “why” of lots of rules of thumb and guidelines - many wrong, misguided, or incomplete - you might hear from others in a workshop or read in passing on a website.

The Wood Database: Both a website and a book, Eric Meier started this project in 2007 as he tried to navigate incomplete and inconsistent online and print books about wood properties. It’s grown to a database of hundreds of species, with high resolution photos, and consistently-presented properties related to strength, weight, hardness, and shrinkage. And the online version has a nifty search feature where you can identify species by inputting one or several properties.