While working on a project recently, I realized there is a skill I’ve developed that I pretty much take for granted. At this point, I don’t give a second thought to how I select a piece of lumber for a particular part in a project, other than its nominal dimension.
But really, I do. When I’m at the store, I start my selection process. I’m looking for color, grain pattern, and any twists, wanes, or cups in the wood. Yeah, I’m that guy blocking the aisle while holding one end of a board at eye level, the other eye closed. I’m on autopilot then.
When I’m in the shop, looking at the next part in my cut list, I’m already scanning the pile sitting before me, calculating which end (or middle sometimes) of the board I’m going to use. Autopilot again.
Before I cut the piece, I’m analyzing grain pattern, and determining which face will be on the inside, or outside of the project. I’m looking for any imperfection that I either want to hide, or highlight, in the project.
Perfect example. I wanted to use part of a board that had a nice wavy grain pattern, but a knot was prominent. By slightly adjusting where I cut (I had enough wiggle room on the stock) I was able to highlight the pattern, yet hide the knot. How? About 1 1/4″ of the part was going to be hidden by another part, so I adjusted the cut line to just conceal the knot, yet reveal the grain pattern I wanted. Sounds like I spent a long time analyzing that, but really it was just a couple of seconds.
The point is, if you get into the practice of really studying the lumber you’re working with, and know the nuances of the project you’re building, you’ll be able to get great results without pulling out your hair.